Wat Thai of Minnesota– “the religious purpose of the establishment” is:
- To continue the teachings of the Buddha as a World Heritage Site.
- To be center of spiritual followers, for Buddhists from Thailand in Minnesota or anyone else from any background who are interested in Buddhism.
- To be a center of cultural heritage for Thais in Minnesota, including those who are of newer generations of Thai descendants in Minnesota.
I glanced away from my phone and looked up at the structure to which their website was referring. It was a two-story brown dwelling with a long shelter near by. It was far from the traditional Thai architecture in photos I had marveled at. As we approached the door, I slipped off my shoes and felt a little smug. I had thoroughly read our article, “A Mediator’s Initiation” and felt reassured in how to carry myself in front of the Abbot, or head monk. I made my way up the stairs and as soon as we eyes met, I became transparent and felt very out of place. My head was higher than his? Aren’t our knees supposed to be touching the ground? I shouldn’t stare too long… DO NOT TOUCH HIM! My mind flooded with questions and reminders and I soon became overwhelmed. I sat on the floor and my knee length skirt came to my thighs. I grew hot. I clandestinely looked around me and noticed that everyone else wore leggings or pants and I felt embarrassed and even somewhat ashamed. I positioned myself behind another classmate.
We listened as he spoke about his journey to becoming a monk and the practice of Buddhism and I found myself becoming at ease. He shared how to properly greet someone and how your hands should be partly rounded like a lotus flower. The position of your hands also showed a great deal of respect and differed depending on the age and respect of the individual being greeted. I was also intrigued about the role of women in Buddhism and how most forms did not allow women to become monks and that we were not to come close or touch the Abbot. Because the Buddhism way of life is so engrained in the Thai culture, I want to know more about how gender roles weaves its way into other aspects of Thai life.
After the session of chanting and overview of the five precepts, I urged my deeply sleeping legs awake and proceeded to eat the delicious cuisine followed by participating in the look-over of the study abroad itinerary. I left feeling both enlightened but slightly nervous for my impending first trip to another country.
One of my goals of study abroad is that I become more culturally responsive through global engagement. I want to grow as a person by exposing myself to knowledge, concepts, and/or experiences that reflect a different cultural frame of reference. I hope to increase my self-awareness, understanding, confidence, and self-reliance during this experience in such a way that it continues into my later experiences, both as a student at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities and post-graduation. To do this, I need to not be afraid of asking questions and actively participating in my surroundings– to remind myself that it is okay not to fully understand everything and know that my initiation will be a journey supported by the people I travel with and those I meet along the way.