Condoms vs Chlamydia?

Throughout this trip, the restaurant Cabbages and Condoms has resonated the most with me. I never thought I would find something to be so passionate about on this trip and like my choice in the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities it came from the most unassuming place. On our way from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, we were told we would stop at a restaurant called Cabbages and Condoms. At first thought I thought this was a mistake because of the “Condoms” in the title but when I asked P’Beer, our tour guide, again she said exactly the same thing— Cabbages and Condoms. Growing up in a household that didn’t speak much about sexual health except for the occasional “if you want to succeed a baby wouldn’t help you”, it was surprising to see an eating establishment openly displaying information about sexual health in a country that I thought was extremely conservative; judging by the way I was told to dress for the trip and its militaristic government. 

Information given by restaurant (I wasn’t able to rotate the picture)

The restaurant not only gave me amazing food but also showed me how much the locals, organizations, and the government cared about people’s sexual health; a topic which had always been so taboo even in my conversations in America. Through both the human ecology and social justice lens, I saw just how important sexual health education was in the Thai community. In the 90’s the Thai government created an initiative to decrease the number people infected with HIV/AIDS through giving out 60 million free condoms to Thai citizens.  Cabbages and Condoms came about later thanks to The Population & Community Development Association (PDA) to help rural communities be educated on sexual health while also receiving free contraceptives and delicious food. Through the human ecology lens we see how a national policy affected a community organization to make a change and significantly help with sexual health awareness. With advent of Cabbages and Condoms, PDA was able to help bring down the average from 7 children in a family to 2 children in a family. This changes the notion of large families in rural and poor communities and changes how families interact within human ecology.

Poster at the restaurant (I wasn’t able to rotate it)

As an American, who sees the importance of sexual education in rural and poor communities within America, I am inspired to help these communities through the ingenious use of food much like Cabbages and Condoms. From what I saw, using food to make a taboo subject more “palatable” has made a significant difference and I feel that it would be wise to try and implement it in more communities around my community at home.

Our Natural Environment

The Human Ecology Model (HEM) is based on the interdependence of organisms (individuals/families) and the environmental systems with which they interact. Traveling so far from my home has been an experience that has allowed me to reflect on my life and the little things that I take for granted. In this blog post I am going to address the ways in which I observed human activity working with and against the natural environment while in Thailand. I would like to also address that this is only MY perspective, obtained from my observations of the differences between two very different cultures, the Thai culture and North American Culture. 

I have observed that Thailand seems to incorporate the natural environment into some of their cities. In the states, often you see bulldozers clearing out forested areas to build new infrastructure, but particularly in Chiang Khong, I’ve seen roads that go around a mountain vs directly through and plants and trees between sidewalks. 

Sidewalk in Chiang Mai

We visited some Hill Tribes that gave me an idea of their lifestyles and the values and beliefs that they practice. Many of the Hill Tribes, such as the Huay Kom Nok Karen Village, practice a way of living that protects the natural resources and the overall sustainability of the environment. The Hill Area Community and Development Foundation (HADF) that we spoke with, talked to us about the issue associated with the economic and population growth in Thailand and how this impacts the natural environment. Similar to Thailand, the States also have issues with deforestation, soil erosion, water scarcity and biodiversity. There is a note-able concern of environmental degradation in both countries. Although, I have noticed that there is a lack of environmental effort in Thailand, I think that their efforts are focused more on the high rates of poverty and homelessness within the country. 

Doi Inthanon National Park Hike

As rapid globalization is occurring in Thailand,  it is important to practice sustainable behaviors when interacting with our natural environment, because it affects our lives and many livelihoods. I believe that the many people that are in a position of privilege should practice behaviors that preserve our environment. Understanding the social injustices and the environmental injustices experienced by people in Thailand has allowed me to recognize the privileges that I have and the ways that I am responsible to contribute to the change that is needed. 

