Category Archives: 2015 Thailand Learning Abroad Blog

Integrating into the Thai’s Way of Living

Being in Thailand for the past three weeks had taught me a lot about being open to new challenges and not take things for granted. The two home stays were the best experiences because it made me go out of my comfort zone in order to fully communicate with my host parents. My host parents knew little English, so I had to learn how to do hand gestures and body movements to get my message across and they had to do the same too. Although, I couldn’t speak fluent Thai I felt a strong connection between me and the host parents through the body gestures. The most frustrating part about the home stays was sleeping on the floor with insects coming out at night. It bothered me a lot because I was never exposed to anything like that, so it was difficult for me to sleep throughout the night. Then waking up early to cook with the host parents for the monks and breakfast taught me how precious time can be. I love to sleep in but by waking up early in the morning I felt like it made a difference in my day because I can get so many things done.
            The one activity that challenged me the most was hiking and going up the stairs to get to the top of the waterfall. I thought the hike was only an hour or so, but it took about two hours and by the time we reached our destination everyone was drained. All I remember was complaining about the insects and how hot it was. But after the hike I reflected on it and realized that the whole time the tour guides never complained once or said that it was too hot for them. During the hike we saw some people working and picking out tea leaves to sell. I envy them because they’re able to work hard under the hot weather and the insects didn’t bother them. I wish I can fully immerse myself into their way of living and not complain about it.
            All my experiences so far are just a little taste of how Thai people live. I still have a lot to learn about the way of living in Thailand. But the one connection I made while being in Thailand was how my parents lived here. The night of the hiking trip I called my mom to tell her that I finally knew exactly what she was talking about when she said she used to walk hills after hills on dirt road to get to the garden. My parents used to live in Thailand and they would tell me stories about walking on steep hills and having to hike to get to places. Now I’m finally experiencing the same things my parents did when they lived in Thailand. I’ve learned to go out of my comfort zone and see a new way of living.

What I’m Thankful For

I was talking to my dad earlier and he told me: “Tonight think about all the things that you have seen and ask the things you can be thankful for.” So I’ve decided to use this last blog for that reflection.

A lot of this trip has been firsts for me. I’m the first one in my family to travel over seas, I went on my first hike, and I used my first squatting toilet, just to name a few. In the moment, these were hard for me. I experienced homesickness, I sweat and climbed up more hills than I ever have, and I envied men’s ability to pee standing up. However, even though I might have been frustrated in the moment, I am thankful for each one these experiences because they are mine. I think it also made me realize how privileged I am. In the U.S I don’t have to worry about using a squatting toilet or having to walk for an hour in extreme humidity. I have all these convinces that are at my fingertips, and the fact that I was able to adapt and accomplish all of the things on this trip makes me unbelievably proud of myself.

I am also thankful for all of the things I’ve learned. I feel like I’ve stepped out of the western bubble and can begin to understand things on a global level. I will use human trafficking as one example. I don’t think I was even familiar with the idea of human trafficking before I moved to Minneapolis for school. Suddenly this idea was on my radar, but I’m not sure I even grasped the magnitude of the problem before I came to Thailand. Now I understand this is truly a problem on a global scale. I think hearing Eve’s story helped me ground this large idea into reality and I now know someone who has lost friends and family because of this. I remember telling my parents about this and they didn’t even know the term human trafficking. It made me so frustrated, not at them, but at the fact that this worldwide problem isn’t being talked about. Everyone says even one person can make a difference, and I know I’m going to spread what I’ve learned to my friends and family. My hope is that this will at least make them familiar with the idea. Of course, human trafficking is just one example of something profound that I’ve learned here in Thailand. There are so many things I’ve learned, whether it be about the Mekong River or opium, and I will never forget any of them. 

Finally, I am thankful for the opportunity to be embraced by a new culture. Everyone that I’ve met in Thailand has been helpful and friendly which makes saying goodbye so hard. I remember getting choked up after the first home stay because I thought of how little they had in comparison to what I have in the U.S. and yet they were willing to share it. They fed us, gave us a place to sleep, and even gave us their mosquito netting. I want to believe that I would be that generous if someone came to stay in my home, but I don’t know if that’s realistic or not. I think of all I have and I feel like I don’t give to others enough. I think giving back to others is a new goal I have for myself after this trip.

Thailand has been amazing and I have so much to be thankful for not only when it comes to all the experiences I had, but also when it comes to the life I have in the U.S.. I hope one day I will be back to experience more.

Self Awareness and Self Identity Guided through Buddhism

Self Awareness & Self Identity Guided through the Buddhism Religion
Life has a funny way of bringing people together. As we humans come from all different walks of life, it is amazing how we can unite on such valuable life experiences. Being all female and all college students in a large and diverse city, we are presented with many “ways of life,” and have deeply rooted internal and external experiences that shape who we are as young adult women in this very society. Though, the five of us come from very different histories, experiences, and families, we have all found ourselves traveling to Thailand together. Having some idea of what the Buddhist religion entails, we all have a common interest in how self awareness and self identity plays out through Buddhism. Here are our stories: 
Jessica’s Story:

As a recent undergraduate student from the FSoS major, I have spent the past few years learning so much about families including their likely rituals, rules, dynamics, beliefs, and outcomes depending on the world around them. While the primary focus of my studies has been narrowed down to families, there are endless scenarios which each unit of people may face. I have learned to be sensitive, think critically, and remember that no two families are the same. With that, one lesson I would like to draw attention to is “the stages of life” taught in a family psychology course at the U of M. For the purpose of this assignment, I will relate the ideas surrounding expected stages of life with the beliefs taught from a Buddhist perspective as I have come understand more throughout my journey in Thailand.
I find the connections between our created expectations, our reality, and our feelings very unique and certainly interdependent. For starters, the “stages of life” concept draws a map through one’s life and lists typical ages in which events would occur. Usually, the events are seen as great milestones. For instance: first communion, sweet 16, high school graduation, moving out, 21st birthday, first serious relationship, graduating college, getting married, having children, living after children move out, potential divorce, potential re-marriage, old-age, and near death are a list of common experiences amongst Americans. As discussed in the psychology course, the list above is often the order in which the events are said to occur. 
As of last week, I have gained more knowledge about the Buddhism religion and the perspectives provided by Pra Acharn Jolee through our amazing Monk Chat. During our time together, Jolee provided creative metaphors to help explain the religion. I can remember feeling at ease with his conversation flowing between some explanation, some story telling, and even some demonstration. Jolee was very wise, but let us know that he too is still a learner. Everyday we are learning and knowing that while focusing on the moment we have now is very important in the Buddhist religion. The chat provided me with some peace in my heart. I felt emotional as Jolee mentioned some of the most important factors are to be kind and live simply. How delightful! While this concept may seem clear cut, it can be so hard to grasp when wondering if our reality is “right” or how others would like it to be. 
Some drawbacks from the “stages of life” concept may be focusing useful energy on areas that sometimes are out of our control. And then, when things are out of our control, we may feel anxious or sad. While I know Jolee had a dream for a life ahead of him it didn’t seem as though he had strict expectations. Just having ideas in our heads about ways we think we should be living can pull us from the true moment we are in. Having a new outlook through the Buddhism perspective and balancing that with my FSoS knowledge, I have found some common ground. I know I want to continue my studies on families as well as my personal self and I think this is an exciting start to a beautiful adventure!
Kya’s Story:

“Live not as though there were a thousand years ahead of you. Fate is at your elbow; make yourself good while life and power are still yours.”
     Our last activity as a group for the day was a monk chat, or a chance to learn about Buddhism and Thai culture from Pra Acharn Jolee, a Master monk in Chiang Mai. I was exhausted from the Thai sun and jet lag, but we pulled onto a gravel road and suddenly my senses came alive and my exhaustion faded. I was suddenly on a university campus for monks and I did not know what to expect. There’s a certain image I had of monks before arriving and quite honestly, I found them intimidating. They didn’t seem human and I was terrified I would offend them in any way. We walked into a smaller room and were all seated as we waited for the monk to arrive. We were all quiet, the air was still, and there seemed to be a feeling of nervousness surrounding us. However, we were quickly put to ease as Pra Acharn Jolee cracked a joke within thirty seconds of entering the room. Then, towards the end of the chat, Pra Acharn Jolee began to de-robe himself, I vividly remember being consumed by the present. My entire mind, body, and soul were in that room, in that very moment. I was absolutely amazed that a Master monk stood before me and demonstrated the different ways of wearing the robe right after sharing bits of wisdom I will certainly never forget. During the monk chat with Pra Acharn Jolee, I was not consumed by the future. My mind did not drift to my plans for the evening. I did not worry about my family or friends at home. Paying bills, doing homework, and cleaning my apartment were not on my radar. For the first time in a very long time, my entire being was engaged in the present. I felt at peace.
    I remember being told to plan my future out from a very young age. American culture thrives off punctuality, planning everything out meticulously, and most importantly, success. Naturally, I was raised to believe that planning my future out in detail was the only way to become successful. I suppose I never thought a way of life could be any different until I arrived in Thailand. Although I do not know the exact details of how Thai children are taught to think about their futures, the general pace of this country is slower and more at ease. I fell in love with the vibes I felt from the Thais: why be stressed and high-strung when the present is so beautiful? But, as I reflect upon my high school days, I remember how the future started to consume me. My first week of freshman year I was assigned to fill out a “Five Year Plan”. At the age of fourteen, I was already stressing about college and my future career. Where would I go to college? What type of career would be a good fit for me? What do I see myself majoring in? Did I want to stay in Minnesota or move out of state? My fourteen year old brain was not even fully developed but was being forced to plan out my life. This time in my life was a time of intense anxiety for me and I thought certainly the other kids in my grade knew what they wanted their future to look like. I felt alienated and became completely consumed by the future. Even my family began to ask me questions about my college and career plans. It became impossible to enjoy the present because I strictly lived in the future. And the worrying about the future didn’t end once I graduated high school, it only worsened. College is a time of planning: studying for tests, building our resume for the future, and striving for graduation day. 
    Pra Acharn Jolee told us in the monk chat that the three basic precepts of Buddhism were: abstain from bad, do good, and clean the mind. While all three of these are important, I really resonated with the third one. Clean the mind. Something clicked when he said those words. How could my mind be clean when I am living in the future? Living in the future leaves my mind in a state of anxiousness, confusion, and worry. Of course, having goals and dreams are great but just like all aspects of life, there needs to be a balance. Aside from the monk chat, I witnessed an incredible sense of balance from the teachers at the Mekong School. The leaders all had incredible goals on how to save their beloved Mekong River, but were also able to live in and enjoy the moment as we all danced under the stars next to the river. I have missed out on so much because my mind was running towards the future instead of enjoying the now. This trip to Thailand has been the beginning of my goal to clean my mind and that starts by thriving and engaging in the present. 
Julia’s Story:

