Category Archives: 2012 Thailand Learning Abroad Blog

Post by Casey Churchill

As I reflect on the past 10 days of being here, so many emotions run through my mind. For starters, I am so grateful for this culture, and I am falling more and more in love with the Thai people as each day goes by. Not only the love that they have for one another, but the love that they give to you; a foreigner, through the smile and the wave as you walk by, it is just indescribable.

Coming to a different country, 7,000 plus miles a way from home, you’re going to feel as an outsider. But, as I said before, the smile helps; a ton. But something else I have noticed? The laugh of the children. The screaming through the zip lines through the jungle. The joy of the New Year. It’s all the same. It doesn’t matter which race you are, which country you are from, or what color eyes you have. It all comes from the heart, and it’s true; it’s natural. We were in a small village the other day and we handed the children pencils. They were overjoyed from this small token of appreciation. The laughter that came from these children just melted my heart. Somebody said, “It sounds the same, doesn’t it? Laughter is just laughter.” It is so true, and I am so grateful for a simple laugh. It lightens one’s heart, and the question arises; why do we judge? Why do some people make such a big deal about the difference of the skin color or the language some people speak? Because deep down, we all have the same laugh, the same scream and we cry the same tears. No matter what, most of us all feel the same.

Post by Katie Koppy

There is so much to be said about the experiences I have had in Thailand. This place is amazing and a lot more than I expected it to be. I came into Thailand thinking that I would get ill from a bug passed amongst the people, or I thought I would hate the food. I thought that it would be more dangerous, and I thought that it would be hard to get around and converse with the Thai people. I was completely wrong. I have found that the food in Thailand, for the most part, is great. I have found that I feel very safe and comfortable surrounded by my peers, and I have found that the Thai people are the gentlest and friendliest of people. The culture is so different in many ways, and I have found myself in awe at so many sights, and have reached out of the box to be able to fully experience and immerse myself into the Thai lifestyle. Riding the elephants, ox driven carts, and the rafts was an experience to remember for a lifetime. Being surrounded in the jungle by this culture and lifestyle was one of the most amazing opportunities I have had in this life of mine, and I am so grateful to have had it. The zip line was also a life long memory I will cherish. I have had so much fun in these activities, and I have had so much fun when it has come to the education we have received about Thai people and health care. I really enjoyed the lectures on HIV/AIDS and human trafficing. I also enjoyed the tour of the hospital. I found it shocking that they let us in the ER to take a tour, and have visibility to the patients and their illnesses. Like the culture in itself, this was a big change from home. This experience is far more than I have ever expected and I am taking away from this so much knowledge about the Thai people, healthcare, culture, and myself. Thai happy :)))))

Post by Kari Lawrence

This first week in Thailand has been amazing! I’m experiencing things I never thought I would be able to say I did. I’ve had the opportunity to ride an elephant, attend a Thai cooking school, visit a mental hospital, and shop around at the markets. So far, I think my favorite part was visiting a Buddhist temple. There we had the chance to sit down with a monk and ask any questions we had. We also got to see a temple that was over 600 years old! This first week in Chiang Mai has been amazing and I’m excited to see what Chiang Rai and Bangkok have to offer.

Post by Dave Zablocki

Ch – Ch – Ch – Changs And New Years (David Bowie reference)

Chang is the Thai word for elephant. Changs adorn almost everything you can imagine in Thailand and are often in Buddhist places of worship, there is even Chang beer, and Chang water. On New Year’s Eve day I even rode a chang. I was a little saddened to see how they were treated at the “ranch” where tourists like myself came to see them. An animal that is held with such prestige in Thai culture was reduced to kitschy dances and large amounts of time in chains. Riding on their backs was exciting, but I couldn’t help but feel for them. My trainer wasn’t the kindest to the chang we were on so that may have skewed my perception. Yet, it didn’t seem natural in that the chang seemed out of its environment. Obviously it’s not natural for any animal to be “trained” but this was different than riding a horse, watching dolphins at Sea World, or even playing with cats and dogs. Maybe its just about positive reinforcement and giving the animal its space. Is this an example of how demand, likely foreign, has reshaped or changed what the very nature of Thai culture is about and if so, what other things like this might exist today in Thai society? However, I’m still very happy to have seen them and spent time with them.

