All posts by Catherine Solheim


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 .


For this blog, I will be sharing one of my journal entries. I feel that my entry perfectly describes how I’ve been processing the knowledge gained from Thailand. Hopefully some of you can relate to this entry. It is in the form of a letter, written specifically to God (it helps me reflect and dig deep into my thoughts).
Dear God,
I am slowly taking in everything that I am seeing and learning. There’s so much to process right now. Each time I look at the Mekong River, I am reminded of the triumphs and struggles my family and ancestors went through. Being in this place and getting a glimpse of the lives in the past makes me feel truly grateful. The Hmong people shed blood and tears in order to move the community forward to a better and brighter future. They persevered through all of the roadblocks and barriers. It is truly inspiring to discover and learn how strong my people are. I am certainly having difficulty adjusting to the conditions here in Thailand, but I believe that the amount of discomfort that I am experiencing is meant to help me see a tiny bit of my people’s struggles. Though I am not getting a full experience of the challenges they faced, I feel that I am getting a sense of how hard it must have been for them.
Exploring the systems here is also helping me uncover how I show up in this world. I am beginning to see that I am in fact, privileged in many ways. I often take my life situation for granted, and tend to focus my energy on what I don’t have. With this mindset, I am blinded by the many struggles that other people in the world are facing. I become selfish, needy, and ungrateful. My thirst for success and riches grow as I become deeply embedded in the American system.
Putting myself in another culture and observing the systems in Thailand has been life-changing and empowering. It made me realize that all of the nations in this world are interconnected in some way. My consumption impacts other people in this world, and the choices I make certainly affect those around me. In relation to this concept, the dams that the Chinese government is building disrupts the flow and ecosystems of the Mekong River. It is also taking a toll on countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia. Though the Chinese government realizes the negative impact that they are making, they fail to fix these mistakes because their main focus seems to be improving their own system. Learning about these different issues makes me feel uneasy. I am appalled with how fixated certain individuals can be with their own systems. Though I understand that humans operate on different wavelengths and have their own realities, I sincerely hope that more people will become more open towards learning other systems and maybe, become advocates.

Crystal Yang

To Be Happy

I have never been a good writer when it comes to being expressive or descriptive of what my idea is deeply about. I am a people person, I love to talk to people rather than write down my thoughts. When I write I feel so limited, but when I talk my words just comes out so freely. Trying to reflect back on this wonderful opportunity of being a part of this program, I really can not put the words to explain my feelings. Sad? Happy? Amazed? Those words do not even do justice to expressing my feelings. 

Being on this trip I have connected with so many things! First off Chiangmai was phenomenal! The neighborhood that I stayed in, the wonderful and yummy breakfast that I was privileged to have, and of course I would not forget the monk chat. Then there is Chiang Khong, where the beautiful Mekong river is located. During the stay here, I met some friends that I will never forget. Then of course being here in Bangkok just blew my mind with the crazy “city that never sleeps” vibe. I really can not just connect with just one individual focus because as of right now, my mind is having mixed feelings of all kinds… I feel so high off of the wonderful experiences that I was able to have. If I was to write about my experiences of this wonderful trip, I would probably end up with a series. 
But one thing that I would always be grateful for is the people that I have met on this experience. Whether it is Ajun Cathy or Ajun Linda, my peers/my Thailand family, the three wonderful interns Mat, Miew, and Ake, the three wonderful tour guides that stayed with us our first week, our home stay moms, the drivers that had to put up with the girls loud voices and laughing, the hotel employees, the employees that always opened the door for us at the IResidence Hotel, the beautiful and kind hearted people at the Mekong River School, Chiangdao students, Prab JoLee, the old couple who steered the boat during the crazy rainstorm, and even the workers that I had conversations with at the shops and restaurants. Grateful, enlighten, passionate, happy, karma, I really do not know what words will be able to help me express this personal learning of mine. Maybe when I get back into the states, my mind will settle down a bit and it will help me to slowly gain words to express my feelings… Or maybe because this trip is so beautiful in being able to realize life in such a different perspective, I would have to make up my own word to describe my own self learning. All the people that I have shared a road with had impacted and shaped my life on this trip.
“A way of life.”

