All posts by Catherine Solheim

The Countdown is on…..

Sawatdee, Ka! This is Acharn Cat, instructor for the 2018 Global Change, Communities and Families in Thailand course. I’m excited to introduce 14 University of Minnesota students to an amazing country and culture over the three weeks we will be in the country. I am especially looking forward to getting to hearing students’ perspectives as they meet people and experience the culture. Stay tuned as students post their pre-departure thoughts, then continue to blog as our journey unfolds.

Saying Goodbye to Thailand…

We have roughly three hours remaining in Bangkok until we have to begin our long journey back to the states. As many of my other trip mates have described, this is a truly bittersweet feeling. The past week in Bangkok has been a whirlwind of activities; more learning experiences both academically and culturally. The Bumrungrad International tour was one that resonated in my mind the most. I am hoping to pursue a career in the hospital field, the faster pace the better. I was fascinated by the administrative aspect and how well they are reporting for their margins of operation. The entire design of the hospital is something to take in, it had more of a hotel feeling than a health care facility. I was certainly awe-stricken from the first moment we stepped in the Bumrungrad until the last. The pharmacy robotic system also created some personal excitement in regards to how it could improve the patient safety

Julie Ann Blog #3

Julie Ann Blog #3
January 8, 2014
Yesterday, we spent the day and night at Mae Kam Pong Homestay. This was an incredible experience and one of my favorite parts of the trip so far. The village is up in the mountains and is home to a community of “forest people” who are northern Thai people. The houses we stayed in reminded me of cabins in the woods. Most of them had open porches and old cabin smells. The host families were all so hospitable and kind. I attached a picture of the woman who hosted me and a picture of me standing on my host family’s porch.
The entire village was so beautiful and is placed along a stream. All of the village houses run up a long hill split by the street. Then on both sides of the street there are paths to go down to the stream where there are gazebos and temples. I felt like the whole village was an open zoo because there were many different kinds of animals openly walking around. There were roosters, chickens, peacocks, turkeys, dogs, and cats all roaming throughout the village and along the paths. At one point, a few of us were chased by some of the turkeys, which was a little scary but also pretty funny!
On the night of this homestay, we had a conversation with the leader of the village. As I was listening to him speak, I found many connections between the Mae Kam Pong village and kibbutzim. The leader was explaining how all of the families stay in the village to work. They are their own community who budget together, farm together, and are in the process of becoming more eco-friendly. They grow all of their own food and have committees that monitor the systems and structures within the village. This communal living is very similar to the lifestyle on a kibbutz. In most kibbutzim, people also grow their own food, pool their money together to budget costs, and work within the kibbutz. I have visited kibbutzim on my trips to Israel, and the feelings around family and the values around relationships and simplicity is also similar among both lifestyles.
It is interesting that you can be half way around the world but still find aspects of the cultures and lifestyles that are so familiar. Another example of this is the tradition that Thai people do on New Years Eve. The tradition is to light a lantern and let it go in the sky. This symbolizes letting go of bad things from the old year into the universe. It is also tradition to buy a bag of live fish and then release them in the water for good luck. In Judaism, we celebrate the Jewish New Year called Rosh Hashanah. One of the traditions of this holiday is to throw bread into flowing water. This tradition is called Tashlikh, which means “casting off.” Throwing the bread in the flowing water symbolizes casting off the previous year’s sins before the New Year begins. While letting go of my lantern into the night sky on New Years Eve, I thought of this similarity and how cool it was to be partaking in a tradition of a new culture but still feel connections to my own.

Overpacking Lesson

Before coming to Thailand, packing was a hard task with the Holidays in mind. Although my room mate and I planned the things that we need, it was all so difficult to be limited with things to live off of. Being a newbie traveler, I had thought of all the possible occasions that I may need something, and might not have it. For example, what if on the plane ride I got very hungry, what if my luggage got lost, I must pack enough stuff on my carry on, and the list goes on. My check in luggage I was nervous might be too heavy that I might have to pay extra, but luckily it was 49.5 pounds!! YAY!! “Yay!” was no more the first couple of day since there were a lot of moving around. With a backpack, small carry on and a big old luggage, it was a workout every time we moved some where. (The uneven ground doesn’t help much either). This is a good thing, if you like to work out, but I don’t. Boo hoo! 