My name is Julia Rodman and my journey with Buddhism began in middle school. One experience I had was the day my dad told me, immediately after attending church, that he was a Buddhist.  I could not comprehend how he could attend a Lutheran church and be a Buddhist. I was flabbergasted, frustrated, you could even say betrayed.  There was not much explanation as to what my dad being “Buddhist” meant.  Through the years I learned that it meant he practiced meditation, read about Buddhism, and enjoyed the ways of Buddhism.  Another experience I had was a few years later in high school when I read the book Siddhartha for an English class.  For some unknown reason, this reading deeply resonated with me.  I felt a connection to what I understood as the Buddhist ways. I loved the idea of not having a so-called “god” to look to for guidance.  It was a practice that focused on the self and doing good – something so simple, yet so vital to life. 
I believe that there is a strong connection between suffering as humans we experience, mental health, and Buddhism.  In my world, suffering goes hand in hand with expectations and reality.  This is a phenomenon that I, along with many others, have experienced many times.  As humans we are constantly preparing for what is next to come, along with having visions of how things will play out.  Is there a way to lessen expectations and live in the reality? From the monk chat, Pra Acharn Jolee stated that, “Everything doesn’t belong to you.  You should not suffer because you attach.  Don’t attach.  Use it, but if it goes away, do not suffer.”  I understood this idea as not to abstain from attaching, which is something that I have often done, but rather find a way to connect, but also maintain your individuality.  In my life I have suffered many times because when I attached and the source of happiness went away, I felt the pain very deeply.  Opposite of what Acharn Jolee said, I did suffer because I attached. 
I have struggled trying to find a way to find a connection but not suffer if things do not go the way I expect them to.  This is something through ideas of Buddhism I hope to better myself.  I have practiced meditation from time to time and after I walk out, I feel refreshed, like I have been born again ready to live in the present again.  That is not to say that meditation is an easy practice.  In meditation, you are to focus the mind.  My teachers and my father have told me that when your mind drifts away, do not get upset, simply bring it back to where you began.  This is easier said than done and only improves with practice.  I am taking a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class in the coming fall and will spend several weeks studying and practicing meditation and other things. 
My time here in Thailand has been testing my interactions with expectations and reality.  In the beginning I had more expectations.  I think as time has gone by on the trip, I have begun to expect less and truly experience everything for what it is.  Often I would find myself in an unpleasant experience, sweating more than I would like, for example and my mind would be complaining.  In that moment I would change my thoughts and say “yes, you are sweating, you are hot, and that is okay. You are also alive, thriving in the jungle of Thailand with a group of wonderful people.”  Other moments of initial unpleasant experiences include eating strange and different dishes and being unable to speak to people in their language.  Walking through the markets I was often overwhelmed by the foreign smells and sights of raw meat and flies swarming around the food.  In the initial moment I wanted to walk away and escape from the moment, but through personal practice, I have begun to embrace the moment, no matter how unpleasant my thoughts make it seem.  I believe that a mindset can change the reality of a situation.  If I change my negative thoughts to positive ones, my experience will be truly present thoughts.  By manipulating the mind, eventually you will become happier and more at peace.  With the language, my thoughts were often sadness that I could not participate or say as much as I wanted to.  I think that this experience has been the most difficult for me.  I have never experienced this sensation of not being able to communicate through language before.  Initially I would feel sad and then frustrated because I felt like I was missing out on connection.  With the Thai students I had a desire to say so much more, but lacked the ability.  But rather than avoid, I would sit and absorb the language.  This experience tested my ability to live in the present.  At one dinner I was the only non-Thai speaker.  I found myself focusing on more than just the language.  I watched the ways their body moved, the expressions that their faces showed, and when I was addressed I would smile and attempt to guess what they were trying to say.  Sometimes I was correct because context gives many clues to what is being said, and sometimes Yer or Mongkon, two students on the trip that speak both English and Thai, would help translate for me.  These feelings have allowed me to experience the reality of the situation and focus on the present.  
Cecilia’s Story:

“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” -Dalai Lama
“Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future” – Deepak Chopra
    Written above are two of my favorite quotes. I find myself often reading inspirational and meaningful quotes day to day because they keep me going, and they give me hope. Over the past few years, it is safe to say that I have not been dealt the fairest hand and have been left to tend too many feelings of sadness, pain, and disappointment. To combat all of those negative feelings, I have also had to acknowledge my extreme moments of success and happiness. Has the balance always been even? No. Do I wish some things could have been different? Absolutely, but what is life without lessons? What is life without both good and the bad interactions shared among family, friends, and lovers? How do we forgive each other for the pain caused to one another? How to we be present in a world that is filled with deadlines, appointments, and high structure? Most importantly, what can we take away from everyone and everything that comes in and out of our lives? A good friends once told me, “Every relationship, friendship, and brief encounter with another person offers us an incredible opportunity to learn more about ourselves if we choose to do so. All of the “good” and “bad” that we can perceive in others is a reflection of a similar aspect that we share somewhere within oursleves.”
    Spending the past two weeks in Thailand has allowed to me really reflect and unpack some personal emotions I’ve carried with me for awhile. Thus far, this trip has been absolutely amazing. I have had extremely memorable experiences and most of those experiences will be with me for life. Specifically, there is one experience that resonates with me the most and I cannot seem to get it out of my head; visiting the Monk Chat in Chiang Mai. Pra Acharn Jolee took time out of his day to speak to us about the history, evolution, and meaning of Buddhism and his personal experience of becoming a monk. 
Buddhism is a way of life; how to be happy. It is about finding a balance between the body and the mind. Pra Acharn Jolee captivated my attention immediately. He was soft with his tone and genuine with his speech. He was comfortable with who he was which in turn made me comfortable with who I am. Listening to him was easy and his presence was confident. I thought to myself, “this is someone who inspires me and this is someone who is honest and true with themselves. I want that. I aspire to be like that.” 
There are two topics that were discussed in the Monk Chat and both topics have stuck with me. The first topic being karma – action vs. reaction and the second topic being purification – how to forgive and forget. As I have both personally struggled with the idea of how to forgive and forget and work through action and reaction, my time spent in Thailand has forced me to really reevaluate both ideas. Reflecting on both good and bad interactions I’ve had within the past few weeks, I know I was not always fair towards others, and I know I could have reacted differently but in that given moment but my emotions were all I knew and it generally left me feeling more upset than before. But what about the reactions and actions people put forth towards me? They were not always fair and some of them left me emotionally distraught and stressed. Then I realized that those individuals acted in a way that was familiar to them and their emotions were all they knew. I can pinpoint a certain moment from a few weeks ago when promised myself I would change the narrative around action, reaction, forgiving, and forgetting. Pra Acharn Jolee simply clarified what I could not put into actions and or words for that matter. 
I am a firm believer of the golden rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and I also believe in, “what goes around comes around.” In a sense Karma. I have made it a point to acknowledge and understand that my many daily interactions with people happen for a reason. Now, everything happens for a reason but I can change my reaction and actions towards others. I can also find a way to forgive and forget those who have hurt me. Having a strong understanding of my behavior, thoughts, and feelings towards others have pushed me towards the ultimate test of remaining as positive as possible in times where I feel like I cannot. Lastly, I have been forced to really self reflect and be aware of my presence in the places and people I interact with. 
Experiences and learned behaviors shape who we are as humans. Along with the influences of family, friends, and so many other life contributions it is so easy to fall into patterns and “a way of life.” With that said, I am so proud to share with you all that my short yet life changing time in Thailand has helped me become more aware of who I am and who I want to continue to be. My hope is to continue to abstain from doing bad, keep doing good, and really clean my mind. Finding peace with oneself and coming to an understanding that no one is better than the other, will ultimately create a positive “way of life.” 
Zang’s Story:

