It seems surreal, almost as if it didn’t happen. As if I simply imagined or dreamed that I went to this all sorts of awesome country filled with contradictory beauty and development. If it wasn’t for every one’s pictures on Facebook or my family and friends probing me about my Thailand trip. I could probably convince myself that it all was indeed one very awesome life changing dream. But it was real. It really did happen. I was in Thailand.
Having gone on academic abroad trips before, I anticipated certain group dynamics, emotions and culture shock both during and after the trip. However, I don’t think one can ever really prepare for the slap in the face that is reality upon returning from such a life changing trip. Thailand was a deeply spiritual journey for me and I was determined to return back to the flow of life with serious focus and enlightenment. Only my ambitions did not take into account the ridiculous power of jet lag. As I fought through the 5pm sleepiness and the 3am restlessness, I scrambled to get myself organized for class and work. This seemed to consume all my energy and focus so when someone asked me how my trip was I was only really able to respond, “awesome”. I wanted so badly to express how amazing Thailand was, but I was unable to articulate my experience. I’m still unable to articulate it. In fact, alongside my extreme fatigue, this past week I felt annoyed and agitated. I was annoyed with myself because I couldn’t’ clearly describe the impact the Thai culture had on me. I was annoyed with my friends because they lacked the perspective to fully appreciate my stories or understand my personal growth. I was annoyed with myself because being annoyed went against whole growing experience from this trip. I wanted to be back in Thailand where I felt centered and at peace.
Thankfully, once I got over my awful jet lag and mini self pity party, I was able to refocus and regain that peace. I love checking my facebook newsfeed to see someone has posted facebook pictures from Thailand. I love going back and reading through my journal and reading every one’s blogs. It’s almost as if I’m reliving the entire experience again. I may not be able to put into words what exactly I learned on this Thai adventure, but it’s pretty cool that there are 17 other people who can look at a picture and know exactly what I want to articulate!
My advice for the next people going on the trip would be…
While you are preparing for the trip, no matter how much you think your ready, reading or seeing pictures is nothing like the actual experience you are about to have. You can get ready as much as you like but you will get there and you will absolutely be blown away…in a good way. When packing make sure you have clothing for the lectures, and a little sweater they love the air conditioning. Also bring some clothing for if you plan to go and see some of the night life, there always is something going on and fun to check out.
When you are in Thailand, try everything, food, transportation, and maybe even try to learn some of the language. I only could say a few words but if I would have known more that would have been helpful. When you are there go out adventure out utilize your free time there is so much to do. I had a travel book with me and looked up places to go and then when we could we went to the places, or we asked the local Thai people where we should go. There was never a dull moment, everywhere we went we had a fabulous time.
Try to be a go getter and do as much as you can but also make sure your getting your rest. Make the most of your trip, this will be something you will remember forever. If you want to do something do it don’t let anything hold you back. Lastly, have fun be open get to know your group members. The better you all get along the more fun you all will have together.
I have been home for a week now. It has been an adjustment returning from Thailand to home. From the trip I gained so much knowledge, not just from the lectures. While in Thailand, I learned and realized one can live a full and happy life with just the bare necessities. Simplicity, is a common word that in our final discussion everyone mentioned. The trip opened my eyes, being back at home I have started to make adjustments in my life, and trying to live a more calm and happy upbeat life. Everyone in Thailand was always so happy, Thai Happy. The Buddhist lifestyle is so calming, and is something that greatly intrigued me, I have been trying to learn more about Buddhism and learn from the knowledge of the Buddha. Being home is bittersweet.
I can tell that I am a different person, and that the trip has had a large impact on me. Coming home and having to get ready for school, and all the other things I have going on has been crazy. While I was in Thailand I was able to step back and really enjoy where I was and not have to rush or feel like there was something I needed to be doing. I have been trying to adjust my life and continue to step back slow things down, get ahead and truly be calmer.
