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 🙂
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!