Closer and Closer to Departure!

I grew up watching Thai Lakorns (dramas). I have always loved how Thai culture, their history, their tradition, and of course their food was portrayed in the films! But of course what is portrayed in movies is not exactly what reality is. Finding out that I got accepted into this program was astonishing because now I am able to really learn more than what I have seen from movies and lakorns. I am so excited for the day I departure with the friendly people that I have met at orientation.
When I received the information that our orientation was going to be held at a temple, I was so excited to see how beautiful it was because from watching Thai Lakorns their temples are beautiful! The day of orientation I drove to the temple confused…. Is the temple behind the house? I think we will have to walk to the temple because it should be up the mountain somewhere right? Like many others I did not expect the house to be the temple, I was quite surprised. Even though the temple was not like what I expected it to be, I came to a realization that I should not be guessing this and that and I should go with the flow like what Acharn Cathy has said during the orientation.
Walking into the temple, I felt a comfortable and happy sensation knowing that I am finally one step closer to making my dreams come true; going to Thailand and learning about their culture. Growing up I did not know much about Buddhism because I grew up in a Hmong shaman family. When I met the abbot monk and listened to what he had to say about their tradition, it amazed me how beautiful their culture is. From the orientation, I learned so much about Buddhism. Their religion is an insight to the true nature of reality. Their religion has a lot to do with meditation, and I have always heard how soothing and calm meditation can do to one’s body and soul. Their religion is so beautiful for the fact that it does not discriminate gender, sexuality, race, or really anyone… it is about the awareness of kindness and wisdom in your own life.
One learning goal that I have for myself in regards to this learning abroad seminar is to really learn more about myself during this journey. I have always been so focused on others, my family and friends that sometimes I forget to focus on myself. I want to go on this trip and explore the different opportunities, options, and happiness in life and I am really looking forward to learning more about Buddhism. I am really excited to go on this trip and am ready to learn so much more!

Orientation and Pre-Departure Reflection

The week leading up to Orientation, I kept trying to imagine what my experience at Wat Temple in Elk River would be like, which of course made me increasingly nervous! When I arrived at the door of the Wat Temple I was greeted by the familiar face of Acharn Cathy, and quickly removed my shoes. We were ushered up the stairs, and I could see the students ahead of me greeting someone to their right as they reached the landing. I would later learn they were using the Thai greeting for the highest respect.  Because I was behind them I had time to prepare my greeting: mimic of their gesture.  Although my mind was telling me to follow suit of the other students, by the time I rounded the top of the staircase and saw the abbot monk, star-struck, I panicked and awkwardly  bowed my head. Embarrassed, I quickly found a seat on the floor and wondered on a scale of 1-10 how disrespectful I just was. That moment I realized how much I was going to learn, and needed to, about Thai culture. 
As our orientation continued, my nervousness faded into excitement for our trip to Thailand as I began to catch my first glimpse of the beauty of Thai culture. Everything was new to me: what the abbot monk spoke of, translated by a member of the Thai community, the offering of the food, and the food itself (which I have been craving ever since).  One moment that stands out to me is the abbot monk teaching us that how we hold our hands together reflect the shape of the lotus flower, when greeting someone. I wish I could remember his exact wording however, what stood out to me was the time and precision he used to show us the gap between our hands, the slight flex of the fingers outwards, and the importance of it all This detail  would be something that I would normally overlook. Therefore, my learning goal is to be mindful and attentive to details while in Thailand, so that I do not miss any learning opportunities that will build upon the new ideas and concepts I am exposed to while immersed in Thai culture.  

 My dog Rose and I on Stone Arch Bridge!

understanding my own identify

As born and raised in Buddhist family, I have always thought that I am truly knowledgeable and educated about my culture. However, this perspective has shifted my thought after I came to America, the great diversity country in the world. I was exposed to different cultures, believes, races, and norms that completely opposite from mine. I have learned and adapted to this diversity, which made me realize of “what is really my identity”. As far as my knowledge about Buddhist, I went to (Wat) temple for almost any occasion to celebrate traditional ceremony for the family. But I have never been aware and noticed of the reason why we have to do it. I never paid attention to any details of the ceremony nor the monk’ teaching about my own culture. Everything I’ve learned and absorbed about my culture is just passive.

