Thailand’s Surprise

When we first landed in Bangkok, the feeling of being 8,000 plus miles away from home did not hit me. To my surprise, I felt very much at home aside from the occasional swifts of sewer smells. It wasn’t until we arrived to Chiang Mai that I felt disconnected and detached from home. This is because unlike Bangkok’s city atmosphere, Chiang Mai is filled with a traditional and natural atmosphere with coconut trees around every corner…well, almost every corner.

Chiang Mai
Although both cities brought different feelings within me, my impression of the people of Thailand remains the same. One thing that particularly captured my attention about the Thai people is their knowledge of the English language. Before coming to Thailand, I truly believed language would be my biggest barrier to indulging its culture. However, I was proven wrong. Many Thailand natives not only understood English, but spoke it as well. And although their English was not perfect, it motivated me to communicate with them in English.

It would be premature of me to say that surprises of the Thai people are of the past!


Post by Katelyn S.

Sawatdee Ka!

This has been an amazing experience so far. Traveling so far from home really allows me to reflect on my own lifestyle and appreciate  things that I so often take for granted such as fresh running water or the cleanliness of the streets and community. Everyday so far has been full of experience that force you to think of your own life. One thing that I have noticed about the Thai people we have had the opportunity to connect with is the genuine generosity that they show. Everyone always greets you with a warm smile and are every open and welcoming. For example when walking through Bangkok, a sweet local women came up to us and asked about us and took the time to help us find what we were looking for she also suggest other places for us to go. This generosity and warm heartedness is something that I have noticed with all the people I have met so far. 
On our second day in Chaing Mai we had the opportunity to go to a Buddhist Temple for a monk chat. I was able to learn more about the philosophies of Buddhism from the monk we met, Kaka. One thing that he said that stuck out to me was that as humans suffering is an inevitable part of life, but showing our suffering to others is not always helpful. I like how he said “always smile to others as a way to spread love and kindness to others.” This part of Buddhism I have noticed all through out the community with the local people. When I think about home, this is something that I would say that I don’t see as much. It seems to me that in the U.S. suffering is more visible, it may affect a persons behavior and attitude towards others.
I am excited to continue this learning experience! 
(Oh and by the way I can officially say that I have gone to the bathroom through a hole in the floor on the moving train! When in Thailand 🙂

Post #2 by Tom Lonergan

After a few days getting settled in Chiang Mai, I’m finally starting to get the feel of Thailand. Multiple trips to the night markets have shown me hundreds of booths but not a lot of variety in the products they sell. Riding to the market hanging off the back of a truck full of people made me feel like a little kid again. The experience of both the market and the ride to the market makes me wish laws back in the U.S. were more lax, it makes things more fun. Cooking class brought me back to my very first job cooking at a Mongolian grill, and the food was very good. The monk chat was very interesting to me as someone who is not religious at all. The Buddhist philosophy is something I can see myself looking into a lot more and meditation is a practice that has interested me for a long time. I cannot wait to experience the new year here in Chiang Mai and am beyond excited for all the activities that lie ahead in 2014 here in Thailand.

Blog #1 by Julie Ann Orenstein

Blog #1 by Julie Ann Orenstein
December 31, 2013
I have been in Thailand only four days and already feel that I can fill my journal full of experiences, reflections, thoughts, and new learning insights. It is almost hard to take everything in at once because the sights, smells, voices, interactions, and overall culture is so different from what I am used to in the United States.
Before this trip, I was in a program called HECUA where I studied how the structures and systems in the United States reproduce inequalities. This class, Inequality in America, was very discouraging at times when we learned about the many families and individuals struggling to survive in the systems that are working against them and making it harder for them to escape poverty and homelessness. While I thoroughly enjoyed this class, I came out of it feeling a little hopeless but also motivated to work to create social change and justice. I also left this class feeling very curious about societal systems, ideologies, and social justice in other countries. This is what I am excited to learn about through my adventures in Thailand.
Through my beginning observations, I already am getting a taste of the ideologies and cultural traditions that impact how people treat each other and how social justice is embedded in Thai culture. For example, today we visited the Elders House Baan Thammapakorn—a place for elders over 60 years old who were experiencing poverty and homelessness. At this cultural experience, I spoke with our tour guide Kim about homelessness and poverty in Thailand. She explained to me that if someone is found on the streets with a mental or physical disability, they are either sent to one of the elder homes, homes for the disabled, or sent to the hospital. Kim further explained that there are not many people experiencing homelessness in Chiang Mai and that if someone sees someone living on the streets (especially who is an elder) they will send them to an elder home or the hospital.
In the United States, there are many people who believe that people are homeless or poor due to their own self-defeating behaviors. However my first impressions of these issues in Thailand are that people do not blame one another but rather see that it is their own responsibility to take care of one another, give to one another, and be grateful for each other. I can see how this way of thinking is connected to Buddhism—a philosophy that teaches to give, take care of oneself, to live in the present, and overall do good. I am excited to learn more and for all of the upcoming experiences and adventures!

Post #1 by Tom Lonergan

Post by Tom Lonergan

Thailand. What an incredible place. From the high rise buildings in Bangkok to the gorgeous views of the jungle on the train ride to Chiang Mai, this country has impressed me from the moment we touched down. The people are always smiling and friendly to all. I am shocked by how many people can speak English here and I’ve had very limited communication issues. Despite accidentally ordering chicken organs from a road side vendor, the food has otherwise been delicious. I haven’t spent more than 4 US dollars at any given place to eat and have always received generous portions. Despite looking almost the opposite of the local people, I feel like I fit in with many other European tourists that are all over the areas we have visited so far. The shopping has shown me better deals than I could ever dream of back in the states, the dollar goes incredibly far here. While sitting on the 9350 mile plane ride here unable to sleep with the passenger in front of me reclining into my knees, I couldn’t help but ask myself if it was really going to be worth it to travel this far to see Thailand. Now that I’m here, the answer is a resounding yes

Post by ~Mike. Kruger

      Coming into winter break, it was difficult for me to think of much else besides my upcoming trip to Thailand. I would lie awake at night conjuring up images of what to expect and how I would react to different environments and situations. It turns out that most of these assumptions were wrong.