The Thailand experience could not have been better, I am so lucky to have gone with such amazing people. Being back and not seeing everyone is very sad, we all had a wonderful time together and I met people and made memories that I will never forget. As I continue to make adjustments from what I learned in Thailand, I am starting a new chapter in my life. I am so blessed for the experience I had, and will always think back about how lucky I am and was for the wonderful experience.
There are so many pieces of my glorious trip to Thailand that I could share with prospective student travelers of the Families and Healthcare Businesses in Thailand seminar in future years. I could share what my favorite things were, what I think others should do while they are in the country, what I would advise against, etc. However, I find myself struggling to do this, because the majority of my most memorable experiences in Thailand that have really shaped the new, cultured “Joe” happened out of pure accident. They were not planned or premeditated, and I think that’s what made them so pure and so special. That is what made them so memorable and effective in my current life. Thus, I will just say a few things that I feel I would have liked to have known before departing to the other side of the world.
1). When in doubt– don’t pack it!! In other words, it is very easy to over-prepare or over-think when it comes to gearing up for travel. Everywhere you go in Thailand (especially the North) is A LOT less expensive on all levels than America. I can tell you over and over how cheap everything I bought was, but you cannot even begin to fathom how little money you actually spend when it comes to shopping until you go there and see it for yourself. Buy clothes in the country! The country has great style options for such a bargain! The authentic Thai clothes are beautiful, but American-style clothes or far more prevalent if you just want a simple t-shirt or need a last minute option. The more you pack beforehand, the less room you have to buy more things…and you WILL want to buy more things. Also, (this is not a joke) BRING TOILET PAPER. The rumors you have heard are tue. Often times it is not included in your bathroom experience, or it is but for a small fee. Travel-sized toilet paper is the best option in this case.
2). Eat new foods!!! American food in Thailand is often different than what you may be comfortable with anyways and it is more expensive than Thai selections. I tried almost every food option when I was in Thailand, from various Curry dishes to dried squid, and I was never disappointed. I loved how everything was so rich and bold in flavor. However, for many people, spice level and the strength of certain herbs in a dish can be an issue. If this is the case…there are still plenty of authentic Thai cuisine options, such as fried rice or Pad Thai.
3). During your free time, I would suggest using a travel book as a resource and exploring and restaurants, fun neighborhoods, exhibits, or bars that you can. Half of the fun experienced in a foreign country is what you do independently or with close friends—not in a big group of sixteen. Even if you do not want to spend money or you are tired or you don’t have access to a taxi of sorts, do nothing IN Thailand. In other words, allow yourself to sit outside and just observe. Walk aimlessly around the streets. Do and BE nothing but a simple tourist soaking everything in. This creates excellent moments of reflection and relaxation. My biggest regret is that I did not just soak in everything more. When I was tired…I simply laid in my hotel bed instead of further exposing myself to the cities I was in. I learned I regretted this when I realized my greatest self-discovery was achieved on a purposeless walk or a random adventure to the grocery store down the road.
As of today it has been almost a week since I departed from Bangkok, Thailand on January 15, 2012. The remarkable thing about returning home from such an intense, other-side-of-the-world trip like one to Thailand is that one finally realizes everything that they have gained as a result. In other words, while actually in the experience itself, I was so busy having fun and exploring this colorful, refreshing culture that I had hardly any time to reflect or even recognize how I was growing and learning so rapidly with every step I took in this unknown land. It was not until I first began to see my close friends and family after I landed in Minneapolis that I was knowledgeable of what this trip really did to affect the rest of my life.