Until We Meet Again

I mentioned in my last blog post that I was having a difficult time finding the words to describe my experience here – two weeks later, I am still struggling. The difference, however, comes from something I’ve learned here: that its okay not to know and to just go with the flow. This experience has taught me so many things, and it has been a combination of being here in Thailand and being able to share this experience with 19 other amazing students. I am a little scared for re-entry back into my life in the US: am I different? I didn’t believe that three weeks was long enough to have such an impact, but I was so very naive in thinking that. I have to say that my experience here has made me reflect a lot on the beauty in simplicity and this idea of not knowing. I plan to rid my apartment of all the unnecessary clutter I have collected, because all I can picture is our first homestay that consisted of only the necessities: a roof and faded pictures of family. Also, the shower was just a faucet connected to the wall, and the floor made of stone, and for some reason I am really hung up on the idea of why do we have plastic tubs? Why do we separate the shower? Why do we have four cars or feel like success is connected to money? I know it seems silly, but that is a glimpse of how my mind has been trying to process everything I have seen or heard here. It all matters, because the choices we make to focus on bettering ourselves or our community, our shared environment or our lawn, is all interconnected. 
This blog post has been interrupted with random moments of crying, and smiling as I reflect on every moment, and person that has shaped this experience for me. I wish I had the words to explain this, and maybe one day I will, but for now it’s okay. 

Thank you Thailand

Thailand will forever be a part of me. I still can’t fully process everything that happened in Thailand. This experience was eye opening, crazy, emotional, amazing, and all of the above. I have met amazing people who are doing amazing things and they have become a part of Thailand for me. In a short period of time, I feel as though I have grown so much mentally.

We have visited so many places in Thailand. Sometimes I would wonder, “Why in the hell are we here and what does this have to do with anything?” Acharan Cathy and Acharan Linda gave us the experience but the connection between each of the experience is one that we would have to do ourselves. The processing each of the experience and the personal connection is what makes our stay in Thailand much more meaningful to each of us. I would be lying if I say it was a easy process. I am still iffy about some experiences but of those experiences that I processed, it is as fireworks is going off in my mind.

One particular experience was very emotional one for me. Visiting the Chaing Dao was a life changing one. The moment I walked into the auditorium and seeing those wonderful kids sitting, tears started coming down. I was so happy to see such young, bright, and beautiful students. Though they did not have much, each one of them is fighting hard for their education. Some of which leaves their family at a young age and dorm at the school. My tears wouldn’t stop as we visited individual classrooms. Some of these students seem to be five or six years old and yet they are so strong willed.


In the van Acharan Linda asked me how the visit was for me and I couldn’t answer because my voice started cracking. I will now answer that question. It was one of the most inspiring thing that I have ever experience in my life. I realized how privileged I am as an American and really take for granted that privilege. I need to slow down in life and appreciate the little things in life. These student inspires me  to be a better person and try my hardest to reach my dreams because if someone like these students can rise up from close to nothing, why can’t I. I have all that I have and if I can’t reach my dreams, then I  have taken my life for granted.

12 Years Ago and Now

           I am back in Thailand as an adult and as a tourist.  I have more money to spend.  My goals that I posted in the first blog was going to different places, eat different foods and compare my experiences of Thailand as a ‘refugee child’ to my experiences as an ‘adult tourist’ and learn from them.  Now that am free to do as I wish, I bought a huge quantity of clothes as well as gifts.  To others it might seem like I spent so much and impulsively.  So, why do I spent so much? 

           Twelve years ago when I was still a child living inside a refugee camp in Thailand, I’ve never once in my life have more than 15 baht (about $0.45) in my hands.  Most of the times when I go to school, my parents would give me 10 baht (about $0.30) to spend.  Everyday, I will use five to seven baht for my lunch and I would use the left over money for snacks.  Sometimes, I would buy rice paddy with banana inside to eat on the way to school.  Sometimes after lunch, I would get a pancake in the shape of a turtle for 1 baht.  Sometimes, I tried not to spend all of the money my parents gave me so they don’t have to get me more money the next day.