      First off, the flights were not as painful as I made them out to be in my head. Although I wouldn’t say they were comfortable, they were far from unbearable.  I expected the Thai people to sort of gawk at the presence of Americans but as it turns out, people travel from all over the world to visit Thailand and the people seem quite used to having foreigners around.  Because of this and the English being present enough in the cities, makes the culture shock not nearly as big of an issue.  The biggest shock to me thus far was the shear size and expansiveness of the cities. Bangkok seems to be an endless maze of concrete, old and new culture, and construction. I am trying to put my assumptions aside from now on and see through my own eyes what Thailand has to offer.

My first impression of Thailand by khadija

I have been in Thailand for four days and I have already learned so much about myself. It was very interesting to see how Buddhism influences the country, for example at message school they were really calm and they blessed the person which came from the Buddhism teachings. The monk chat was my favorite part of the trip and learning about the lives of monks and Buddhism, I always thought of Buddhism as a religion but from listening to the monk I now understand that it is a way of life it’s a philosophy that focuses on the individuals and bettering themselves so they can better their surroundings. It was interesting to compare and contrast Islam to Buddhism and how much similarities were there between them. The main thing I found interesting between the two of them was not planning anything and staying in the present, the reason behind this in Buddhism was to help the individual to avoid suffering and disappointment and the Islamic reason for not planning was to have faith and trust in God that He has a plan for you. I also found it interesting that being a monk was a way of cleansing one’s self and taking control of their mind through meditation and leading a simple life.  The elders house Baan Thammapakorn was an amazing experience I really loved seeing the elders and how happy they were, the home was very different than American homes for elders but  there was a sense if belonging in the Thai homes. They took care of each other before their caretakers there was one instance when we gave them lunch there was one table that one of the ladies didn’t receive a plate and before she said anything the ladies sitting with her said something to us, it was an amazing experience and I had a wonderful time with them. If this was only the first four days I can’t wait to see what the rest of the trip will be like

Well after many days (I may be being a bit drastic) we are finally stationary for more than a day and does it feel good to not be moving.  I think that I wasn’t in Bangkok long enough to really take a lot of things in, other than the smells that were constantly there.  The city was very quiet because of the holiday that the Thai’s were observing.  Coming into Chang Mai, there are no words for what I am experiencing.  The Thai people are so kind and love to try and speak English with us and help us and are very curious as to what we are doing here.  So far we have visited a Thai massage place, participated in a Thai cooking class, a monk chat, and then a visit to the elders’ home.  The Thai massage was interesting how they looked differently at the body and how massage healed.  The cooking class was a good introduction to the Thai food and gave me some ideas on what to eat and to order.  It also showed me how spicy the Thai people like their food!!  The monk chat and elder’s visit was so eye opening.  How the monks view their happiness versus how I knew happiness was so different.  The monks speak about living in total and complete happiness, but their happiness is only within themselves.  They believe that if they are in a relationship, it can cause pain and suffering and they want to avoid that.  For me, pain and suffering means personal growth and growing towards the future.  The words future and past are not apart of the monk’s thoughts, like we, as American’s, are always thinking about.  We are constantly reflecting, and writing, about how our past experiences affect us now, and have changed us.  Visiting the elder’s house was so uplifting, so far one of the best things I have done here.  It was so warming to feel how happy and excited they were to see us.  Some even knew how to speak a good amount of English!  It brought tears to my eyes more than once to see how happy they were to be living in the elder’s house, when all I could think about was how miserable my grandmother was to be living in the same situation, but it a much higher quality place.  It was so different how the elders loved being with company and cherished their food, and my grandmother would pick apart her food and hated almost every meal.  It was so miserable to watch her pass away in that setting a few months ago.  Being with the elders made me think about my grandmother and her happier spirited self before she passed.

First impression- by Rachel

My first impression of Thailand was a little clouded at first. When we first got off the plane I was exhausted and the smell was intoxicating. After a good night sleep it finally set in, I was in Thailand! This was the farthest I had ever been from home, and I couldn’t wait to experience this country in its entirety. After walking around I kind of started to worry. The smell of the city was overpowering and I was worried I might not be able to handle it, but once we got on the train and headed to Chang Mai I started to feel better. Once we arrived in Chang Mai I was glad to see trees and more nature. Chang Mai is such a beautiful city, and I’m excited to go around the city.

Day 3 by Holly T.

Day three, Dec 30th 5:12pm- Today we had two planned events. In the morning we had a Thai cooking class and in the afternoon we went to a monk chat. The Thai cooking class was so much fun! The guy who taught it was hilarious. He would show us how to cook then we would go cook for ourselves. I loved learning how though. Everything we cooked was made so fast I couldn’t believe it! At home my food takes forever! I was not good at cooking there. I cracked an egged and it went all over the floor! What a mess I made! After the cooking class we went to the monk chat. This was interesting but not as much fun at the cooking class. I learned a lot from both. I just liked how the cooking class was more interactive. There was also a temple when we went to the monk chat. It was a very old temple but was so beautiful, bright, and colorful. There were people that would come to pay respect. It was also interesting to see the monks outside just being normal or goofing off. Some of the boys were so young!
Tonight I am going to go to the night market! I love all of their stuff here. This market is supposed to be a lot bigger than the Sunday market; I’m excited to see what it has!