The Lives and Dreams of the Hmong In Thailand

Before coming to Thailand, I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect. I’ve seen photos and videos of Hmong villages within my classes, but I only had a small glimpse of what life was like in Thailand for both the Thai and Hmong communities. Coming to Thailand had allowed me to get a deeper understanding of the lives and people in the country. I believe the most influential part of the trip was getting to know the people in the country, and breaking stereotypes which I have had previously before coming to Thailand.

On the first day of the trip, I quickly fell in love with the homey-ness of the shops around the city. Coming from Minnesota where stores are typically large corporations, it was a nice change of scenery to see that there was no pattern to the jumble of shops around Chiang Mai. In addition to the scenery, it was incredible to see the forests of Thailand and how closely it resembled home for me. I could see how the plants which my family grew in my home resembled the plants surrounding the mountains of Thailand such as banana trees, tall plants, and tropical flowers.

The mountains and forests of Thailand were breath-taking.

During our encounters with the ethnic minorities in Thailand, I was surprised to see how many ethnic groups there actually were in Thailand. Going to the ethnic minority museum allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of a large amount of diversity and histories of the people which make up Thailand.

Women from the Yao ethnic group. There are many other ethnic groups in Thailand including the Hmong, Lisu, Karen, Lahu, and Akha.

During the trip, the part which I was most anxious for was meeting the Hmong people in Thailand. Because I am not fluent in the language, I was worried about what they would think of me as I could not communicate well with them. Initially, I did not speak much during the first visit with the Hmong Village. However, as we continued to meet more of the Hmong community, they began speaking with me and teaching me more about their lives in Thailand. This allowed me to feel more comfortable using my language skills to try to speak to them. On our visit to the Chiang Dao School, we interacted with the 9th-grade students of the school and attempted to get to know more about each other through cultural exchange. With the combination of English, Hmong, and picture drawing, we were able to ask questions and learn more about each other.

One of the MC’s during our visit to the CRRU Student Club.

During our time at Laos, we were introduced to a family who worked in the Dauuw Village. We learned more about the owner, and his move from Thailand to Laos to selflessly help the vulnerable populations of the Hmong in Laos. Through their work, they house children without parents, provides childcare and education to the children, houses single mothers, and creates job training for women through their women shelter. Through this, I could see how the family was inspired to use their means to uplift the vulnerable populations of the community, and to give them a chance at life.

Enjoying our time at the Daauw Village

The last way which I saw the dreams of the community was through the Mekong School. We met with Ku-Thi, the founder, who told more about his mission to work with the Hmong people and give them an opportunity to have a voice regarding their home and environment. The work which he did truly inspired me as he and the other Hmong student-researchers worked to collect data and advocate for the dreams of the Hmong people in preserving their homeland against large corporations and environmental destruction. His passion for helping the Hmong, as well as educating the community about the lives of the Hmong truely touched me as the voices of the Hmong often go unnoticed.

Boats of the Mekong River. Many people use these boats to carry goods which will be sold or exported.

Throughout the trip, I have had the privilege to meet many people of the Hmong and Thai community in Thailand, and to see that their dreams were to become educated, encourage others to become educated, to show their cultural pride, to give a voice to their community, and to protect those most vulnerable within the community. This trip was a small glimpse of some of the inspiring individuals in Thailand working to fight for what they believe in, yet it has allowed me to see that the similarities are much greater between us when it comes to the fundamental core of who we are as human beings, and the hopes and dreams that we have for the future.

Multicultural Diversity & Integration in Thailand

Throughout our three weeks in the cities of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Chiang Khong in Thailand, we have navigated, discovered, learned, and struggled through the different aspects of what this beautiful country has showed us. There were many hot and humid days as we strolled around the night market or hiked up in the highlands. Because every day was a new learning experience, I tried to absorb all the knowledge by reflecting about the things we did each day. It was difficult because I learned so much in this program, but once I began to observe my surroundings and take the situation as it was, then I became aware of how to navigate various experiences. To me, I was always more interested in learning about the ethnic minority groups in Thailand. As an ethnic minority in the US and then coming as another ethnic minority to Thailand, I wanted to learn about how the ethnic groups particularly the Hmong bring diversity and integrate themselves in the Thai mainstream society.