“Keep what is good and leave the bad behind”     -Pra Acharn Jolee
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall”    -Confucius
One of the most memorable experiences from this study abroad course has been the Monk Chat we attended in Chiang Mai from our first week in Thailand. I can recall that it was the day where we visited temples then went to a Monk school to participate in the Monk Chat. It was a hot day with the sun shining brightly as we walked around everywhere. Upon entering the room where the Monk Chat was located in, I was sweating, tired and didn’t know what to expect; I had never participated in a Monk Chat before prior to orientation. When Pra Acharn Jolee walked into the room, there were multiple thoughts going on in my head. For some strange reason, I had thought that monks were not allowed to speak because of the rules or guidelines they must follow. There was this perception I had thinking that monks were someone high and holy (which they are) that I was not allowed to converse with them. Learning that monks are not allowed to stand close to women and vice versa, this may have contributed to it. I wanted to not only be respectful of the country and culture, but also be respectful of the Buddhist religion as well. After hearing Pra Acharn Jolee speak for a couple of minutes, I was so relieved to know how down to earth he was. I almost forgot he was even a monk because of his humor as well. What additionally amazed me was that he was a Hmong monk. I had always heard of Hmong men becoming monks from my parents but never thought I would ever encounter one in real life. This experience was very personal for me as I not only learned a lot about him, but also became enlightened on Buddhism, too.
I have always heard of the Buddhist religion, but never really resonated with it until now. Recently within the past year, I have decided to embark on a journey of soul searching. This journey is a path to becoming a better person, learning how to be at peace with my own being, and overall, finding myself. Growing up, life has always been a constant struggle for me both internally and externally. Internally, I have continuously put myself down through my own words. Words like “You’re not good enough,” “You’re not smart enough,” or “You won’t make it in the end” have all crossed my mind. Like the quote from Buddha, “Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts,” this quote is indeed true. On the outside externally, I have body shamed myself because I don’t look like society’s portrayal of the ideal female body or don’t have perfect white, straight teeth. The expectations and standards I have built up for myself have made me my own worst critique. Leading up to my decision to embark on this journey, I have realized that “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk [our own] path[s]” (Buddha). During the monk chat with Pra Acharn Jolee a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned the three core points of Buddhism: Be aware of doing bad, do good and clean the mind. While I do believe in these three points and have always followed them, I find that the third quote most relates to my well being. The ideals of Buddhism have guided me towards enlightenment and finding myself.

Community engaged approaches to sustainable living along the Mekong River

Mongkon Cida, Emily Huff, Mai Xiong, Claire Kurschner

As American students from the University of Minnesota, it is important for us to understand the effects of global change in regions of the world besides our own. While in Thailand, we have been learning not only from our professors but also from local villagers, students, and organization leaders. This experiential learning has helped us to draw connections between the decisions of superpowers, the environment, and the impacts on local people.


The fish in a river depend on the biodiversity and stability of the ecosystem in which they live. The people that live along the river depend on the fish and vegetation for survival, and individuals depend on their communities for living fulfilling lives. A nation, in turn, depends on its communities to grow into a strong and unified country. All hangs in the delicate balance of sustainable interactions – the interaction of humans with their environment, and the interactions of individual people within both small and large communities.

Importance of the Mekong River
By Mongkon Cida

The Mekong River is a friendship boundary river in Southeast Asia that flows through six countries including China, Thailand, Lao, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar. The river is a central ecosystem consisting of rich food resources and fish habitats that connect people with the river. 50 years ago, the Mekong River used to have everything that people needed such as food and income resources. The Mekong villagers fished for food and sold them to their country neighbors for business exchanging. In the past, Thai villagers lived their lives working hard simply and happily until they were introduced to the new age of industrial era. A number of changes have had negative impacts on the lives of local people and their food resources in the Mekong River. One of the most notable sources of change is China’s creation of large-scale hydroelectric dams along the Mekong, with plans for many more. While China has reaped the benefits of the dams, the impact south of the dams has been extremely negative.  For example, the water levels used to change with the seasons – high in the rainy season and low in the dry season.  Now they are unpredictable and can occur without any warning.  The rapid water level changes also cause erosion of the Mekong River banks. The dams have also caused flooding and damaged fish habitats, which decreased the population many fish species that live in Mekong River. The changes in Mekong have negative impacts directly to local villagers whose lives depend on the Mekong and the food resources. It has become a huge issue to Mekong local people, but the Thai government is either unaware or simply does not pay attention to this dam building project that is slowly destroying their peoples lives and environment. Therefore, several Mekong local villagers took the initiative to stand up for their people to fight the Dam project in order to preserve and sustain their community resources.
        The Mekong School worked with several other organizations to build a network, to preserve and protect the Mekong River and revitalize local history, culture and the arts. By doing this, they create hope and pride among community members. 

