Advice from Kiarra for the next group going on the Thailand course

Hey guys, my name is Kiarra but everybody calls me Key. For 2011-2012 Winter term I was blessed to go to Thailand with an amazing group of people. As we all know, no matter how much you study in advance or research the best places to go while abroad, the abroad experience itself teaches those things all over again. With that in mind, my goal is not to try and teach or “warn” you of anything but to share my experience. The biggest advice I have is to go with an open mind, but not just an open mind towards the experience, but an open mind towards how others will experience you.

I am a 5’5 African American plus size woman and that’s something that I’ve never been ashamed of. Going on this trip, I never thought about how much my looks would play into my experience. Because of my confidence, I never stopped to think of how different I would look compared to the majority (if not all) the people I would see, but that’s where I made my mistake. Because I didn’t think about this before, once I got their and noticed the stares, it took me by surprise. In the beginning, I was very offended, and even angered at the way I was stared at every time I stepped off the bus or outside the hotel, but once I reflected on it, it made more sense. Yes, I still feel as though it was rude. The pointing and staring and secretly taking pictures are something that I can’t dismiss, but the reasoning was where my comfort lied. I looked at it as a way to teach. I saw myself as a learning tool and trail blazer. I believe it’s safe to say I was one of the first black people (most of) these people had ever seen, so I saw it as a way to break down barriers between the two culture groups. Unfortunately because of the language barrier, I wasn’t able to have conversations with them, but actions really do speak louder than words.

From my story I would like members of the next group to take away the power or need to reflect. Without reflecting on my feelings while abroad I would have probably became very angry and shut down from the group and experience but because I had a journal, I was able to get out all my feelings and read them later to reflect. I also want you guys to know that no one will experience Thailand like you, not even the people that you go with so don’t expect them to. Having a journal is really important. Not just a notebook that you would take notes in during lectures, but a journal that you can be blunt and honest with. Aside from that remember to have fun and that this is a once in a life time opportunity so live it up every day, or in the words of Alex, “Fire up!”

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