Look at these cute Hmong kids! They are so amazing and vibrant! They asked me what village I come from, but I told them I come from America. They don’t know where America is. They’re playfully naughty, but that’s how kids are. I miss them already. I still remember their names.

In Chiang Mai, which was the first city we stayed at, if I had to be honest, visiting the Suksasongkroh Chiang Dao Boarding School and Pha Nok Kok Hmong Village was the first day where I became exposed to focusing more on the ethnic groups rather than the Thai community. These experiences were on our first Friday in Thailand and this was the day where I enjoyed the most throughout our first week.  When we visited the Chiang Dao Boarding School, it was the time where students were just returning to school. Traditional Thai schools begin their schooling from May to March and have about 200 days of school (Clark 2014). Another interesting point to make about public Thai education is that students are fully funded by the government of 15 years (Thai PBS 2016). This holds true for the students attending the Chiang Dao Boarding School.

Not taken at the Chiang Dao Boarding Schoo, but this was taken at the Meungkarn Boarding school. 5 students then became to 18 or so students. When you become become popular with the Hmong students.
PC: Acharn Cat

What really attracted my attention and amazed me about this school was that it allows the students to wear their cultural clothing each Friday. This school admits and supports children who mainly come from poor families and the majority if not all come from the 10 ethnic groups in Thailand such as the Karen, Lisu, and Hmong. Before I did not really see and understand what Thailand does to acknowledge their ethnic groups. Of course, we watched a cultural performance and saw cultural clothing at the night market, but these things were not really explained to me. In other words, there was not a conversation about it. However, visiting Chiang Dao or Meungkarn and getting the opportunity to talk with the teachers about how they try to preserve the students’ ethnic identity made me begin to change my perspective of how Thailand lacks to recognize multicultural diversity. In addition, while all the students speak Thai as a common language, the majority if not all speak their own ethnic language. It is like multiple immersion schools put into one which I believe it is wonderful.

The ‘whole’ group picture. In their home, they have about 45 family members. Their home is in the Daauw Vilage. The place we were at was a restaurant and a homestay. This is how they earn income. So happy to hear that tij laug Chan and the adults help children who don’t have parents or have lack of access to resources. It’s a great project and I support it very much.
PC: P’ Beer

There were 3 villages we visited – 2 being Hmong villages and 1 being a Karen village. I have only heard village life in the highlands of Thailand or Laos from our Hmong elders, but to be able to stand on the same landscape as like them has made me reminisce about their experiences. In addition, visiting the villages and learning about their ways of life has made reflect about the different things that my parents may have done during their time in Southeast Asia. When we visited the villages, they had roads leading to them and they were closer to the lowland than I expected. I may be oblivious to how high we were going up and what defines the border between city life and village life, but I did not think there was much of a long-distance travel between the city and the village. I remember clearly from the lady who volunteers as a secretary in the Hill Area Development Foundation mentioned, “When the organization was just starting, my mother and her group would walk up the hills to get the villages because there were no roads. But now there are roads which makes it easier for us to get to the villages.” We are seeing a change because as roads are connecting the city and villages, it gives villagers and Thai locals to get ease of access between the two. In addition, villagers especially children are coming to the village for education, yet they can return to their village in the evening. According to the village leader of the Pha Nok Kok Hmong Village, “If children want to go up higher in their education, then they would have to go to the city.” Most villages would only offer elementary school like the first Hmong village we visited. However, if the village is poor or if children want to attend higher in their education, then they have to go to school in the city.   

From left to right: Zeb, Keeb, Nuj Xwm, Me, & Foos
These were my tablemates for the day. Thanks for welcoming me into your club and school. It really felt like home.

