By RANDI ROSSMANN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
El Molino High School senior Alyssa Herr is physically and mentally far from her life in the west county and a typical senior year.
Herr, 18, is living in Lopburi, Thailand, through a 10-month student immersion program offered by the Rotary International Youth Exchange.
Soaking up as much of the culture as she can, she is living with families in the large city and attending a Thai public high school.
The experience so far has been difficult but fascinating, Herr said by email.
“Lopburi is a Third World city where monkeys prey in every shadow, street vendors crowd the streets, stray dogs wander aimlessly; it always smells of something unpleasantly pungent, nature is rare, population is high and its always above 90 degrees,” Herr reported.
In school she’s focussing on Thai topics, cooking, art and dance. She’s also helping her new classmates learn English. And she’s having fun learning to speak Thai.
“You get to use tones that are simply unwritable in the English language and when the sound ‘ky’ has three different meanings in three different tones you really have to pay attention to what people are saying,” Herr explained.
The adventure has been full of what she calls exotic perks: “Riding elephants through the Thai jungle, visiting Burmese ‘long-neck’ Keren tribes, getting lost in Bangkok, living with monks in a temple.”
On the down side, she’s not wild about being bombarded with loud Korean pop music, which she said is everywhere there are Thai teens.
Perhaps her biggest issue in the city is trying to avoid the local, troublesome monkeys.
Lopburi, a large city in central Thailand, has many monkeys. Tourist favorites, initially they’re cute and entertaining but quickly become a nuisance because they jump on people and try to steal things, such as sunglasses.
She calls them “clever little monkey thieves.”
But her days hold many wonders, and she’s never looked back to what her senior year might have been at El Molino, she said.
There’s wandering the city streets and trying the local street cuisine with other exchange students from various countries.
And train travel has become her favorite activity.
“I like taking the trains because I get to see another side of Thailand, the one still undeveloped with rice patties, jagged little mountains and fields of sunflowers,” she wrote.
Herr, of Graton, was born locally and raised in the west county. She attended Oak Grove Elementary, Willowside Middle and El Molino.
Always a strong student and athlete, Herr is the daughter of Jo and Bob Herr of Graton. Her older brother, Jeffrey, is a chemistry major at Humboldt State.
“I know this is something that she really wanted to do, to experience other cultures, to get out of her comfort zone,” said her father, Bob Herr.
“I always thought she was confident, but now I realize that she has the ability to navigate through the floodwaters of another country and culture. I see it as more than just an adventurous streak, but more of a quest to understand the world, and I am very proud of her for that quest,” he said.
Alyssa Herr is grateful to the Sebastopol Rotary Club for the experience, which she said has opened her eyes to a world that now pulls at her from many directions.
“I plan on going to college after I return home and continuing to travel the world for the rest of my life,” she wrote.
“When I think of how I stayed 17 years in Sonoma County, no matter how beautiful and wonderful it is, I’m simply amazed, there’s just too much out there to see to settle for never seeing it.”
You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Birthplace: Sonoma County
Lives with: Thai family
Favorite hobby: Getting a latte and going to the local ancient ruins downtown where the monkeys live and sit across the street and watch tourists try to take pictures and interact with the “cute little monkeys” as the monkeys try to steal all their belongings, bite them, rip their earrings out and chew on their hair
Favorite food: Yum pla salit (fried fish pieces in an onion salad over rice)
Family: Older brother Jeffrey and parents Jo and Bob.