Category Archives: 2012 Thailand Learning Abroad Blog

New Friends from Chiangrai Rajabphat University by Amanda Brueshoff

I feel it important to reflect on Friday’s visit with the students at Chaing Rai University (CRU) – it was a day I will never forget and some of the most fun I’ve had while here in Thailand. The outing was arranged so that we could match up with a group of students at their school, CRU, and spend time with them during the day. We didn’t have any specific agenda we needed to follow with them, other than attending dinner at 5:30pm, so it was nice to really have some free time and see what they wanted to show us. I didn’t know what to expect coming into this day – as far as what the students would be like, how much of a language barrier there would be, what their attitudes would be towards us, etc…so, there was a lot of anticipation attached to this specific experience.

We first met with them as we were sitting on our bus; the Thai students walked on and each picked a seat next to an American student. Right away, I could tell that they were all as excited and nervous as we were – and along with that, I could read the optimism and enthusiasm on their faces. I knew it was going to be a fun day. I was extremely lucky to sit next to (and therefore be unofficially “partnered up” with) a young student named Ched. He started off seeming a little shy and hesitant as we exchanged a few simple sentences. He told me he spoke only a little English and it wasn’t very good – I told him I speak almost no Thai and it’s probably pretty bad – so, I reassured him that he was ahead of me in the language category. And honestly, I was very impressed with his ability to speak English, as broken up as it may have been…. I was impressed by all of the students’ abilities to speak, especially compared to my 5 word vocabulary in Thai! Some of the older students (Juniors/Seniors) knew a little more and would help clarify confusion, so things went pretty smoothly from the start. As the day went on, I felt like the communication between all of us became much easier and took much less effort; more words were exchanged, everyone was more comfortable, and we all figured out that you can communicate surprisingly well through simple descriptions and non-verbals. Also, as the day went on, my buddy Ched really started to show off his true personality – I loved it! It was almost infectious! He was one of the most lively, entertaining and animated people in our entire group! He kept saying “No, no, but I am so shy” after he would do something funny or make everyone laugh with a joke… he was definitely the opposite of shy and I found it to be very refreshing! The other students too, they were all such awesome kids… so nice to us, really funny and easy to spend the day with. It was so fun to start to recognize the many similarities we all had, as far as behaviors, sense of humor, hobbies and even taste in music. Sitting together around campus, we had some great conversations about the common favorite music artists like Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber – there were even a few country music fans among the Thai students which led to a few Taylor Swift sing alongs! haha. We got along very well.

A specific highlight of the day with them was getting to ride on their mopeds! I learned that this is clearly the main mode of transportation for the CRU students on campus, as each one in our group had their own to drive around…and there were mopeds parked in large numbers all over the place. I can now understand why after riding with them – they are fun, fast and easy to park anywhere. Each of us got to ride on the back of a moped with our “partner” Thai student and we all drove around in what looked like a moped gang (about 15 mopeds) to check out different buildings on campus. They were pointing stuff out for us and stopping at various spots to make sure we saw everything they felt was important for us to see. I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure – the CRU campus is BEAUTIFUL and the moped riding made it all the more fun and exciting to see.

By the evening when it was time for dinner, we were all chatting and taking pictures with eachother and I felt that any initial awkwardness between us had completely faded away. As for dinner, the school had set up a traditional arrangement for all of us, both the American and Thai students, which included mats/rugs on the ground for us to sit and eat on and then a buffet style food line with tons of rice, meat, soup, vegetables, fruit and a few spicy dishes. One of the officials from the school spoke with us during our dinner and gave a bit of a presentation about the University; tied with that was a band that sat along side the dinner area and played some beautiful songs on several instruments that were unfamiliar to me. It was a perfect setting. We also were able to watch several traditional performances on stage, each interesting and expressive in their own way – there was a lot of dancing with these and even a man who came out and blew fire! Yikes! As we watched the festivities take place, I sat near Ched and some of the other Thai students and tried to get some help with any of the food items I didn’t recognize… I would ask “is this spicy?”, “how about this one?”. They thought that was pretty funny. Thankfully I ended up trying every item at it was all very good, very filling.