            I’ve never wore a pair of shoes worth more than 10 baht (about $0.30).  Yes, the more expensive the shoes are the prettier they are.  I’ve always resisted it when my parents offer to buy me a prettier pair of shoe and declined their offer although I wanted a pair of nice shoes to match my friends.  I was eight years old at the time and I was not too young to know that my parents are struggling to make money and to keep foods on the table for their six children.  There were many times that my family of eight shared two pack of noodles.  We would make it with a lot of water and mixed the noodle soup with rice and eat it.  Most of the times, my dad would only eat a little so that his children will have enough.  My dad would eat the left over foods on our plates when we are done.  I am aware of this,  every time he gave me a piece of meat or more noodles, I would purposely not finish it and pretended that I am full so he will have a little bit more to eat later.  This was my life in Thailand from the day I was born until I was ten years old.  I’ve never regret any of it but learned to appreciated how much my parents love us. 

          Now I have more than 15 baht (about $0.45) in my hands, I have thousands of baht to spend and have spent thousands already.  I am spending to make up for all the things that I’ve never had.  Still, I have no regrets for what I spent my money for.

Challenges of Living in The Present

My time here spent in Thailand has been nothing short of amazing. I had this trip planned for nearly a year and was counting down the days until departure. About two months prior to leaving, I emailed Marina to cancel my application and give up my spot on the trip. I got scared and was overwhelmed with stuff going on at home; I felt like it was a terrible time to leave the country. I then realized that I’m traveling for me, I’m learning for me, and I AM going to take this time for me. I quickly emailed Marina back a day later and restated I would be able to attend the trip and to keep me on the list.

The timing of the trip could not have come at a more perfect time. While at home, I was worried about a lot of things that were beyond my control. Finals were going to happen, I was going to graduate, my relationship(s) with my boyfriend and a friend were falling apart one day at a time, and I was not taking care of myself. I was constantly taking care of other things and other people, I completely disregarded my own well being. I decided that traveling to Thailand would give me the opportunity and time to self reflect and really figure out what I am passionate about and how I want to live my life after graduation. Being away from home would push me out of my comfort zone and really force to me adapt to environments I am not used too. I was so excited but had no idea what to expect.

After spending three weeks traveling around Thailand, I have grown in ways that I never thought I would, and I have learned so much more about who I am as a young American woman. Being in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar faces and not having access to all the “things” I do when I am at home freaked me out a little bit. My open-mindedness and ability to feel a sense of comfort was tested. For a while, I was constantly worried about what was going to happen next but I got tired of asking questions and decided to just go with the flow. Eventually, the only thing I ever really wanted to know was what time I needed to meet up with the group, otherwise once again everything was beyond my control. Also, being in a group of people with such different personalities was really difficult for me as well. I am someone who has a small circle of friends and not being able to rely on those friends for the past three weeks was tough. I was forced to make new friends and create new relationships. I was forced to live in the present and accept everything that was happening day to day. Some days were more frustrating than others but I also had experiences I will never forget. In every moment I tried my best to understand why I felt the way I did and what triggered that feeling. There were days where I was really happy and there were other days I was super tired and everything annoyed me but I always reminded myself to have gratitude.

The challenges I faced over the past three weeks really helped me grow and understand a little more about who I am. Though I only listed a few above, there were many more. Some more personal than others and some so minor that people would probably question why I am even being challenged. With that said, I confronted each of those challenges head on and faced realities I never thought possible. I am so grateful for the time spent in Thailand and all of the wonderful people I got to meet. Working towards finding a balance between the mind and the body is really pushing me to reevaluate my own way of life. Challenges come in all shapes and sizes. Some grow from something really small and others are a complete surprise, but at the end of the day its all about how one acts and reacts when faced with challenges. Thank you all so much for going on this journey with me!