Anyhow now that we are settled in Chaingmai for a good week and a half, I am trying to use up things that I can. Reflecting upon it, I do admit, I over packed a little. But I am going to shake it off and smile because I am learning to be a traveler, I did get a workout (which is rare these days), and Thailand is amazing. This aligns with one of the philosophies that the monk talked about. Avoid suffering, so I should try to see what came out of it. But at the same time the American way, is to see how I can improve the situation, or what can I learn from the experience. The clash of two worlds.. I can not wait for more of Thailand!! 

Thailand Advice

1) First of all, the check in luggage can only be 50 lbs. Carry ons (maximum 1 personal and another small luggage or bag) are not weighed, although you want them to be lighter.  I super over packed my luggage and carry ons, and had to carry everything around was quite tiring since we did move around a lot. 

2) The rule “Once you think you are done packing clothes, shoes, bathroom supplies, etc, REPACK by taking out half of the things you thought you need (especially clothes)” is TRUE!! It is a good idea to share shampoo, condition, lotion, etc with your room mate so only one party needs to brings it. I brought things (clothes) that I didn’t really need, or multiple versions of the same items. 
 3) Clothes – Have a variety of clothes. Capris is the best clothing item I felt, or long shorts. Bring swim suits,

3) NEVER, and REMEMBER to not put “weapon-like” items onto your carry ons. Such as scissors

Advice for future students

There are numerous things I wish I had known before studying abroad. I hope I can pass on what I learned to help prepare future students.


I wish I had a better understanding of what to wear and when to wear it. I thought I had to dress very conservative all the time. Turns out, it is okay to wear less conservative clothes during leisure time. I would also suggest giving yourself enough time to pack. This way, if you are questioning a piece of clothing, you have time to address your concerns with your professor. Also, listen to your professors when they tell you to pack light. You do not need a different outfit for each day. I would suggest bringing pieces of clothing that can be mixed and matched. Plus, there is a great possibility you will buy clothing with abroad. Also, even though the weather is generally warm in Thailand, it gets cool at night and in the mountains. Be prepared; bring a light jacket, pants, and other warm clothing.

Packing Light
As I stated previously, packing light is important. Bring items which can be tossed once used up. It is possible to purchase certain items while abroad, so only pack what you need. If you run out of something, such as a drug store item, or realize you forgot a jacket, you can always buy one. 
Communication is key. If you are ever uncomfortable with something or unsure, ask. Don’t be afraid to approach your professor with concerns you have about the trip or something you are doing while on the trip. You have the right for your voice to be heard. You should feel comfortable approaching your professor, classmates on the trip, and tour guides. Also, don’t let verbal communication be a barrier between you and the natives. Be creative in how you communicate.  
Be adventurous 
Don’t be afraid to try new things. This is a once in a life time opportunity, embrace it.   Try not to let money hold you back. If you want to try something but think it may be too expensive, just go for it. I mean, you may only get to ride elephants in Thailand once in your life.

The generative circle of life

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.

1979 Thailand Cathy with Yuwa_2

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.

Choke Dee, na ka!!!

Mueda’s Story – from stateless person to environmental advocate

This is the story of Mueda Nawanat, born and raised near the Thai/Burma (Myanmar) border. Born to refugee parents, she was considered a ‘stateless person’ and was denied access to secondary school and the university. Because of this, she helped pass Article 23 of the Thai Nationality act which allows people born in Thailand before 1992 to apply for Thai citizenship. In 2008, that happened for Mueda – she became a Thai citizen.  She formed a group called Mekong Youth Assembly that supports communities to protect their environment and fight against unsustainable development.

Click here to listen to Mueda’s Story