Growing up in a diverse neighborhood, I thought I knew what it meant to be culturally competent. I have friends from many cultures and am a woman of color. But there’s a difference between cultural diversity in the United States and cultural diversity around the world. Life, language, humor, social norms, and education are things that differ and change as you move from one country to the next. I don’t know a lot about Thai culture, so going to the Wat Temple in Elk River was a great jumpstart to our study abroad trip. I enjoyed many things about the orientation, but the most meaningful thing to me was the food. There’s something magical about food; it connects people who are different and brings them together to share this everyday act. During our meal, I learned a lot about Thai culture and the group. The food was delicious and during our lunch, we got to know each other a lot better. We all became closer as we shared our eagerness to travel to Thailand. I learned the value of giving and receiving food. Food is culture, and I am ready for Thai culture.
I recently read a novel called Island’s End by Padma Venkatraman, which told the story of a young tribal woman and her struggle against modern civilization. Set in 2004, this young woman tries to keep her tribe together and continue their traditional way of living when threatened by modern civilization. The main character described human life and the environment as an intertwined entity; the trees, soil, plants, animals, and water have souls and are living like we all are. It was an eye-opening novel that showed me a side of life that I didn’t know about. Growing up in the city, I’ve undervalued the beautiful natural world that surrounds me. Something seems to be missing and I feel like I need to dig deeper in life and my surroundings. As I embark on this study abroad opportunity to Thailand, I want to explore the real meaning of life and the natural environment. Looking over our syllabus and itinerary, I am excited and thrilled to explore a world that I’ve only heard about in stories. Perhaps when I return, I will look at the city in a different way.