            Therefore, going to the (Wat) Thai temple was a new experience for me in actually learning and challenging what I really know about the culture to find my self-identity. Surprisingly, as we went inside the temple and listen to monk telling story about the Buddhist, I actually learned new things that I have never been aware of before. For instance, why would the monks give blessing before they eat? I finally understand that reason behind this cultural practice. The monks have to give blessing before meal to send or deliver the merits to the cousins or family members who has passed away. The food that they are eating will be share to those who have passed way. Another thing that I have learned was that Wat or temple isn’t only opened up to Buddhist people, but we welcome to all the races and religious group. This is really reflected of how my parents raised me to be an open minded, acceptance, generous to other people no matter what where they come from.

            As business marketing major, I want to explore and learn about a complexity of diversity in the world. I want to used what I learn in helping me seek and understand the differences about people behavior/culture beliefs in order help me open my own business. So one thing that I hope to gain from the learning abroad seminar is to understand my own identify first in comparison to others. I want to be able to used what I learn from America and imply those learning to discovery and understand people in different 

Blog #1: I’m going to Thailand!

I was nervous before we went to the Wat Temple last month. I remember I left over an hour early because I was scared I would get lost or be late and I wanted to make the best impression possible. I also didn’t know what was appropriate to wear and the last thing I wanted to do was offend anyone. Sometimes I forget that everyone else probably has the same thing going through their minds. To be honest I was a little uncomfortable when I got there. I didn’t really know how I should sit or how I needed to address the abbot monk at the front of the room. Thankfully Acharn Cathy showed us how to introduce ourselves by putting our hands together in front of our mouths and noses and bowing our heads slightly. We learned later from the abbot monk how the placement of the hands is very important. The lower the placement, the less formal the greeting. I found it fascinating that just the placement of my hands signals respect for a person. It’s something so simple and subtle, but its things like this that help me understand the Thai culture. I also learned how to properly sit in a temple. I remember after we were told to sit with both legs to one side staggered I immediately switched to that instead of being cross-legged. I also found it interesting that a woman can’t sit close to the abbot monk. I’m interested to see how gender might impact certain things in Thailand. I have a tendency to forget that not every culture treats genders the same way.

One goal I have for myself while abroad is to try everything at least once. I’m a picky eater and I have to say being in a culture with very different food than I’m used to makes me nervous. I really want to stick with the mantra “don’t knock it till you try it” because it would be a shame to miss out on any experience while I’m in Thailand. I think food is a big part of this. In my mind, food is an important part of any culture. I’ve had Thai food here in the U.S. but I’m smart enough to know that the Americanized version is probably very different than authentic Thai food in Thailand. I think this goal can go beyond food as well. We are going to be doing a lot of different activities that involve doing a lot of different things. I just want to go in with an open, positive state of mind. No one in my family has ever been to Asia and this is a learning opportunity that I can share with them.

Here are pictures of me with my dog Sydney and with my brother Jacob.

Before Thailand: Orientation Experience

Before heading to Wat Thai Temple in Elk River, I had imagined a large temple adorn with beautiful architectural designs and glistening gold. To my surprise like everyone else, I assumed, there was no temple to be seen. Instead, in its place is a regular house that would pass as a family home if not for the signs at the gate reading “Wat Thai”. Despite my shock and confusion, I still proceeded to enter the temple with everyone else that I arrived with; my heart filled with anxiety and excitement.

Upon entering, I immediately felt out of place and awkward. Everyone was already seated on the floor with cushions facing the abbot monk who sat on a raised platform. There was little conversation in the room and I remember Acharn Cathy talking to some of the women present in the kitchen. I sat in the back of the room near the stairwells and waited for what was to come. I honestly did not know what to expect. This had been my very first time at a temple and I did not know very much about the Thai culture.

From the day, I would say that my favorite part was learning the different ways to greet people, especially when it comes to the hand placements. I always saw these actions done in the few Thai movies that I watched growing up, but I never knew that there were differences in the placement of the hands. It was nice to learn about it and finally know the difference, as it would play an essential part in Thailand. As a lover of learning, learning about the hand placements provided me with a small taste of Thai culture (in addition to the food, hospitality, and atmosphere of Wat Thai), a great and exciting beginning to the 3-weeks of cultural immersion in Thailand. 

From this seminar in Thailand, one of the many learning goal that I have for myself is to challenge myself to critically think and analyze the issues and interconnectedness surrounding the topics listed on the syllabus. I recognize that while I should allow myself to explore and absorb the Thai culture while in Thailand, it is also important to be an active thinker so that all the experiences I will be having will be meaningful and not just learned for the sake of learning. At the end of it, I want to be an active member in the global community and recognize that my world is bigger than what I know it to be.

As I Wait Eagerly for May 17th to Approach…

      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.