Kru Tee is the organization’s founder who is extremely passionate and connected with the Mekong River. Kru Tee works to protect the Mekong River by helping local villagers

understand the history, culture, and ecosystem of the river that has such a big impact on their lives and the environment they live in. To do this, Kru Tee’s strategy is to visit villages along the Mekong River to interact and exchange conversation with the villagers in order to understand each other and find the solutions to preserve their food resources. One of the organization’s successes has been their protection of the Ing River, which is one of the Mekong River’s tributary. Their solution to the disruption of balance in the ecosystem is to sustain the water and forest along the Ing River. Since trees are the main source of water retention, the organization helps the villagers understand the importance of the forest to the river. This in turn reduces the rate of cutting trees along the Ing River. In addition to preserving the forest, the organization preserves trees that have been affected by the flooding and allows them to re-grow naturally. By collaborating with local volunteers and villages, as one community, they re-plant trees that have been destroyed. To help maintain water levels, they built small restoration dams along creeks in the forest to store water during the dry season. All this work to protect the Mekong and its surrounding environment is being done at a grassroots, community level, which is part of its success.

The Effects of Globalization on Community Living
By Emily Huff

In a world that is becoming restructured by globalization, both practices and values, it is easy to look past the strengths of communities. Being in Thailand has been a reminder of how strong communities can prosper, but also of the threats they face by industrialization and globalization. What I have observed frequently in Thailand is community efforts taking place, and the value placed on communities thriving as a whole. Living in the US, where we value individualism, it is easy to forget the importance of community. I have always been interested in how communities can be more independent and sustainable. The Hmong village in the Chiang Dao District, the Mekong School, and especially our home stay at Mae Kampong were influential examples of how communities are staying intact despite the pressures of globalization.
        The Mae Kampong village had three main sources of income: tea, coffee, and the homestay program. The homestay program was generating the most money. I believe by creating this eco-tourist attraction, it is allowing them to remain more of an independent community because they do not need to seek government support. Having two specialized products, coffee and tea, generates jobs within the community allowing them to work close to home; this is important because when you work within your community you value the space in which you work in. Mae Kampong also collected, filtered, and bottled their own water, which allowed them to be self-sustaining and not rely on outside sources for water. The three meals that were prepared for us were (most likely) primarily made from produce grown within the area as well.
        Besides environmental sustainability, Mae Kampong also focuses on sustaining an educated community. By offering monetary incentives and community celebrations for each degree obtained, students strive to do better and are encouraged to continue their education. They see the benefit in educating younger generations to better the community as a whole. What is important about living in a strong community, is people are less likely to take on the values globalization creates, such as consumerism, because they find value in sustainable living.

Hill Area Development Foundation
By Claire Kurschner

The Hill Area Development Foundation (HADF) is a community-based organization in Northern Thailand. One of the main objectives of HADF is to educate and encourage hill tribe people to take pride in their environment and value sustainable living. This nonprofit group works to build and maintain the heritage of the Hill people and ensure their involvement in community decisions, which is even more important in such a quickly-changing society. Their mission is to include people “…in all stages of a development process leading towards the goal of idea exchange, experience and potential to create our committed society. (HADF)” They do this by going to the different villages and talking with villagers, educating them on the events happening outside of their small community and how the actions of others impact them. In this way, small, separate communities can be connected in one larger, stronger network where all can understand and create shared goals.

Physical Use of the Environment
By Mai Xiong

        While sustainable living can be viewed in the context of community initiatives and interactions, it is also important to examine the seemingly small everyday ways that people interact with the environment around them. In the United States, we lack the use of our physical environment since the convenience of using readily available materials such as ceramic cups, plastic containers and roof tiles manufactured by big companies makes our lives more comfortable and easier.  Sometimes our habits of only using items manufactured from big manufacturers causes us to live unsustainable lifestyles that may potentially harm our earth in the long run as we constantly deplete natural resources to make those items. In Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, I’ve observed that the hill tribe people and local Thais make efforts to utilize the physical things in their natural environment for everyday life as an initiative to being more sustainable. Even though we do see people becoming more modernized in Thailand and using manufactured goods for everyday use, there are still people who still make use of materials from their environment.
                 To be sustainable, the hill tribes and Thais use various natural resources in everyday use. Banana leaves are one example of a natural resource that they utilize very well. They are very versatile and sustainable, serving as packagings for food, much the same way that we use plastic containers, wraps and aluminum foil in the U.S. At almost all food vendors that I have seen thus far, I’ve been amazed to see the various ways that banana leaves have been used for food packaging and serving! In addition to banana leaves, bamboos are used in various ways too. Two such things include its use as small cups and food packaging. I have also seen empty coconut shells used as flower and plant pots at homes along the Mekong River and as ladles for water. At the Mekong School, the roofing tiles were also made out of large dried tree leaves, a very fascinating use of the natural environment which makes me wonder how rain proof it is. In the Hmong village, we saw hemp used to make clothing, strings for bows and arrows used for hunting and various tools. Elephant poop is another natural thing that is used to make paper. Furthermore, the natural vegetation in the community such as in the wetlands that we visited provided various food opportunities for the locals such as fiddle heads and roots of plants that naturally grow in the area. While the use of these natural things in the environment may be small, they are sustainable to the local people and promotes the idea of using what is available versus buying things.


        The pressures of globalization have encouraged industrialization and commoditization of natural resources throughout the world. This can be seen in Southeast Asia, in particular through the interaction of those in power with the Mekong River. The building of hydroelectric dams by China, Laos, and Thailand negatively affects all the life in and along the river south of the dams, altering ecosystems and harming communities. Organizations like the Mekong River School and the Hill Area Development Foundation are working to educate and collaborate with communities in the area to create a strong voice – a voice that can stand up to those who are damaging the balance of sustainable living, and one that can encourage others to come together and do the same.