The Hmong Student Club at Chiang Rai Rajabhat University (CRRU) provides a great model to show how an ethnic group creates a space to preserve their ethnic identity, while also being immerse in the Thai mainstream society. This has to be one of my most favorite days out of the 3-week program. From what I know, the club members are majoring in different fields such as Language, Logistics, and Finance, yet they all share one aspect in general which is their sense of pride in their Hmong identity. According to Phiaj who is the student club president, “The Hmong CRRU Student Club educates, preserves, and promotes Hmong culture the campus and public community.” From the pictures they have showed us, I believe they are doing amazing work in both communities especially giving back to the Hmong villages where education is lacking. I remember Paaj Nyiag who is one of the MCs that has told us that their student clubs brings general members to a village and they do a few overnights. While at these villages, they would assist the village by doing projects such as building a house or doing a student exchange with the children. I am happy to have met the Hmong college students and I will never forget about their generosity and hospitality.

As I stand in front of the Mekong River, the river that many of our Hmong families had to swim across to reach Thailand to escape from persecution, I don’t know how to feel. I’m clearly smiling in the picture of course, yet deep down I think back to the stories that our Hmong elders have shared.

While I think that there could be more progress for the Thai government to appreciate multicultural diversity, they are doing better than before. When my parents and other Hmong families escaped to Thailand as refugees, the Hmong were considered as outsiders, but now the Hmong are being integrated in Thai mainstream society. Although more and more especially the younger generation are moving into the city, they still have a sense of pride in their Hmong identity which is done by wearing their Hmong clothing or speaking in Hmong out in public. My time in Thailand has been nothing but fun and learning, and I am thankful to have been given the various opportunities to meet the Hmong in Southeast Asia. I will definitely miss the friends we have met along our journey, but I know it will not be the last time I will see them. I will be coming back for sure to spend more time with them.

Effects of Tourism

For most countries around the world, tourism is welcomed because of the economic effects it can have. I had not thought of the negative side effects that tourism could potentially burden a country and its people with. Before coming to Thailand, I had heard of the sex tourism that takes place in the country. However, I did not realize that trafficking extended so much further beyond just this. After we had our conversation with Friends International much of my previous thoughts on this topic changed. It made me think of the issues surrounding this topic and how there are potential solutions. I am by no means stating that I have the answer to this problem.

             I felt that those of us in the presentation were unaware of both the severity of trafficking and different ways that it transpires. Ignorance on our part and many of the people visiting Thailand is unquestionably contributing to this issue. Simply becoming educated will allow people to take the simple steps like not giving to panhandlers. There are parts of this problem that will be incredibly difficult to take on. Obviously, there is a large demand within Thailand for sex trafficking and that alone makes eradicating it extremely unlikely. As long as this demand continues, then there will be people to fill this need. Nevertheless, individuals can help lessen their impact on trafficking by becoming more knowledgeable about the topic.

Waste Management and Environmental Observations

I’d just like to say that I’ve been loving my time in Thailand so far! I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’ve already learned so much.

One of the major themes of this course is the environment. I’ve always been very invested in sustainability as it’s the reason I went vegetation (minus my flexing on this trip). Throughout my first week and a half here, I’ve noticed both disheartening and promising sustainability practices. For example, I’ve noticed a lot of plastic on the sides of the roads, etc. I think this may be partially due to the large amount of single use plastic in their markets and other areas. On a positive note, I noticed that the Karen man had solar panels on his roof which is very encouraging. Additionally, some of the homes we’ve visited don’t have AC which would go a long way in minimizing a carbon footprint. If people in the US, could live without AC for even a few days of the week, the planet would be much better off. Also, I noticed a zero waste school in Chiang Rai. It would have been very interesting to learn more about their methods.

On our free day, we met two people who’ve traveled around Southeast Asia. They noted that in Vietnam people were burning their trash including batteries. Sustainability starts with education and proper infrastructure which is unfortunately lacking. It seems like there are dedicated people in Thailand who are working to make these changes as the consequences are becoming noticeable in the area. Overall, it seems like they’re taking positive strides but also have much room for improvement. However, the United States also has a lot of room for growth when it comes to sustainability. I hope to make more observations on the topic as I continue on the trip!