New years was made special by the excitement alive on every corner of ChiangMai. The sky was filled with man-made stars (the Thai word is chrom) burning orange floating amidst a barrage of fireworks. The streets were filled with small festive vendors, delicious food, Thai beer, and thousands of happy people ready to welcome in 2012 with open arms. When the countdown began I was at the city center with two new friends where a pyramid lit up with the time. When the clock struck New Year fireworks erupted and we toasted the neighbors that happened to be English. The rest of the night we wondered the city stopping at any place that interested us while taking in all ChiangMai had to offer. At one point we stopped along the canal to simply watch it all unfold. The streets were packed but when a person wanted to light fireworks the crowd would stop to watch, some fireworks were so large they set off car alarms near by. It was something special. I wouldn’t have rather been anywhere else.

Post by Dave Zablocki

1st Night in ChiangMai

– First off, I wrote this the first night I was in ChiangMai while I was on a stroll by myself. I’ve had problems accessing the blog with the ability to post. As Professor Solheim told me while watching one of our Thai presenters have troubles with their computer, “Technology problems are universal.” –

If I wouldn’t have known I was in Thailand, I might’ve been worried. The densely filled streets may bare a mark of poverty at first glance, but quickly thereafter an elegance is revealed with the witness of the first Thai smile. It’s a beauty I can’t quite describe, it’s an atmosphere as confusing and strong as their cuisine. I can’t help but wonder if I had come here for business, rather than education and adventure, would I be so enchanted? I’ve only just arrived but I already some how feel a connection. Perhaps I’m just excited – after all my favorite classical music piece was played on the plane to ChiangMai from Bangkok – Edward Elgar’s – Nimrod from the Enigma Variations, just google Edward Elgar Nimrod and give it a listen while you read these blogs and you’ll get it. Or perhaps, Buddha has truly blessed this country. One thing is for certain, this will be a great experience. And, there are very large trees.

Post by Casey Peyton

Greetings from Chaing Mai! First of all, I will start off where my last blog left off. On friday our group toured a local mental health hospital. I was surprised how modern their facilities were in comparison to the rest of the city. A patient played the piano for our group, he used to be a piano teacher and he delighted us with The Swan, and a composition by Beethoven. It was nice to see their utilization of crafts and music in their treatment and therapies. A common problem that the healthcare facility had, which slightly coincided with an American problem, was that they had a strong negative stigma associated with the mentally ill. Also, the public funding used for healthcare has seemed to place psychiatric care at the bottom of the totem pole. This causes many problems for patients seeking care and for facilities trying to provide the best care possible.

Later on Friday we toured the Chaing Mai University Facility of Nursing. Here we attended a lecture/discussion about Thailand’s HIV/AIDs situation. This was extremely informative. It seems that the data that they provided us showed a direct relation between mandatory testing and occurrence reduction. Thailand’s actions in response to their HIV/AIDs situation has positive outcomes that could be copied by many other countries.

On Saturday we rode Asian elephants, bamboo rafted down a Thai river, and hiked to a waterfall in the jungle. This excursion was amazing and I am so happy that I decided to participate in it. That day will always be held very highly in my memory. Saturday also happened to be News Years Eve. We lit lanterns and made wishes, and we attended a countdown at a local club. Hearing the countdown in Thai was quite an experience and we all had a lot of fun.

So, until my next post, keep safe and we will see you all soon.

Post by Ginny Anderson

Tonight is our last night in Chiang Mai. The first week has flew by, but I feel like I have done and learned so much in my time here. This experience is extremely different from anything that I am used to, but I have loved every minute of it. There are many aspects of the Thai culture that I wish our society could be more like. In my time here, I have noticed that many people don’t seem to have much. Although this is the case they are so warm and friendly; they seem to be happy with what they have and where they are. In America, I feel like our society is always striving to have more and more. Before coming on this trip, I saw myself as a grateful person, and I feel like I appreciate the things that I have. Although this is true, I feel like this experience has made me even more so. I have really realized the little things that I do have that I take for granted, especially clean water and air. I look forward to the next adventure in Chiang Rai!