Human Trafficking in Thailand

Human Trafficking in Thailand
Before taking this course, it is fair to say that all three of us had very little to no knowledge on the topic of Human Trafficking. Through lectures we learned that those who live in poverty are most vulnerable to human traffickers. It doesn’t matter what gender or age anyone can be taken advantage of and forced to do free labor. Most victims are kidnapped and forced to do free labor. Limited opportunities and resources are some main causes for human trafficking. Families who have no way of making an income feel pressure to sell their child to human traffickers in order to receive an income.  They will become sex slaves and possibly die young from HIV. young children will do free labor, doing various activities from selling flowers to begging on the streets where most tourists are found. What made all this information real derived from our experiences with human trafficking in Thailand, especially our tour guide Eve’s personal story. We are here to observe the environment and interactions around us; had we been solely vacationing tourists, these realities would probably not have made it to our attention. To proceed, we would like to share our personally observed accounts of Human Trafficking, that have occurred throughout our time in Thailand.
             human trafficking pic.jpg
                                                    Mai Zong Vang
Thailand is one of the most well-known places for human trafficking, due to the high demand and supply for sex slaves and child labor. During my stay in Thailand I’ve observed several instances that I believe are examples of human trafficking. Some of these instances were of a boy selling flower necklaces and seeing numerous girls sit on a row of chairs outside of the bar and restaurants late at night.
I will never forget an incident that occurred right in front of me. I was raised with morals and values that taught me to always give to those who are in need even if I don’t have a lot. While at the night market in Chiang Mai I met a little boy who seemed to be no older than 6 years selling flower necklaces in the food court. My first instinct was to question why this little boy was working in the middle of the night. But then I thought about it again and wondered if he had to do it to feed his family. So,I gave him 20 baht and told him to keep it.
I went back to the night market again on the second night we were in Chiang Mai and saw the same boy in the same food court. This got me super curious about whether the boy was really working for his family. I started to doubt it and observed the situation. I noticed that he asked all the tourists  to buy his flower necklace and most of them did buy them. Then I noticed a lady who was at the end of the food court watching and waiting for him. I kept wondering if that was his mother or not.
On the third night, I saw the little boy again. He was doing the same thing- selling his flower necklaces. Then a police officer came into the food court and I noticed the little boy walking the opposite direction from the side trying to avoid him. The boy exited the food court with the same lady from the previous nights and they both disappear. I asked Mongkon if that could possibly be his mom and Mongkon said maybe. After the police left the little boy came back and did his usual routine of selling flower necklaces to the tourists. Some tourists gave him money then went back to eating and drinking. Mongkon decided to give the little boy some coins and asked if that was his mom, but the little boy didn’t say anything and gave a strange look. The weirdest thing was the little boy’s face expression when Mongkon gave him the money. He had the saddest look, but after receiving the money he smiled and said thank you. It seems to be all acted out like the boy knew exactly what to do to get people’s attention and for them to feel sympathy. Everything seem to all too similar from what I read on the human trafficking website of how “children from neighboring countries are forced to sell flowers, beg, or work in agriculture or domestic service in urban areas. Evidence suggests that the trafficking of men, women, and children into these sectors represent a significant portion of all labor trafficking in Thailand” (Bertone, 2001). It got me questioning a lot about the issue of human trafficking, especially since it’s a universal issue. If human trafficking is such a huge issue throughout the world, what are the government officials doing to limit the number of traffickers? Why isn’t there a collaboration between all the counties to  bring down the main pipeline of the human traffickers?
                                                                      Pahoua Vang
Before this course, I had very little knowledge on the topic of Human Trafficking. It is a topic in which I wanted, in the past, to wither away from because of its gruesomeness. Yet through this past week, I have gone on a journey in which educated me that awareness is crucial. I have learned that Human Trafficking is a real issue. We were shared a very personal story from one of our tour guides, Eve, and her story touched the heart of everyone. Eve came from a place called the Green Zone district. It is one of the most heavily trafficked area in Thailand. She had friends and family who died from HIV in which they contracted from their work in sex trafficking. Her uncle sold her cousins into sex trafficking and they too, died. Her mother worked very hard to keep her out of the business and because of this she was granted a scholarship to ChaingDao School by being the top student of her class. Throughout my trip, we had the chance to meet two villages and the question of human trafficking aroused. Both leaders from the each village stated that trafficking is not a problem with them because of the strongness of their community. In addition to this, we was able to do a tour at the Hall of Opium and something that I learned is that where there is drugs, there is trafficking going on. Many people gets addicted to drugs and they themselves gets sucked into trafficking one way or another. This is why some areas are higher in trafficking than others, like the Green Zone in comparison the villages that we visited. Drugs can destroy a community. It is where poverty is high, education is lacked, resource is limited, and corruption is occurring.
I personally witness trafficking at the Chaingmai Night Bazaar. I met a little boy, about 6 and quite skinny, by the food court. He was going around selling flowers. He didn’t even need to say a word to me to advertise his flower. There was this sadness in his eyes and it lured me in. I went up to him and bought a strand of flower and left. This happened around 10:30 at night and yet this very naive american didn’t think much about it. I was unconscious of what was happening.This happened about one week ago and other students who witness more of this said that the same little boy was at the same food court for three days selling the same thing. He was accompanied by a lady from a distant. This may very well be an example of human trafficking. It was very hard to take this in. A child who is so pure in heart and have so much potential in life is being held back by traffickers. I want to go back to that very moment to take that child’s hand and lead him into a light. Yet, there is a lot more children out there being trafficked the same exact way or worse. Awareness about human trafficking is important and it is happening everywhere. It first takes awareness to trigger some kind reaction toward it and this experience definitely trigger something in me. This is an eye opening experience, one in which will definitely lead to some action in my part.
Janey Kroneberger
Before coming to Thailand I didn’t really know what human trafficking was, I just knew it was bad, and thought it had something to do with sex. Now, my idea of human trafficking is much different, and it’s victims can be anyone, it doesn’t discriminate, and can take form in many different ways such as children being sold away from their families for money, it’s not just about sexual interactions.
Our tour guide Eve told us her story, and how human trafficking has affected her and her loved ones. Eve grew up in a village in Thailand referred to as the “green zone,” which is a huge area for human trafficking. Eve has had friends and sisters die from HIV due to human trafficking; and the pain in her eyes was one of the most impacting things I have ever encountered. You might hear in the paper, or an online article about human trafficking, but Eve’s story was up close and right in front of me, that’s something that you can’t ignore. Eve had the chance for a better life due to being at the top of her class in school, so she received a scholarship, if this wouldn’t have happened, she too may have been among the deceased victims. Being able to hear Eve’s story really opened my eyes to the realities of human trafficking, and it makes me want to help fight against this harsh reality.  During my time in Thailand I have also witnessed a scenario in Chiang Mai, which seemed like a stereotypical human trafficking incident.
I went to a late dinner with another student in our group, Kya, and we sat out on a patio near a busy road.  Just before we finished eating a little boy approached our table trying to sell flowers for 100 Baht; we said “no thank you”, but he was persistent. After he realized we weren’t going to give in, he asked Kya to arm-wrestle him, and if he won she would pay him 100 Baht. There was no way in hell we thought this little boy would win; being probably a mere fifty pounds, so the arm wrestling match begun. The little boy turned out to be much stronger than we thought, and won the match within seconds! Now the question was, what are you going to buy with this 100 Baht? In an infomercial type of way he told us how he was going to buy books for school, that’s when it struck me, there’s something off about this situation, and my gut could feel it. The little boy quickly scampered away around the corner with his money; we’ll never see him again.
Immediately after the situation occurred we knew something wasn’t right, and our observations helped to confirm this. There was a red pick-up truck sitting in the grassy median nearby with it’s lights off, but was in full view of everywhere this boy was trying to sell his flowers. Also, it was almost eleven at night, so what was a young boy of age eight or nine doing alone at this time? Where we’re his parents? Why was he so persistent to get money from us? I can’t say for sure that this was human trafficking, but it looked and seemed like it without a doubt. I will never know for sure what the boy did with the money, or if he is okay, but my heart tells me he is suffering from the consequences of human trafficking.
It’s so easy to overlook these kinds of situations when they are far from home, or read in an article, but when it’s up close and personal, the impact is paralyzing.  I think the biggest thing I will take from hearing and seeing these experiences concerning human trafficking is my newfound desire to help other’s who have suffered from human trafficking’s effects. Awareness is key, and my eyes have been opened to an enormous issue; one of my duties now is to bring back this information and share with as many people possible. It is impossible to combat human trafficking with one person; the more who know about this issue, the better.

