Kyabram Free Press
‘Difficult’ teenager went her own way
Jillian Brewer admits to being as difficult a teenager as she could imagine, to the point where she refused the advice of her parents in regard to her destination of choice for a 12-month Rotary exchange.
Her parents’ concerns when she chose Thailand as her exchange program location in 1978 had solid grounds, but fell upon deaf ears — something most parents of teenagers will have experienced at some stage.
“My mum and dad said they were happy for me to go anywhere except Thailand, because there was too much fighting in nearby countries — Cambodia, Laos.
“They didn’t want me getting hurt, but I thought, ‘don’t tell me what to do’, and chose Thailand.
“I was a difficult teenager.” Jill, who now lives in Melbourne, said Gail Sherman, a Form 6 (Year 12) student at the time she was in Form 1 (Year 7), had just returned from exchange in Japan and taught students to count in Japanese.
“I decided then and there I was going to be an exchange student. I actually wanted to go to Japan,” she said.
Jill was 16 when she started her exchange and explained there was no comparison to Thailand as it was today, compared to her year in the country.
“Thailand was not on the tourist trail back then. In the town I lived in, I saw a total of seven tourists for the entire year,” she said.
“There were no Thai restaurants in Victoria when I left. The first one opened just before I got back in 1979."
Jill said the Thai language was challenging.
“Thai is tonal,” she said.
“I had to get used to saying words in high, mid, low, rising and falling tones.
“Saying a word in the wrong tone either makes it a different word altogether or just doesn’t make any sense.
“Thai also has a completely different alphabet, with 44 consonants and more vowels than I can even remember.
“I struggled for a while, but managed to conquer reading and writing with the aid of a very good Thai/english dictionary in the school library.”
Because of the number of students, school hours were run in two sessions: 7am until 2pm and 10am to 5pm.
“I decided early on I’d concentrate on dancing, music, French and cooking,” Jill said.
“I was not much good at chemistry when it was taught in English, so didn’t really see the point of trying it in Thai.”
Jill lived in a town about two hours north of Bangkok, called Lopburi.
There, she did not face the usual challenges of winter.
“Thailand and winter don’t really ever get together,” Jill said.
“I did have a couple of very cold nights up in the far north, but mostly I melted in the heat.
“I learned badminton and
Thai dancing; I even learned how to play musical instruments you don’t see here.”
She lived with Chinese and Thai families, and discovered a whole world of amazing food.
“I loved the culture — it was one that seemed to be based on kindness and understanding,” Jill said.
“I found Buddhism really intriguing (and also very big on kindness).”
Jill said she amazed herself with being able to pick up the language on trips back to Thailand.
“I’ve only been back Lopburi twice,” she said.
“I met up with old friends — some very old, who have since died.
“I feel both happy and sad at how much things have changed.”
Jill, who did an arts and law degree at university in Canberra, has worked as a solicitor, but now works in dispute resolution.
Jill married a Geelong man and has three adult children.
She served as an inspiration well beyond her teenage years, as one of her children was an exchange student to Germany after Year 10. to