The evening came to a close with all of the students and professors being invited up on stage to learn how to do some of the Thai dancing. We stood in a circle and danced around together; we all laughed and enjoyed trying to make ourselves look as natural as the Thai students did when doing the dances. Afterwards, we did the lighting and releasing of lanterns (our second time on this trip!) with our Thai friends. We partnered up again and lit/released our lanterns after both making a wish for good luck. It is such a beautiful tradition and it was especially meaningful that night as we were able to share it with the Thai students. Finally, we all thanked eachother for a wonderful day, hugged and said our goodbyes. Most of us also exchanged contact info – facebook and email – because we all agreed we want to keep in touch in the future! I already have about 6 new Thai friends on facebook and some great pictures with them to share πŸ™‚

We met some really amazing people that day, all of whom we could relate to more than we expected. To me, the similarities completely outweighed our differences and I found this to be very cool. I plan to keep in contact with these students we met and I really hope to see some of them again someday, maybe when I come back to Thailand. They made such an awesome impression on all of us … It was a day well spent!

Sunday’s Experiences by Ginny Anderson

Today was a pretty great day! We went to the Royal Temple in the morning, had a traditional Thai massage in afternoon, and then we went to the market. The market was overwhelming. There was so much to look at, and there were people everywhere. I wanted to eat a cooked bug while we were there, but we ran out of time before it closed; I will make this happen before we leave Thailand though! When we left the market, we caught a Tuk-Tuk back to our hotel. I had not taken one in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, so this my first time. It was quite an experience, and I am not so sure I will be taking one again through the heart of Bangkok. Our driver (and other drivers) are crazy over here. We weave in and out of traffic so fast, I now fully understand why traffic accidents are the leading cause of death in Thailand. We made it back in one piece though, and I am excited for what tomorrow brings! πŸ™‚

Post by Katie Koppy

I am envious of the health care that is offered here in Thailand. Today we went to the Ministry of Health here in Thailand and learned about the differences between our health care system to Thailand’s. I was feeling a little groggy from my sinuses so I was zoning out a lot during this presentation. After the Ministry, we went to the biggest hospital in Southeast Asia: Bumrungrad. When we first walked in, it looked a lot like a shopping mall or an airport. We then had a lecture with the CEO Mack Brunner. I learned a lot about the amenities of the hospital and medical tourism. It was a very persuasive presentation, and it made me think twice about receiving health care in the United States. The doctors at Bumrungrad have all studied in the US and the quality is either the same or better than the US, yet health care in Thailand is 20- 50 % cheaper. We got the opportunity to tour parts of the hospital, and it resembles a luxury hotel. The supreme rooms offered for health care and the stay in the hospital look like high class hotel rooms, and they are only offered for 600 US dollars a night. In the United States, a luxury such as this would be thousands and thousands of dollars. Cost of living here is a lot cheaper, but health care costs in the United States are outrageous. Especially after coming to Thailand, costs seem to be extremely high in everything America has to offer. Going home is going to be a huge reality check for me and my expenses as well as my lifestyle.

Thai Power Healing! by Naomi Timm

The last few days have been kind of tough on my body physically. Feeling run down with a fever, stomach cramps, and body aches, I struggled to muster up the necessary energy to be a super student and power tourist. I had the travelers bug in the most literal sense. I was in a stamina battle with Thailand and she was winning. However from the Thai experiences within the last few days, I was able to relish in this amazing countries power and beauty and use it towards healing.

On our return from the Lu Hu Hill Tribe New Year festival-which was all things Thai, I was running a fever and was just not feeling well. But energy from the festival was still running through the group so we had a little impromptu karaoke/ dance off/ talent show which sparked some serious healing endorphins through my body! Almost everyone show cased their talents in one way or the other including Ajan Cathy and Ajan Jill! It was a lot of fun to see everyone’s unique skills and apparently randomly breaking out in song and dance is SO THAI!~!

The next day I still wasn’t feeling 100%, but when evening came around I once again felt the healing power of the amazing Thai culture. Chaing Rai University and their students hosted an authentic Thai dinner with entertainment and all! There was traditional Thai music, lanterns, the delicious aroma of Thai cooking, sitting on mats in the grass with short round tables to gather around, and great Thai student company-it was da bomb! And the entertainment! Every great Thai dinner party music has great entertainment and we were not disappointed. Along side the festive Thai music enchanting the atmosphere, we watched traditional Thai drummers dance with flames, a Thai silk dancer, and beautiful candle light dancers. The captivating experience simply erased any discomfort I had been feeling earlier in the day. We even lit little lanterns/small hot air balloons! The lighting of these lanterns symbolizes letting go of the past and all the bad and welcoming the good and the possibilities of the future- just what I needed! Let go of illness and welcome healing and strength! As I released my lantern that’s exactly what I did. Looking up into the sky with 20 illuminated lanterns drifting off towards the moon, I felt peace. I felt healing. I felt empowerment towards the future as all of us student gathered in unity. Despite our cultural differences, we share the desire for peace, happiness, and knowledge.