These are our personal accounts on Human Trafficking that each of us witnessed. With a bit more knowledge on the problem of human trafficking and personal eye-witness, we all have a better understanding. Trafficking is a problem not only in Thailand but globally. Though we are doing our studies in Thailand, it is important to note that the United States is the second most heavily trafficked country; in specific, women and children. In an article we read. “As many as 50,000 trafficked victims [women and children] annually”(Garrett-Akinsanya), which include sex and labor trafficking. In specific, the Twin Cities rank 13th in the most heavily trafficked area in the US (Garrett-Akinsanya). Now that we are all more aware of human trafficking, our next step is to get involved one way or another to stop this. A person has the right to live their life to the fullest, and trafficking denies people this right. Let’s all work together to make people aware of human trafficking and help prevent children, women, and men from ever being trafficked. Awareness is key. There are many agencies in Minnesota that are helping  fight against human trafficking, and also providing aid to its victims, including: The International Institute of Minnesota, Breaking Free, and the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force.


Antitrafficking. (n.d). Human Trafficking. Retrieved from
Bertone, M. (2001). Human Academy for Educational Development. Retrieved
Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Human Trafficking in Thailand. (n.d). Not for Sale.
Retrieved from
Garrett-Akinsanya, Bravada. “Human Trafficking: The New Slavery.” Insight News RSS.   Insight

             News, 12 Mar. 2102. Web. June 2015.


Hmong Diaspora and Globalization

Elaine Vue
Introduction: Who are the Hmong?

Though Minnesota and California have the biggest Hmong populations in the United States, there are still many people who don’t know who the Hmong people are and about their diasporic movements. The Hmong are a nomadic people who have a beautiful culture that has been preserved orally throughout history. Though their origins are still debatable due to many centuries of migration, the Hmong are said to have migrated throughout Southeast Asia, settling in China for hundreds of years before once again having to migrate again due to persecution – this time, they settled in the mountains of Laos.

During the Second Indochina War, also known to Americans as the Vietnam War, the United States sent troops to South East Asia to back up the South Vietnamese in their fear of the domino theory spread of communism. In what is now known as the Secret War, the United States Central Intelligence Agency recruited the Hmong people in order to navigate the coarse and unfamiliar jungles of Laos. With this recruitment, the C.I.A. also promised the Hmong that they would be protected by the United States from persecution and that they would be given land to call their own.

In 1973, the Paris Peace Accords was signed and the United States agreed to pull out of Vietnam; though the North Vietnamese troops and Pathet Lao agreed to release all U.S. and other prisoners of war, the Hmong were left to fend for themselves. This started a mass genocide and the Hmong were forced to flee their homes, running through the jungles and seeking refuge across the Mekong River in Thailand in order to survive. Many of those who chose to stay in their homes were sent to re-education camps where they were abused, tortured and/or killed. After this mass exodus from Laos, many Hmong families relocated to the United States, France, Canada, and other Western countries as refugees and asylees. Populations also stayed in Thailand, and others were forced to go back to Laos.

This year marks the 40th year of the Hmong people resettling in Minnesota; throughout history, there have been mass migrations of the Hmong people throughout the world. As Hmong-Americans, we navigate our Hmong lives in a world that isn’t dominated by our own language and culture. There are things we accept, struggle with and are still learning about to learn more about our roots. With our trip to Thailand, we have met and encountered a number of Hmong-Thai men and women who have helped us learn more about things such as preservation of culture, religion, Hmong marriage practices, and Hmong women in society. As Hmong-Americans who have very Western points of views and approaches, we hope that everyone will learn something through our simple observations and conversations.