I have always viewed life simply as a bunch of “stuff” that happens to me. I never understood the role I played in my own story or the fact nothing or nobody has an impact on my life more so than myself personally. For some people, this fact is probably obvious. However, for me, it took traveling over twenty hours to a country that is so deeply rooted in its own meaning and spirituality to realize this idea. I have learned all of the factors of our lives are merely a result of our relationships with ourselves and the outside world. I feel that the phrase “mind over matter” is a completely truthful one, and I have seen my compounded strength as a result of knowing how much I am capable of overcoming the negative shadows of my life. I now seek only positive, insightful experiences and I can truly say I have only the wonderful “Land of Smiles” to thank for this. Someday, I plan to return to Thailand and become active in the volunteer circuit, specifically in the slum childcare area of development. Until then, I am just a boy looking to go on a new adventure and packing with his luggage all of the amazing life’s lessons he learned from the last one.
It is really difficult to give advice to people when traveling abroad because you don’t know where they are coming from, but I have a couple things that I know would have helped me I don’t know if it will help others, but hopefully it will.
1) Be careful when having good or bad expectations. Expectations can ruin something especially if you are easily disappointed. Thailand won’t let you down, but you don’t want to expect too much or something super extravagant and you don’t want to expect bad experiences either because they will be bad if you go into it negatively.
2) Talk to other tourists. I thought that I didn’t wan’t to go to many touristy areas when I got there, but when I did, I met people that gave me advice that turned out to be useful. Talk to the locals too, they obviously know what they are talking about!
3) “Stop and smell the flowers.” I don’t necessarily mean this in a literal sense, but definitely live in the moment. Have fun with whatever you are doing and let the experiences take you away, but every once in a while just stop and look around and take it in. 🙂 It feels great.
4) Let go of your schedule and let go of plans. No matter what you are doing in Thailand you will always end up not doing something that you anticipated doing or you will end up doing something that you didn’t anticipate doing. If you just go with the flow you will have a much better time than getting all worked up about getting lost or attending some academic event that you weren’t expecting.
5) Have as much fun as possible! How often are you going to be in Thailand?! Or in Naomi Timm’s words “Be a fun haver!” 🙂 I got annoyed with people when they told me this when I was tired, but I’m glad that I didn’t miss out on all the fun. Looking back I know I would have probably wished that I went out more if I didn’t.
Now that I am back home in Minnesota, I feel like a completely different person. I still don’t know how or why, but something is just different. Thailand gave me some kind of drive to do better with my life and I am already seeing it within my actions. For instance, I used to never be able to wake up in the morning or have the motivation to. In Thailand, my sleep patterns got back on track, and I found that when you wake up early you get so much accomplished in one day and that there is so much to be seen and learned. Off of that idea, I find that I constantly want to be busy and active within my life. In Thailand, our schedules were so busy with activities and memories. I have carried this busy habit home with me. I see this in that I want to be busy and active and do more recreational activities outside of school, home, and work. Thailand also made me appreciate my life and the blessings I have that much more. Some of the people in Thailand don’t have much, yet they are all so happy. There was only a few times that I met an angry or upset Thai person. I hope to always be seen this way: having a positive attitude and always smiling. Being home is a bittersweet feeling. I was happy to see my family and friends, but I will miss the memories and friends I have made in Thailand. I will forever hold my Thai and American friends in my heart. Thank you to everyone who made this experience so memorable for me. I love each and every one of you. I hope that we are not all strangers because I would love to see you all again!
As I begin the new semester with my new classes and as I continue my job, my relationships and my life I still don’t know what to think or feel. I know that I got a lot of information, but I’m not really sure what to do with it yet.
Before I left for Thailand, other students who studied abroad said that my perspective would change when I came back; something would click and my perspective would be different. I’m not sure that it is true for me because I have been to Korea and the Virgin Islands in addition to Thailand, but I’m still unsure. I’m not hearing the clicks and I’m not really seeing the difference. I know what another part of the world looks like, smells like, and what the people are like and what they are struggling with. I know I want to do something about it. I’m not sure what to do with the information that I have gained.
I think that the only thing that I have noticed that is different is values. I have seen what the Thai people value, it is evident all throughout the country. I think that it is interesting seeing the differences between their values and ours. They do not value safety as much as us; it is very evident when driving through traffic. The tuk-tuk’s are wide open, no one wears a seatbelt, no one wears a helmet, they ride up to 4 people on one moped and they have no regard for traffic laws.
