By Zachary Bertucci ’15

I have been fortunate to have several amazing global experiences as a Morgan Park Academy student, from Project Week trips to Panama and New York City to a student exchange in Croatia. Next spring I’ll study geology, archaeology, and desert ecosystems in the American Southwest.

But my service trip to Thailand this summer was one of my favorites, a unique and eye-opening experience.

I was part of an 18-day program through a student international travel company called Rustic Pathways. Based in Udon Thani, a city in northeast Thailand, we were helping out a community little by little by doing a different service each day.

One day I would be in a pool teaching 7-year-olds how to swim, which was a problem in the village. Lots of children have died because they do not know how to properly swim, so being able to teach a lifelong skill that could potentially save children’s lives was very fulfilling.

Another service project involved farming in the actual rice fields. I never knew that each rice plant produces only three grains of rice — which means that a whole field of plants produces about two platefuls of rice. I was able to experience for a short time the work that rice farmers do on a daily basis, which gave me a newfound insight into their very different lives.

Later, we cooked food for hungry villagers and delivered it to them. This was called “Meals on Flip-Flops.” My group and I would go to their homes and deliver the food personally to them. The project got its name because when entering their homes, we would have to take off our shoes out of respect.

Thai culture was such a respectful and happy culture. We learned to put our palms together and bow when meeting someone. Some of the homes we visited were little more than tin roofs, some with wood flooring. But whenever we visited, our hosts would always offer us a seat or something to drink. I was amazed that they would share with us what little they possessed.

This experience has definitely made me more of a generous person. Being able to step back from American culture opened my eyes to a different lifestyle and being able to serve people in a foreign community was tremendously rewarding. It was three weeks that will stay with me for a long time.

Zachary is a senior at Morgan Park Academy.