Hey everyone! I thought about doing a couple different topics, some more along the lines of tangible objects, like water. But for me, I think the idea of gratitude was a larger overarching theme that I felt. Even with tangible items like water and how we take tap water and freshwater so for granted at home.

I am grateful to be here. Opening my eyes to the beauty around me, connecting with new people that have very different skills and talents, and learning so much every day. I am grateful to have this opportunity and to see some things that most people don’t see. I am halfway across the world, flying in on a plane, which many people don’t do, to see things like elephants, waterfalls, beautiful villages, and more. I am so lucky for this. Seeing these types of beauties is a very rare thing for most people.

I am also grateful for what I see here and comparing it to what I have at home. Wow, I am so thankful to have fresh water at home, toilet paper in bathrooms, cleanliness, and modern-ness in our cities and homes. Public transportation as well is a huge plus. It makes you realize that you really have it pretty good.

I am also grateful for communication. Wow, not being able to communicate has shown me how necessary this is to humanity. All I want to do is talk to the people here and give them love and kindness, so that is definitely hard to do with few words known. But, I’ve also learned and have been grateful for the ability to use non-verbal cues. These are so important and I am so happy they exist.

I am grateful for the people I have met here. Everyone is in different majors so it would have been hard to meet them, so it is cool to be in one place with these people. It pushes me to step outside my comfort zone and connect with people in a new way. And I’ve met some people that I really hope stay in my life as well!

Finally, I am grateful for who I am becoming when I am here. I have learned how to handle my anxiety better, I am becoming more worldly, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the positivity that I will take away from this and the gratitude for all that I have.

Grateful for the things I have seen!

I am very lucky. And so, so grateful!

Grateful to have met these people!

Returning “Home”

This is my first time in Thailand, but I’ve heard many stories from my parents and elders who have told me about their experiences living in Thailand. I didn’t hear much of what life was actually like in Thailand because they only told me about being in the refugee camps or escaping from war. In other words, I didn’t get to hear much of the positive aspect, but mostly only that the Hmong were very poor back then. In addition, they were treated as “outsiders” of the country. However, throughout the few days that I’ve been here, I notice that the Thai government recognizes the different ethnic groups such as the Karen, Lisu, and Hmong either living in the highlands or living along with the Thai locals in the lowlands. This is a different perspective that I’m getting compared to what my parents and elders have told me. The ethnic groups may live in villages and struggle from day to day, but at least there is being progress where the Thai government are supporting them in some way.

The day that meant most to me throughout our first week was Friday which is today. In the morning we visited a local school called Chiang Dao School. It is a school that offers 1st-12th grade to students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. A lot of them are poor and they come from the different ethnic groups. Stepping onto the campus grounds – I was just so excited to meet the students especially hearing that there are Hmong students among the student population. I was very interested in hearing how the school supports these students since a lot of them come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The school helps fully fund the students from when 7 y/o until 15 y/o, but what about the 16-19 y/o then? Well, the school helps find resources for the older students, so that they could keep going to school. For example, they may connect them to organizations where an organization can provide them grants or connect them to jobs where students could work on the weekends while attending school during the week. Throughout the morning, we got to tour the campus and meet the students. I was very happy to see them, but it looked like they were too shy to meet us. I felt that maybe we invaded their space a little, but maybe they were just shy. I hope that we didn’t make them feel that way because I wanted to come in with the intention of being a friend.

Representing our “tsoos tsho Moob” meaning our traditional Hmong clothing. I’m representing mines too. I love it.

