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!