It was interesting to see how they educated their children on sex education and how it reflects the differences between our values and theirs. It was surprising that the nurses at the nursing school were so surprised that sex education was a highly debated topic in the United States. I guess people in the U.S. see sex differently. I think that parents see sex education as a way to prevent unwanted pregnancy more than preventing STI’s or HIV/AIDS, but was probably vice versa for people in Thailand.
I think a lot of what I saw in Thailand that I really appreciated was their practicality. They valued rational more than personal beliefs. It is true for the examples above; they don’t need to follow traffic laws if they know the risk, they don’t need to worry about exposing their children to sex early because the research already showed that they were already sexually active. I’m not really sure if they really do value logic and rational more than personal beliefs or values, but regardless it makes me realize how easily we can get caught up or just lean on our government system rather than using logic or rational to make the best decisions.
Looking back on my experience I have mixed emotions
Did I come in open minded enough?
Did I relax my guard and live in the moment?
Was I as carefree as I could be?
But then I stop and look back
I close my eyes, open my ears and listen to my heart
I watch myself put those babies to sleep
I watch myself get on the back of a motorcycle, the wind stroking my curls
I hear Katie’s voice for the first time and see Cathy’s moves
I feel the unleveled gravel beneath my feet
I see the dogs searching for shade
I taste sticky rice and fried pork
I relive the moment, hearing the heavy breathing from the intensive walks,
Feeling my right hand cramp up from gripping the pen so tightly, making my marks on the page
And then I look forward and I see new.
Reflecting is something that I did all throughout this experience. I took notes, wrote poems and took pictures to capture my feelings at that moment. This poem describes some anxieties that I feel everyone has when they return from such an amazing high. Did I do enough, or was I in my own way? But to tackle that question I realized is foolery. I did what I felt I needed to do, I saw what my eyes allowed, I heard what my ears could take and I touched what my hands could feel, I did what I needed to do. It would be unjust to say that more couldn’t have been done. Longer walks, less time in my comfort zone, more exploring, less sightseeing all could be altered but yield different experiences. To say I should have done more would be to say I should have changed my experience; my anger and happiness, my un-comfortableness and my moments of content, but why would I want to do that? My experience is just that, my experience and to question that would be to question my growth. As a Christian, as a Black woman, as a Plus size woman, as a sister, as a daughter, as a girlfriend, as a friend and as a person I have changed and I can’t change that. Looking back is positive and helpful. I feel as though it’s needed so I can remember where I was, but that’s only so I can measure how far I go.
Thanks for listening.
I can’t believe a week ago today we were in Thailand and I felt too hot. Right about now I am missing not only that heat but also the memories we were making. My first full day back in the states took a bit of adjusting to. I started my first day at a full time job, and I was extremely jet lagged. That morning I drove back to Duluth, and I found myself in shock that the roads were so clear. Traffic was nothing compared to what we had seen in the last three weeks. When I got to work, I found out that day that I wouldn’t get to unpack my suit cases for long; I had to leave town for work the next morning at 7:30 for the rest of the week. Being exhausted and overwhelmed, I was not too enthused to be staying in a hotel for another week. I just wanted to get settled back into my life in the states and then let things take off. As the week has passed though, I have reminded myself of the things I learned in Thailand. From the Thai culture I have learned to be happy with where you are and what you have. Even though I am tired, I need to remind myself to keep a positive attitude and just SMILE. I could not be more happy with the position I accepted, and I am very fortunate to finally be working in my chosen career. In all reality, I have nothing to be complaining about, and Thailand has showed me that. I am so very blessed that I was able to experience Thailand and all of the adventures that our group embarked on together. Now that I am back in the states, I am on to my next adventure in auditing. I just want to thank you all for making my Thailand experience what it was, AMAZING!! I will never forget any of you! 🙂