I have discovered a profound sense of connection with the entire Earth and all its people though my experiences this trip. Growing up in the US, I found I had an “us and them” mentality. People in other parts of the world live so differently from me — how can we be the same? Sure, I was open to learning about and from these other people, but that’s just it; “they” were separate, dissimilar, far away.
The experiences I’ve had these past three weeks in Thailand have given me new perspective. It started with the opportunity to learn from our local Thai guides and then from the Thai interns in Chiang Khong; how they personally live, what they value, and what they want out of life. In talking with each of them about topics such as family, travel, and romantic interests, I realized that “they” are not so different from “us.” We grow up in different parts of the world with varying climates, languages and customs, but when it comes down to it we are really all the same.
In addition to learning from local Thais, watching the Hmong American students interacting with the Hmong Thai people we have met along the way has been a very meaningful experience — I new close to nothing about Hmong culture or history before coming here, and observing students’ connections with the places and people of their heritage showed me that even across opposite sides of the world strong connections can exist and grow.
There was one experience in particular for me that shed a bright, burning light on the threads of connection, in our farewell party at the Mekong River School: Dancing lights shimmering on the Mekong river in the humid night air. Laughter and talk from all around, candlelight casting a soft glow over people old and young, white and brown, male and female, from here and there. Music filling my soul as the band plays, the feeling of hard, dusty earth beneath my feet as I dance with those around me. The smell of trees, water, fire and food. The smiles. The feeling of collaboration, of bonding in sameness and forgoing differences. This is what life is about.
I could not be more grateful for all the people we’ve met, for the opportunities to learn about the environment and people’s interaction with it, and to have opened my eyes to the connections that exist everywhere. We are one world, and I am so happy to be a part of it .