While staying in Chiang Rai, we were given the opportunity to meet a professor from Chiang Rai Rajabhat University (CRRU) and three of his students as we helped build a water reservoir for a local community. On our ride back into the city, I was given the opportunity to ride in the truck with all of them, where we got to get to know each other a little bit better. I was able to connect with these students in many different areas; from sports and video games to music and culture, I could tell that we had a lot of things in common right off the bat. Although Chokchai dislocated my pinkie playing soccer that day, I really enjoyed getting to be “one of the guys”. This is why when they asked us to play futsol (indoor soccer) with kids from their school the next day, I said yes with no hesitation.
This takes us to the next day, where we met the students at the indoor court to play. The game was very chaotic for me personally; not only do I rarely play soccer, but I also do not speak Thai (if you didn’t already know). Even with these barriers standing in the way, it took no time for me to feel like part of the team. Whenever someone on our team scored a goal, we ran around like we just won the World Series, which I believe really brought us together. I was even lucky enough to score two goals!
After the game, we were then able to go to the professor’s house for dinner. It just so happens that he is neighbors with a bunch of the students we played futsol with. This was a great opportunity to get to know all of them better, as well as see what their daily life entails. It was clear to me that most were very curious about our daily life, and we matched that curiosity. Everyone at this dinner was very giving, and it was a great experience that I got to make some new friends out of!
As the night ended, I started to compare the two different types of cultures reflected within the student body. The first thing that I thought was unique was that some of the students of CRRU were willingly neighbors with their professor and his family. This is something that I thought was rather interesting because it is something you would never see in America. This is a reflection of the interconnectedness that appears to be a common theme in all of Thailand that sometimes the United States really seems to lack. The other big thing that I noticed was how generous the students were, and how they invited us in with open arms. I felt like one of the group both playing futsol and at dinner, as I was constantly talking and laughing with CRRU students throughout the evening. They cooked us food and offered us a traditional drink that they made. It truly showcased their generosity.
Looking back on it, there was one main thing that I am looking to take away as I start my journey back home: being kind and open to people that are in an unfamiliar setting. The CRRU students/professor realized that we were in this unfamiliar setting, and they did everything possible to ensure that we felt at home with them. This is something that I don’t really believe college students in the United States would do as willingly, I know I certainly wouldn’t have done as much as they did. However, I feel like doing something as simple as this can be the small step needed to make a big impact in someone’s life, which is what I’ve learned that Thai people are all about.