Experiencing Thailand by Amanda Brueshoff

To describe my experience so far in Thailand with only a few paragraphs seems almost impossible – there are so many events, moments and details that I feel I NEED to include to convey how amazing this trip has been for me. However, for the sake of this first blog, there are definitely a few specific outings that have stood out for me and have had a particular impact on my experience so far.

New Year’s Eve day was my first “Wow, we’re in Thailand!” moment. This was the day that we went on the Elephant riding and bamboo rafting excursion. We were all extremely excited and anxious for this adventure – for me, it was something that seemed like a must… because, again, we’re in Thailand!! Why not?! And the excitement was well worth it; I enjoyed every moment of that afternoon out. The elephants we saw were huge and quite majestic, extremely well trained and definitely worth seeing. I felt like I was in a movie as we trekked through the river on their giant backs, with the mountains as our backdrop scene. And then we added to that a river ride on a bamboo raft, very calming and almost surreal. The day was definitely an adventure. To top it all off, we had the chance to experience New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai later that day – I loved walking through the city, observing the mix of people and feeling the energy of the evening. We stopped while walking through the crowds to light and release paper lanterns; with these lanterns, we were able to make a wish for the new year to come. The lanterns are said to take with them all of the bad things or bad luck you’ve had, which, in my opinion, was a very fitting and meaningful way to bring in the new year. Another first for me that night was hearing the midnight countdown and initial “Happy New Year!” shouts in Thai – how cool!

Another enjoyable outing for me was our time spent at the hilltribe village last Thursday evening. I felt very honored and priviledged to be welcomed into their homes and community with such warmth. We were even given the awesome opportunity to take part in a traditional celebration and dinner with all of them and they made us feel very comfortable when taking part in all of the festivities – my initial thoughts of possibly feeling too much like an outsider were washed away upon experiencing the hospitality of everyone there. And to note, this is something that I have noticed and really appreciated in general about the Thai people I have met so far – they have been so kind, so sincere and seem genuinely happy when seeing/interacting with us. I suppose that this may be a part of the reason why Thailand is known as “The Land of Smiles” πŸ™‚

So, next during our hilltribe visit we were able to meet the leader/head of the village before having dinner. He looked suprisingly young to me but held an extremely calm, confident and calm presence that really impressed me. After speaking with him, we took a walk around the village, passing many houses all tucked back in the trees and waving to the locals as we walked. During the dinner and celebration, it was lively and exciting and everyone seemed to be having a great time together. We were fortunate to enjoy a traditional dinner with them and experience a small taste of the village life. I really loved the simplicity of it all – or what seems like simplicity when compared to the lives we live back at home. The experience this night had made me re-think about what “necessity” really is… from my perspective (or initial perspective) it seems that the people in these environments have so little… but if they were asked, would they say that same thing? I doubt it. They have such a strong sense of community, culture, tradition, family, togetherness – I feel like they do have everything they need. Maybe those really are the things that are most important…needless to say, the visit has made me look at life a little differently and it was an experience that meant a lot to me.

And there are many more moments that still are vivid in my mind! Our visit on Friday with the students from the University is definitely in my top three favorite experiences as well…I will write about this soon!

Health Care in Thailand by Casey Churchill

I am in complete shock. We just finished a full day looking first hand at the outstanding health care system Thailand has to offer. What stands out to me the most is the Bumrungrad International hospital. Walking into this hospital, just took my breath away. It resembles a hotel room rather than a hospital, in everyway. The look, the hospitality and even the smell. What really struck me was how much they pay for treatment and the outcomes. In the states, we pay such a high price for low quality of care. Here in Thailand, it’s the exact opposite; you pay 1/8 of the price you would in the states (and that is no exaggeration), and you get much better quality of care. The CEO of this international hospital talked to us today about so much! Words can’t describe what this hospital holds, what it gives, and how little it takes. It makes the patient feel at home, rather than a sick patient, who has no authority over the care they receive. When we got a look at a VIP room, I was AMAZED. For only about $600 USD you receive a huge, single room equipped with a living room, a small kitchen and a separate bedroom. Could you imagine what that would be like in the states? And if you have a question related to the doctors, that question was answered. This international hospital is accreditated by Joint Commission International, which is the standard that the hopsitals in the state need to meet. Another interesting fact we got, a bypass heart surgery would cost around 50,000 USD and here it would be 12,000 Baht. I now know if I ever need to have a major surgery and it won’t be covered by insurance, I will be headed back to Bangkok, Thailand!

