It’s already a week since I left home. I still can’t believe it’s been that long. I don’t exactly miss home, but I miss my little sister. Throughout this first week, I have reflected a lot about my time here, the environment I didn’t expect, and the crazy believing that I am officially in Thailand. For some odd reasons, my reflections always ended with me thinking about my parents and my hard work to be where I am now.
I didn’t expect Thailand to be so busy, have piles of trash, and run down buildings. My parents never warned me of this. These were the first things I noticed on my arrival and it really sadden me that this was a lifestyle; a lifestyle I had to live with for three weeks and acknowledge. For the first time, I felt privileged and it was uncomfortable.
Then I realized how humans, myself included, tend to capture beautiful things to show to others, but we rarely show them the complete picture. Am I worried about changing my Facebook friends perspective or am I scared that my parents might think I’m not enjoying myself? I am once again sadden by these little behaviors and ideas because I was, and still am, enjoying my time here, and I am starting to acknowledge that this is the way the people in Thailand live. Maybe this was how my parents felt as well. They probably never told me because my perspective of Thailand could be different, and maybe they didn’t want their views to change mine.
Regardless of my first impression, I have realized how much I prefer the country side over the cities. The Suksasongkrah Chiangdao School and Hmong Village taught me about their ways of living and inspired me to want to come back. I really enjoyed how successful they were on taking on their role as a student, acharn, head of the village, or a young adult. The taught me that no matter how distanced you are from everybody else, you can still survive with the people, regardless of their backgrounds, who choose to live similarly to you. In addition, there are pros and cons to everything and not one way is correct is what KK said. With that being said, I look forward to sharing my experience with my parents when I get back to the U.S.
I was incredibly anxious driving to the Wat Temple for orientation. I did not know what to expect, and ambiguous situations are very difficult for me. My biggest fear was ignorance and being disrespectful to the people who were so generously welcoming us into their community. I found the lessons from the monk to be very insightful. It helped clear the air about how to act towards other people while in Thailand. I also enjoyed meeting all of the other students who will be traveling with me. It helped me keep an open mind about finding friendships from people who I would not usually run into in my classes on campus.
On this trip, I would like to try my hardest to stay mindful and open across all situations we encounter. I feel extremely fortunate to have this opportunity, and I would like to be present for every moment. As I struggle with uncertain situations, my goal is to push myself into doing things I normally wouldn’t and to embrace the unknown adventures that lie ahead.
As we were driving to the temple, I was very curious as to where we were going. All I saw was nature, for a second I thought we were lost. After getting to the temple, I was very skeptical, I questioned why we were there. After entering the temple and witnessing the community that was there my opinion and skepticism completely changed. It was a really great experience to the amazing community that I saw at the temple. I also really appreciated how welcoming they were to us. One goal I have for myself is to keep a complete open mind with no expectations. My expectations of the temple was very eye opening to me which is why for this trip I want to keep a complete open mind and fully embrace the Thai culture to the fullest.
About 37 years ago, June 15, 1979, I began a journey that would change my life forever. I traveled to begin an 18 month immersion experience in Thailand, a virtually unknown world to me in the days predating the Internet, Google, and Facebook. I embarked on a journey to discover myself, the beauty and complexity of the Thai culture, and a world so unbelievably different than the one from which I had known for 23 years.
Fast forward to May 14, 2016, my 60th birthday, the beginning of my sixth cycle of life in the Chinese understanding of time, and I am ready to introduce 20 university students to an amazing Thai culture and peoples. I look forward to walking alongside each one of you as you discover and learn from Thailand. My goal for you is that you learn about Thailand, about yourself, about your place in the world, and develop a global perspective on families, environment, and culture.
“It’s a spiritual, psychological process. To transform the world, to recreate it afresh, men [and women] must turn into another path psychologically. Until you have become really, in actual fact, a brother [a sister] to everyone, brotherhood will not come to pass. No sort of scientific teaching, no kind of common interest, will ever teach men [and women] to share property and privileges with equal consideration for all…You ask when it will come to pass; it will come to pass, but first we have to go through the period of isolation.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky, TheBrothers Karamazov, 1880
On my commute into the U. recently I listened to a radio conversation with Sharon Day, a member of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe, who leads Water Walks along rivers throughout the U.S., including here in her native state of Minnesota. A few years ago she walked the length of the Mississippi River, which took her 64 days. Sharon Day walks with other Native Americans and anyone else interested, and meets up with local people in their communities along the way. Women take turns carrying a copper vessel of water that they gathered from the headwaters and use in healing ceremonies along the length of the river.
When the MPR host asked her why she takes part in the water walks–is it to raise awareness about the pollution? Sharon paused and said, “We support all of the efforts to improve the quality of the water…but what we are bringing to this work is that water is a living entity…the real purpose is to speak to the spirit of the water, to address that spirit, to say to that spirit the same way that we do when we go to church and offer prayers, to say that we love you and we thank you for this gift of life.”
My Western mind paused in that place before cognizance, and the intuitive part flashed on me on the banks of the Rum River (Dakota name is Watpa wakan), where for twenty years I have walked the half mile stretch on our property. My family and I have also swum and fished in, paddled, floated, and snowshoed on this wild river, which eventually flows into the Mississippi. I consider that time as meditative and restorative for me. Sharon’s response has me considering the possibility that when we give our focused attention, in love and wonder, could this also be efficacious to the water?