Post by Kiarra McCain

My first thoughts have been simply…. Wow! I’ve had the luxury of getting to know a culture while living in it and the burden of difference. Clearly difference is not something I fear. Having studied abroad before, I truely appreciate the feelings and learning that come along with being in a new place with new people learning new things, but I’ve noticed a heightened awareness of self. As if to say before, I didn’t know this side of me.
One of the things that I pride myself in is confidence. Ive always seen myself as this living testimony and short of an open book for people to read, learn from and take from (in a metaphorical since) if necessary. Now, however I’ve noticed a different more vulnerable side of me, a side that I’m certainly not comfortable with, a side that I’m not sure I want to get to know.
Imagine walking through an unfamiliar world. Where the scent is indescribable and the people are shorter and slimmer then you. Now open your eyes and see a Black girl. With accessories to match her shoes and a shoulder bag to carry her possessions. She walks with an incredible confidence and fear but nevertheless she continues to walk. Now look to your left and right and picture those who look nothing like her. Skin, height and size all polar opposite. Now close your eyes and here the language. Not one familiar word or sound and when you open them you realize that those people were speaking about you. Pointing and questioning who or what you are. Only thing you can do, is keep walking.
Being plus size has been more of a blessing, then a curse. Ive used my confidence to promote high self esteem and the reconstruction of beauty pertaining to women, as well as art mediums to discuss social injustices and oppressive behaviors related to body images or the image of self as a whole (mind body and soul) but here I am a little weak. As if I left my travel size confidence at home next to my cell phone, coach bag and MAC lip gloss. At any rate, I will find away to navigate this world. Thailand look out for me.

Post by Joe Cardomone

Ever since entering this mystical country, I find myself looking at who I am as though I am a distant bystander observing another person. As an observer looking in, I see a foreigner. I do not fully understand any of the languages or the customs or the ritual behaviors of the Thai people yet. I have learned what they are…but I do not UNDERSTAND them. I am a boy who is completely lost in a place where it is so wonderful to be lost. Our experience thus far has primarily been in the city of Chiang Mai. Viewing myself in this bustling city where western and eastern culture meet in a very explosive way is entertaining to say the least. I have struggled with the idea of bargaining at markets. I have pointed to things and used what feels like futile hand gestures to demonstrate a point in the face of a HUGE language barrier. I have put food in my mouth I never could have imagined I would. Plus, the smells– they are so strong and confusing. I get disoriented just thinking about all of this and the rest of my experiences on the other side of the world.

My favorite educational aspect of this trip as of now has been the mental health lecture at a Psychiatric hospital facility in Chiang Mai. We learned about the approach psychologists in the institution take to treat mental illness, what avenues they use for financing and supporting the endeavors, and how mental health is perceived in Thai society in general. The fascinating thing about the Thai perception of mental health treatment is that psychologists create many opportunities within the setting for their patients to establish a community and perform duties that make them feel like they are contributing members of society. In other words, they give patients the freedom to grow and learn and the confidence to believe that they can and will recover within the walls of the facility. Everything from gardening to sewing to playing music is utilized. The treatment plan itself is excellent. The real problem is getting patients to that point. We learned from the lecture that Thai society seems to have a problem understanding the existence and gravity of the situation with mental health. We discussed that this may be because Thai people are so open and accepting of so many lifestyles… they do not perceive mental illness as a problem, but rather “another way of living.” The presenters at this lecture were both very engaging and spoke excellent English, so I enjoyed it very much.

I will continue to post further on some of the highlights of the trip, what I am learning in the form of families and the health care system in Thailand, as well as the current status on my personal growth.

Travel and Transportation

As I had mentioned before, riding in any kind of motor vehicle gets me pretty nervous. Cars, buses, trucks, or even a three wheeled Tuk-Tuk, it all feels the same. The past couple of days we have been traveling through the northen part of Thailand and even though I have been on many buses before I have never experienced anything like this. For starters, the roads here are very narrow. Some times I think they are oneways, but instead they are two ways with literally maybe 6 inches between passing cars. The roads also have many twinst and turns, especially in the mountains. Many times when we were taking a sharp turn I closed my eyes only hoping that there were guard rails. Some times I wonder if I could even drive my car on these roads let alone a bus.

Aside from the roads making be a little queezy, the bus itself feels like a rollercoaster. From my observations I think some of the buses in Thailand are definitely taller than most of the ones I have ridden in back in the states. This makes it feel a little top heavy resulting in a constant swaying from side to side and a constant feeling of tiping. I find myself bracing myself on every turn with my arms and legs to stay centered with gravity. Kind of like my mom used to do when I first got my permit. I can definitely see how it can add some stress to a person’s life.

Even with the travel and transportation being a little difficult to adjust to, I am taking in as much as I can each and everyday. There is so much to learn and see and I am ready to continue this journey!