Princeton in Asia Fellowship

In October, 1999, Josh Morris came to Chiang Mai on a Princeton-in-Asia fellowship to teach English at Payap University. After two years of teaching English in the mornings and studying Thai in the afternoons, Josh was hooked, and has lived in Thailand and maintained a relationship with PiA ever since.

Josh went on to start Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures in December, 2002. After five years of successful growth and rapid expansion, Josh was looking to hire an employee in a way that would satisfy two goals. First, he needed someone who could complement and help the rest of his staff with advanced English language, business, and computer skills. Second, he wanted someone who would use his or her time with CMRCA to grow personally and professionally.

Josh decided that the best way to achieve these goals would be for CMRCA to sponsor a Princeton-in-Asia fellow each year to work at the company, and I joined the CMRCA team as the first PiA fellow in June, 2008.

As a mechanical and aerospace engineer who hadn’t studied a foreign language in six years, visited Asia, or lived outside of the States, I may not seem like the most likely candidate to live in Chiang Mai for a year and work for a small rock climbing company. At least that’s what I was thinking as I stepped onto a plane on June 13th, just nine days after graduating from Princeton University.

On June 15th, I was picked up at the airport by Josh and Kat, given a short “Welcome to Thailand” language and culture lesson, and driven outside of the city to my host family’s house, which would be my home for the next six weeks. After a brief and awkward introduction to my new Thai family, I was seated on their couch, given some water, and made to watch Rambo III – in Thai. The jet lag quickly washed over me, and I passed out until the next morning, when my fellowship began in earnest.

My first eight weeks in Thailand were split between a 120-hour Intensive Thai language course at Payap University, a little work for CMRCA, and a whole lot of cultural amusement, misunderstanding, frustration, bliss, and disbelief. It was a time characterized by mania and exhaustion, as my excitement and eagerness to experience my new surroundings was tempered by my brain’s inability to absorb new information.

It’s been over eight months now, and Chiang Mai truly feels like home. I speak and understand a good bit of the language; I eat sticky rice and use a squat toilet rater adeptly (though never at the same time); I don’t point my feet at people; I rarely get lost (unless I’m trying); and I can drive a motorcycle, sing along to pop songs, and give recommendations to friends passing through town.

In the office, I’ve learned more than I would have liked about the inner workings of this little company, and been given more responsibility than I could have imagined. I’ve restructured cost models, reworked our electronic communications, developed student program and custom course curricula, streamlined the rigging of our tyrolean traverse, guided clients and students through caves, and generated a great deal of content for this website. Not to mention that I’ve tutored the other staff in English and computers and helped them to generate their own marketing materials, resumes, course syllabi, and much more.

I’ve explored other parts of Northern Thailand, and every day exploring only makes me want to see more. With Josh, Taw, and Marshall, I’ve pushed new cave passage in the deepest cave in Thailand, and with too many partners to count, I’ve become a competent and confident 5.11 sport climber.

I’ve grown a great deal over the past year, but none of it would have been possible without the friends and family I made along the way. Although my time here is more than half over, I know that even after I leave, Chiang Mai will always be home, and for the rest of my life, I’ll be coming back.

-Ted Conbeer, February, 2009