Category Archives: 2012 Thailand Learning Abroad Blog

Post by Casey Churchill

As said before, I have completely fallen in love with this whole country. The past few days have been my favorite. A few days back, we spent the day at a small village outside of Chiang Rai. What they have, and what they call home, is slim to nothing. They have the bare minimums; a roof over their head, food, and a mat to sleep on at night. Yet, they are the happiest people I have ever came across in my mere 22 years of life. They are happy due the small fact that they have their family and friends by their side. They could go to the big city if they wanted to, they could run away from it all if that’s what pleases them the most. But they don’t. They stick to that, because that’s all they want, it’s all they need. That simple fact, opened my eyes to see my family, for who they are. The fact that my family is so close and I can count on them for anything makes me feel so blessed, and I have to stop sweating the small things. Even though we may fight sometimes, I just have to shrug my shoulders and look past it. Because in the end, if you have your family, that’s all that counts.

Condoms & Culture – Post by Dave Zablocki

There’s a lot that can be learned from how Thai culture has accepted the use of condoms. Thai people were having too many children and with the advent of aids, sexually transmitted diseases became a cause for concern as well. So, they looked to birth control pills and condoms to deal with these problems. Instead of simply telling people to stop having sex, they tried to make condoms and birth control as accessible as possible. They even created “captain condom” to help promote the use of them. Needless to say, it was very successful. They had dramatic drops in the prevalence of aids and the number of newborns – average family size. They took a problem, admitted the facts of it, and acted accordingly. There’s what is, and what ought to be, sometimes people get caught up in the ought part and loose sight of what is. And, when the livelihood of thousands of people are at stake, it is imperative to admit and understand the facts. I think Americans and those that are religiously devout could especially learn from this. By looking at the big picture and accepting the nature of people and who we are, we can serve a greater good. In the end, no matter your background, all people can agree on caring for and doing what’s best for humanity. We can’t lose sight of that overriding principle.

I awoke from a nap on the bus to what could’ve been a postcard from Thailand. I hoped Thailand would be beautiful and it most certainly is. The countryside is stunning. All of our days in Thailand have been sunny and warm. The small mountains, or large hills, roll like the Appalachians but the lowlands are filled with rice fields and exotic trees. It reminds me how beautiful this world really is. Every place on this planet has its beauty. It’s not a simple or lazy life here, but a sufficient life. I think we all could gain from being happy with sufficiency instead of a what seems to be never ending desire for more. It’s a wonderful world be live in.

Arrival in Bangkok

Today we left for our final destination, Bangkok. When we arrived here it was about 90 degrees out, but with the breeze it felt amazing outside. Driving into the city it had a completely different feel than the previous cities we had visited in Thailand; Bangkok definitely has that big city feel (and look). From the bus ride to our hotel I made two quick and simple observations– (1) there are endless views of buildings in every direction. This is even evident from our hotel room, which has a gorgeous view of all the buildings. (2) there are so many people in Bangkok. Even with all these people, it doesn’t feel all that crowded. Once arriving at our hotel, Nicol and I had one thing on our minds– food. On the way to our hotel we saw a pizza place called The Pizza Company that was in walking distance and decided to give it a try. It was delicious and I realized I have definitely been missing pizza while being in Thailand. I’m excited to explore more of Bangkok in the days to come. Tomorrow we are heading to see The Grand Palace; I’ll keep you updated with how visit there goes.

Post by Joe Cardomone

I am currently sitting in an internet cafe in the lobby of the luxurious Royal Benja hotel in downtown Bangkok. I could feel how alive this city was the moment we entered the traffic filled streets while on our bus this morning. A part of me still deeply misses my time spent in Chiang Rai, even though I was only there for a couple of days. It was a very special place for me and it will always hold a place in my heart.

My last experience in the small northern town of Chiang Rai was definitely my most memorable of the trip so far. Yesterday, we visited Chianrai Rajabhat University. We were immediately greeted so graciously by the kind staff and student tour guides at the college. After a few minutes of brief orientation, my classmates and I were able to separate from the adults and go on a little adventure with the student tour guides. We even got to ride on the back of their motorcycles… which in my opinion is BY FAR the best mode of transportation ever! We saw some great sights on this beautiful campus, but my favorite part was just being able to hang out with people our own age from a different country and relate with them while holding great conversations in English. Specifically, I got to know my tour guide very well. It was so much fun we even got together with them later that night to hang out by the pool of our hotel and at a club in downtown Chiang Rai!

Before that, however, the University held a small party in our honor which took place outside. A feast of champions was prepared for us. There was also local music performed live and a variety of dance numbers. The two schools became permanently united that night in a way that was so special and sincere. I will never forget the friends I made at CRU!! The unification was even symbolized with the lighting of lanterns at the end of the evening. Overall, it was a touching and memorable experience that I will probably cherish for the rest of my life. I can only hope that I will see my new Thai friends again someday (perhaps even in Minnesota 🙂 ).