Exploring Bangkok by Joe Cardomone

Yesterday was a definitely a full day of exposure to the city of Bangkok. This was evidenced by both the fact that I was drowning in sweat by the end of the day and I never wanted to look at traffic again! The car-filled streets are more insane here then anywhere else I have ever been! However, all of the struggles were most definitely worth it.

We began the day with a tour of the Royal Palace in the morning. When we first arrived….I was in complete shock. I figured beforehand that the palace would be beautiful. Still, I was totally caught off guard by all of the attention to detail and intricacies of design that were obvious in every structure. Citizens of Bangkok and tourists alike were flooding the scene trying to snap pictures of this ornate location non-stop. Afterwards, we went to a center for Holistic Healing and learned about the practice of Thai message and how its basis of natural and spiritual healing ultimately make it a desired practice by many Thai’s. We even got to receive one of these magnificent massages for a half-hour which was most excellent!

Afterwards we attended the weekend market. I allowed myself to be overwhelmed in this experience by everything there was to see and try. Even though the streets were crowded and hot…it was so hard to leave this place! Outside of all of the spectacles and foods…the market was a live and full of the Thai spirit I have come to know, in which everything feels as though it is a celebration. I feel that this was the main take-away lesson I received from the day. No matter how hot or tired or irritated one is– we should always be celebrating. Why not? After all, one sad day, we will reach a point where our lives are severely limited and we will begin to wish for those hectic days we spent struggling to find our way through an unknown foreign city. πŸ™‚

Bumrungrad International Hospital by Ginny Anderson

Today we visited Bumrungrad International Hospital. Before going, our professors told us that we would be amazed; that was an understatement. The hospital focused on designing an atmosphere that patients would feel comfortable in. They wanted it to feel like a hotel. The CEO gave a great presentation, and I feel like I learned a lot about Bumrungrad and medical tourism. The processes that the hospital uses is simple, yet so efficient. In the lobby, patients can find a desk where they check in, where they pay, where they pick up their prescriptions. Everything is in one place, and it appears that there is little room for errror. We were given the opportunity to see the “VIP” rooms at the hospital. For the room that we got to see, a patient can check it out for recovery for about 18,000 baht a night (about $600 USD). In the room, there was a private room for the patient and a private bathroom. Also, in the same room, there was another tv, a long sofa, a kitchen, and another bathroom for family to stay in. When we left, I was in shock that a health care atmosphere can be so simple, so cheap, and so comfortable for patients; I feel as though our country could learn a lot from the setup at Bumrungrad.

Thai-glish by Veronica

On Friday we spent the day with the students at Chiang Rai Ratchapat University. We went to an art garden, the library, and to a garden made for the kings mother. When we first met with the students it reminded me of a dancing lesson that you would have in gym class during middle school. The boys and girls (or in this case UMN/UMD and CRU students) stand on opposite sides of the room talking among our own groups, a little nervous, a little scared, and staring at one another until the teachers partnered us up. When we were finally paired up with a student on the bus and I started to talk to my partner, Jay, it didn’t take me a long time to figure out that communicating was going to be more difficult than I thought. I had to slow down my speech and use simple words. As I spent more tie with my pernter I tried to think of my first spanish class and the words and types of phrases we first learned. Unfortunately, making a connecion with these students was going to be harder than I had anticipated.
When we all went to ride the elephants before some of the students communicated with the guides through singing or simply making noises. When I was in the oxen cart I started to say “ahhhhhhhhhh” because the ride was really bumpy, and the driver started to copy me and soon we were all saying “ahhhhhhhhhh” and other carts were staring at us. It was a lot of fun and halarious. A similar thing happened when I was riding on the moped with my partner. I would point at things and he would point at things and I would say ooooh! and he would make noises and I would copy. While we couldn’t speak to eachother it was halarious and I had a lot of fun riding around campus on the moped with Jay.
These experiences at the elephant rides and at CRU were really fun and some of my fondest memories thus far and I wasn’t even speaking a language. It might seem childish or silly, but it was a form of communication that allowed me to make a connection. That night me and few other students went out with some of the CRU students, and even though we didn’t understand eachother all time, just dancing and sharing that experience with them was enought for me to consider themmy my friends that I made in Thailand. It was prety cool and created a memory that I will never forget.