In the afternoon, we visited Pha Nok Kok Hmong Village. After the experience at Chiang Dao School, coming in to this village made it felt like I’ve returned “home”. I put myself in the shoes as a Hmong Thai as someone who goes to school during the day and then return to the village in the evening. The most humbling and proud experience in the village was when I helped translate the village chief’s words from Hmong to English to our group. Although I had trouble with trying to translate some of it, I helped translated most of it and I think that is something to still be proud of because not being able to have much opportunities to maintain/learn Hmong, yet still translate most is great. I’m not the best, but at least I’m able to hold on my own well enough to converse with the Hmong Thai community. I didn’t get to have a satisfying experience at the village as I wanted since we were there for a short time and we didn’t get to interacted with villagers as much. Maybe because we came in as tourists instead of travelers. I wanted to come into the village not as a tourist, but someone who’s been gone away from the village for a long time, but then has return to stay with our community. I wanted to push myself out there by trying to interact with as many locals as I could, but then maybe it may seemed like I was doing too much which was I held myself back. I didn’t want to show off in front of others just because I’m Hmong, but I wanted to immerse myself into the community whether if it being helping the young man push the cart up the hill or chatting with the Hmong students about their day at school. I think what we did was okay. Probably because the short amount of time, I didn’t find it as meaningful as I wanted it to be.

While visiting Chiang Dao School in the morning and then Pha Nok Kok Hmong Village in the afternoon, I’ve felt like I “belonged” there. Again, I tried to put myself in the shoes of a Hmong Thai person throughout the day. I’m very happy to hear that our Hmong students are being accepted into the Thai community and that the Thai government are helping them with their education. Also, I’m not one to judge how Hmong Thai should like Hmong Americans, but they have their own ways of living. Therefore, if they so happen to live in a village and try to stay happy as much as they can, then so be it. I support the Hmong Thai community for doing that because it’s definitely not a life that I’m accustomed to. However, the whole day experience made it felt like I’ve returned “home”.

On Your Market, Get Set, Connect!

One of the most prominent things that I have noticed so far while on this study abroad trip is the importance of the local markets in these communities. We have had the opportunity to explore a couple of markets so far and these experiences have really stuck out to me. Back in the United States, farmers markets are a deep tradition in my family and are something that I have always admired and enjoyed. There was even a time in which I attended them weekly, helping my grandparents sell their plants. I fondly remember connecting to other vendors and sharing stories. Here in Thailand, markets provide a variety of important ingredients in Thai’s life. The most obvious is the food, which comes from local farmers stationed throughout the country. Fresh meat including chicken, pork and fish along with a diverse selection of vegetables, fruits and home-cooked meals.

This image is from a local market in Chiang Mai, Thailand and shows the beautiful selection of foods.

Food is a central part of the Thai culture and provides a chance for Thai’s to connect with each other and their families. It also has become an expression of their culture, a true staple of the country. Additionally, the food that is sold at the market is a large, if not only, source of income for many individuals and families. It is crucial for community members to support their neighbors and fellow Thai at these events by stimulating the economy and purchasing their produce at the market.

A local market in Chiang Mai, where local Thai meet to collect fresh produce and can connect with others.

Lastly, the market creates a social environment for locals and visitors alike to connect and share in something. Friends laugh and reminisce, check in on each other’s families and simply make connections to those around them. As someone who is not local, I find the market to be an opportunity for me to peer into the life and culture of the community. In the United States, we have begun to lose touch with events like this and may think lightly of it happening in other countries. I cannot tell you how many people I have interacted with that did not even know what a farmer’s market was. However, the importance of the local markets is vital to understanding other cultures and lifestyles, especially those in Thailand. It can, even if just for a moment, allow you to also be a part of all of it. So get out there, visit a Thai market, and get a taste of Thailand!

Hello, my name is Lily!

My Name is Lily Arvidson and I am a senior studying environmental science, policy and management. I am very passionate about environmental sustainability and plan to obtain a career in environmental planning. I love relaxing outdoors, sports, listening to music, and spending time with friends.

While in Thailand I am very interested in learning more about the Hill tribes and the challenges and conflicts that they are currently facing. I am also interested in learning about the water issues that Thailand is facing, to understand all of the drivers and the current management efforts.

Can’t wait to experience this learning adventure!