Post by Joe Cardomone

Chiang Rai is such a marvelous little city! Even though it is small and more of a rural setting than what I typically prefer, the air is so clean and the people are full even more full of smiles than the typical Thai population (and that is saying a lot). During our stay we engaged in many enjoyable activities. One of these events was the festival for the new year that occurred at the Lahu-Lisu village we got to spend some time in. I found one of the men who talked to us through a translator particularly interesting. He was the principal of the village school and him and his people traveled all the way from Burma to their current location, beginning a new life for themselves. The man was very intellectual and practical, while also being an expert in a life that is very simplistic and spiritual. I learned that life truly does not have to be as complicated as we like to make it in America. Family and an education–these are the essentials!

Later in the evening, we were prepared what would be my favorite meal to date. It included slow cooked-pork and various small snack foods, a pumpkin soup, and deep-fried bamboo with sticky rice. Everything was so fresh and pure and yet so packed with flavor. I could not resist going back in for more and more helpings–it got to the point where I could barely stand up, I was so full. The meal was followed by a dance performance and some enjoyable live music. We left shortly after the official opening of the festival. While on the bus, I feel that my fellow classmates and I were deeply inspired by the unity and love that we saw displayed at the festival by the Lao people. We sang and danced together passionately and immensely enjoyed each other’s company for the whole hour-long bus ride home.

The two main things I took away from the experience of the village festival were the following: I bonded with my fellow students in a way that I will probably never bond with anyone ever again, and I truly learned what it meant to be “Thai happy”. Staying grounded in one’s beliefs and knowledge while living in harmony with the people who matter most in one’s life is the truly the Thai way of achieving piece and happiness.

Post by Ginny Anderson

Today we arrived in Bangkok! Our time in Chiang Rai was short, but I took a lot away from our time there. In Chiang Mai we went on our first village visit to the Akah village. During our time in Chiang Rai, we were able to visit another village. We went to the Lahu-Lisu village. When we arrived at both villages, I didn’t know what to expect. I was skeptical about whether or not the village people would accept us being there. I ended up feeling very welcome by both villages, just as I have felt welcomed by other Thai people. At the Akah village, we played with the children. At one point a little girl ran up to me and threw her arms around me. Although we did not speak the same language, I knew that she was happy we were there playing together; it melted my heart. At the Lahu-Lisu village, we were invited to celebrate the new year with them at their festival; we even got to eat dinner that was prepared by them. I tried the bamboo shoots, which were SO hot but delicious! At the festival, the village people were also selling other various foods to help fundraise for their village. A classmate bought dried squid, which I also tried. Let’s just say, I am not the biggest fan, but I am glad that I at least tried it. I cannot wait to see what Bangkok brings! 🙂

Post by Katie Koppy January 6, 2012

Tonight we visited the with the students and faculty of the Chiang Ria University. It was more than a life changing experience. They showed us around the campus and opened up there lives for us to see. They took us around on mopeds and later we had dinner danced and lit off lanterns with them. There kindness to complete strangers melted my heart and I took so much from that compassion. The amount of hospitality that was bestowed upon us made me feel as if I was someone of great importance to them, yet I had only just met them. My experience tonight reminds me to be grateful and thoughtful of those I care about in my life. The way they made me feel is the way I want all the people I care about to feel about the way I treat them. The first Thai man I met in customs at the airport said it perfectly, “Thai happy.” He was completely correct. Thai people are the kindest and most generous of beings. I am so grateful for the new friends I made, and I when I think back on this night, I will smile at the experiences we shared together!

Chiang Rai

Even though every part of this trip has been amazing and I have been learning so much, the past couple of days will be ones that stick out in my mind forever. In Chiang Rai, we went to a hill tribe where they were still celebrating the new year with a funraiser and they kindly opened their hearts to show us around and give us a feel for their culture. When we were on the tour of the village, I found myself really reflecting on my own life. These people live so simply and are so happy with what they have that it truly makes me appreciate the things I have in my life. However, throughout my life I have been to taught to count my blessings, live each day to the fullest, and be humble for what I have, but it just is not the same compared to the way this village is living. After the tour, they served us a traditional meal involving the whole village. There was music, dancing, and good fellowship among the whol village. I am really appreciative of this experience and words can hardly express my feelings.

The next day we had the opportunity to spend the day with students from Chiang Rai University. This was also an expereince that I will never forget. The students showed us around their campus and we really got a feel of what it was like to be a student in Chiang Rai. That evening the university put on a great dinner for us to help us again get a feeling of traditional Thai culuture. I really get a feeling for how sincere and kind the people are here and it makes me want to be a better person. Thais are so genuine and hospitible and their attutude toward life is really like one that I have never experienced before. After dinner, we took part in the tradidtional lighting of the lanterns. This we so breath taking! The sky was lit up with many beautiful laterns signifying that we were getting rid of all the bad, welcoming the good into our lives, and taking in the experiences and friendships that were made during the day. Again words can only do so much, but the memories will last forever.

My time in Chiang Rai was unbelieveable and will always be remembered. I took many pictures of both experiences but they will not quite do justice. We have now reached Bankok and I have every intention of finishing this trip with a bang!

Hill Area & Community Development Foundation

We met with Ms. Juthamas, director of the Hill Area and Community Development Foundation, in Chiangrai, Thailand on Thursday.  She described the 13 areas in which they were working with hill area peoples: land rights, cultural preservation, holistic health, citizenship attainment, youth development, women’s issues, community-based justice, agriculture, local decision-making authority, private partnerships, environment, and education.