Soon Acharn Cathy and I and you twenty students will be walking along the banks of the Mekong River (Mae Nam Khong, Thai-Lao for “mother river” or “mother of water”). While discovering its wonders we will also be learning about the impacts of globalization and climate changes on ecosystems as well as the communities and their cultural traditions and ways of living. We will do service learning with the Love Mekong group, who are building a school on the banks on donated land. The school helps villagers and visitors learn about local and cultural knowledge of the Mekong and its peoples. Not too long ago, Kru-ti, one of the Love Mekong leaders, and others including Buddhist monks, walked north and south along the river in Thailand, and across to neighboring countries. At night they slept on the ground, and during the day they visited with the villagers and shared knowledge about the reasons for the changes in the river, the impacts, and strategies for resisting and thriving. Many people that Kru-Ti talked with didn’t know why the river was changing, because it wasn’t covered in the local papers; only that they were experiencing a drastic change in their ability to fish, gather vegetation and other food as a source for eating and selling at the market.
Walking along a river: this we can do. The challenges of resource conflicts, global warming, and globalization are so complex, one is tempted to look away. But a walk along a river, meditating on the living presence of water, alone or with friends or people with local knowledge, as well as others with different perspectives and/or cultural backgrounds, could help us move beyond “the period of isolation” (Dostoevsky). Our lives have shifted away from rivers and lakes, to roads and highways, and the places they take us. We are removed from the rivers’ ways, as well as how water sustains our lives.
It is very hard to have hope for positive change, but something about traveling to Thailand with Acharn Cathy and students, interacting with the Thais and the Hill Tribe members, as well as the amazing country (and food), revives my hope in what could be. Through these blog entries, perhaps others can join us as we journey through Thailand on our learning abroad, and in this way they can walk with us as well.
My experience at the Wat Temple was insightful and eye opening. I gained insightful information on the Monk and learned that a Monk can’t be near women. I thought that this was beneficial to learn and be aware, since I’ll be visiting a Monk Chat while in Thailand during this trip. When I arrived at the Wat Temple it definetely opened my eyes. I thought that the Wat Temple was going to be a ‘temple’ like how I imagine. However, when I arrived to the Wat Temple it was just like a regular house. I think that this helped me to begin to become familar with Thai Culture by being aware. To be aware that sometimes my expecations may not be what I expect.
One learning goal that I have for myself in regards to this Learning Abroad seminar is to be open-minded and to be able to expose myself to the Thai way of life and to be aware as a observer and learner.
In the months and hours leading up to our orientation at the Wat Temple in Elk River, I became increasingly eager and nervous to learn more about our trip to Thailand and meet the strangers who will eventually feel like family to me (or so I’ve heard from past students who have gone on this trip). During the drive from Minneapolis to Elk River, I found myself fidgeting with the radio and tapping my fingers on the steering wheel more often than usual as I worried about getting to the temple on time and what the other students would be like. But during my time at the Wat Temple, I felt so at ease, and now I’m even more excited to go to Thailand! Being at the Wat Temple also made me realize that I need to be a lot more aware of Thai culture before we go, and I have a lot more to learn. Like, I had no idea that as a woman I cannot touch a monk, which I started to catch onto as the day went on. I also didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to point my feet towards a monk until Dr. Solheim pointed it out. I have a feeling that during this trip I will be having a lot of (good) learning moments like that, where I’m unknowingly doing or saying something improperly. Along those same lines, my main learning goals for this seminar are to become more aware of how my cultural background influences my perceptions of the world and to see the world using a different cultural lens.
I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again and getting to know you better!
The Wat Temple visit was a really great way to be introduced to the Thai culture. Being exposed to the different relationship dynamics, especially between the monk and women, was really interesting and will surely be helpful when we actually get to Thailand. It was definitely reassuring how accepting and welcoming the Thai people at the Temple were. Personally I am an atheist, as others have touched on as well, but they made me feel comfortable in their religious environment. It was a very calm and serene experience.
One goal I have for my study abroad experience is to challenge my comfort zones. I’m also going to try and work on letting go of some of the routines and stressors that I find negative in my daily life. In other words, I am going to try and live by the philosophy: “Life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you handle what happens.”
I really enjoyed my experience at the Wat Temple because it really emersed everyone in the Thai culture. I was surprised by how welcoming they were to everyone and just how humble they were. I didn’t realize that their religion is so intertwined in their day to day lives. I have grown up somewhat religious, but my parents never practiced their faith. As I got older, they started to find it and I started to realize that religion wasn’t for me. The Wat Temple did not make me feel uncomfortable or unwelcome and that made me feel even more invited. I also LOVED the food. I am a huge Thai food fan and really enjoyed getting to taste what authentic Thai food is like. I think this will definitely help me in Thailand because I will know what to order at restaurants.
2. A goal that I have for myself is to not hold back and truly embrace the unknown of this adventure. I never thought I would be doing a study abroad and that just makes it all the more special. I want to focus on each day and not think about whats going on back at home. I also want to feel connected to each city we visit and to the people that we meet.
When I got out of the car I, like a lot of people, was caught off guard by the house in front of me. However, the exterior of this temple did not change how much I took out of the day. I am still in awe of my experience at the Wat Temple. The Thai culture is something that I wish my life was more like. The family and people that we met were kind, generous, and very careful and caring about how we were feeling. I think that being mindful of yourself and how your actions make other feel is a virtue that everyone should at least try to incorporate in their lives. Throughout the whole day I was at peace. This may have come from the meditation exercise that we did. I have actually been trying to do this everyday and it really makes a difference.
One learning goal that I have for this trip is to learn and take home with me a piece of Thai culture. I tend to get stressed out quite a bit. I think that incorporating the Thai and Buddhist beliefs into my own life will make me a happier and healthier person.