Day 7th of this trip and it’s still amazing that I’m even here in Thailand. Since I got off the plane in Bangkok, many of my expectations for this country have definitely been changed in a good way. I love the old buildings juxtaposed with newer ones, I love the flowers and the preservation of the wildlife and nature, I love the adventures I’ve been having. I feel like there are a lot of things that I can and want to connect with, such as our interactions with the people here in Thailand, meeting the Buddhist monk and visiting the Hmong village up in the mountains and learning how different the Hmong people here in Thailand are compared to us Hmong people in the United States. I think that the one thing that I always notice though is the young people.
Grade schoolers, babies, students, workers – they seem to be everywhere whenever we’re out and about. The first time I saw a teenager (at least I assume they were a teenager) they were on a motorcycle/scooter in their school uniform with another student on the back. They weren’t wearing helmets and they didn’t seem phased by all the (crazy) driving that was giving me mini heart attacks. At first I thought, “Wow, these are little kids. How can they be riding motorcycles and not even be wearing helmets?” A couple hours later, I reflected a lot on this thought of mine: why is this so surprising to me? Why CAN’T they ride if they know how or if they navigated perfectly fine? Why do I refer to them as “little kids”? I also reflected on other thoughts I’ve had around the area, on the road, at the schools and in the village: “Wow, these kids take care of their schools. Wow, these kids are so smart! Wow, these kids clean up after themselves! Wow, these kids take care of their siblings.” When we visited the school, I found myself treating them and thinking of them as if they were little kids even though they were only one or two years younger than me.
As a Youth Studies major, I’ve learned a lot about the way society sees young people and how the social construction of youth really affects me and how I see the world. Seeing the young people that I’ve seen so far I realize how differently people are shaped by their surroundings/locations, social mores/norms, their social context, etc. Even though this is a concept that I’ve thought about and agreed with beforehand, this trip has shown me first hand what that really means. The United States and Thailand are both very different, and neither country’s way of life and doing things are right or wrong. The way these young people “do youth” are not wrong here just because it is different from those in the U.S. From what I’ve seen, heard and learned so far, young people here in Thailand work hard in the markets, on the streets and in schools in order to better the lives of their family.
This also serves as a reminder to me that teenagers and kids are not human beings that should only be seen as perpetually developing and as “not really there yet” just because they are under the age of twenty. Though it will probably always worry me that there are young people who carry themselves with a lot of independence, like riding motorcycles without hanging onto each other, because of safety issues, I’ll remember that the idea of young people needing all the things that I probably needed growing up is not a reality to everyone. I know that I see a lot of things from my own perspectives because of my major and my field, but I find it really interesting how all of us take on different situations and reflect on different situations that we’ve seen so far.
Some questions that I’ve been wondering about are: do I think/see them as “little” because I see my surroundings as being associated with being third-world, whereas in the United States there is a lot of excessive luxury that I associate with being first-world? Is it a mixture of this and because I also have judgments about young people and how I see and stereotype them in my mind?