Yer Her
Topic: Hmong Women

What does it mean to be a Hmong woman? I have always asked myself this question, but I never had a real answer. I noticed many Hmong women struggle with their life because of their culture. Many of the things inside the culture have been practiced for so long that it seems impossible to change. Such as when a Hmong woman gets divorced, she will have to carry the stigma for the rest for her life. People will point at her and talk about her. The Hmong people have such a small community that everyone knows almost everything about each other. The most challenging thing is as a Hmong woman of this generation, what can I do to help the next generation so that they don’t face the same struggles?

I interviewed a Hmong woman in Thailand named Tsiab. I wanted to know what did she thinks about Hmong women in general. My interest was the different perspectives between Hmong American women and Hmong women that lives in Thailand.

I asked Tsiab what she thought about the bride price. The reason I wanted to know was because I knew that each country had their own bride price. From what I knew, once a Hmong women got marry, she would be considered as one of her husband’s people. She was no longer able to walk home easily like before. She could not give birth inside her parents’ home. I did not understand. I asked Tsiab about the bride prices. I wanted to know if the bride price was worthy or important. “I think the prices are not worthy if I think about my mom”, she replied. Each bride is worth four silver bars in Thailand. Each silver bar is worth 5,000 in Thai baht. As a Hmong woman, once you get married, your life belongs to your husband. Hmong parents would always teach their daughters to be a diligent wife in order to be loved by her husband and his family. A good wife should take care of everything in the family and should not complain. She must be penitent and be a good wife. Tsiab graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business management. She said that the money cannot compare to what her parents had given to her throughout her life. She would increase the bride price if she is able to. I agree with her. I thought, if I were to spend the rest of my life with someone, that person should really work harder than my parents.

I’m really glad that I got to talk to Tsiab and learn from her experience and her life. As a Hmong woman, I did not think I can change everything by myself. However, if all women come together and talk about this issue, I believe we can create change in the community.

Chee Moua
Topic: The challenges to learn and preserve Hmong language, writings, culture and practices in America and Thailand.
I noticed that there were many Hmong students struggling to learn the Hmong language, writings and culture as well as practices in America.  I thought that this was only an issue in America because even though English isn’t the official language, it is the dominant language. There were also many families that have converted to Christianity and have moved away from traditional Hmong religion and practices.  I later found out that this challenge is not only for the Hmong in America, but that it is also a challenge for the Hmong in Thailand. I had the chance to talk to a few Hmong Thai people about this issue and asked their opinions and thoughts on it, as well as ways to help preserve Hmong language, writings and culture for the younger and many more generations to come.  
One of the many things that they have here to help Hmong students learn the language is by teaching Hmong in Thai schools. In Ban Xong district, there are schools that teach Hmong from kindergarten to fourth grade, said Qai. Hmong-Thais live in Thailand and speak Thai because it is the dominant language just as English is the dominant language for the Hmong in America. Tom, the young Hmong man that I interviewed from the Mekong School, said that he discovered he wanted to be a Catholic priest when he was 19. Ma Ha, another Hmong gentleman that I interviewed who still practices Shamanism, said he teaches and speaks Hmong to his children when they are home. He does this because they’ll learn Thai in school so there is no use for him to teach them Thai. Ma Ha also noted that ‘it doesn’t matter if we believe in Christianity or Shamanism, as long as we don’t forget that we are Hmong.’ The challenges to learn and preserve the Hmong language, writings, culture and practices is really an international issue for the Hmong people.
Crystal Yang
Topic: Abusive International Marriage
I have heard many Hmong American perspectives in regards to abusive international marriage. Based on what I’ve learned from social justice advocates such as the Building Our Future Campaign, international marriage is becoming a public health issue affecting Hmong families abroad and in America. This issue involves husbands leaving, sometimes disappearing for weeks and months, and then returning with news of a second wife from Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, or China. In the early years, this practice was more common among men in their 50’s and older. However, in recent years, men in their 30’s also started going overseas to marry underaged girls. In addition, there is a trend recurring in the Hmong community defined as “transnational abandonment” which is sometimes referred to as “marry and dump”, where Hmong American men marry women and girls abroad with no intention of sponsoring their brides to live in the U.S. (Dabby-Chinoy et al., 2012). The Hmong women and girls who are left behind would be looked down upon by their community, with many being forced to move out of their parents’ home.
I felt appalled by the knowledge I’ve gained this year in regards to abusive international marriage. My thirst for knowledge grew as I connected with Hmong women advocates such as Bo Thao-Urabe, co-founder of VivNcaug (Hmong women support group in Laos); Bao Vang- CEO of Hmong American Partnership, and volunteers of the Building Our Future Campaign- a network of change agents who are working towards ending gender-based violence. Seeing the passion and work that these individuals are doing in the Hmong community has empowered me to explore this issue, gain the perspectives of the Hmong in Thailand, and share my knowledge with others.
To better understand the perspectives of the Hmong in Thailand, I decided to interview three Hmong Thai men who were invited to join us for dinner at the Mekong School. First, I asked them how they felt about international marriages in general. Qai responded, “I think international marriages and relationships are okay. As long as they respect one another and love each other, there shouldn’t be any problem”. He further explains how international marriage is more common in Laos because many families there are poor. Hmong daughters are encouraged to marry men in America to increase their future success and to ensure that they are financially secured. I then delved deeper into this topic and asked how they felt about abusive international marriage. Ma Ha answered, “Many of the elders don’t agree with this practice. However, abusive international marriage isn’t as common. Many married men from America just dates the young women in Thailand, but they do not proceed to marriage”. He also agreed with Qai that Americans are rich. When this component is combined with love, then girls will be more inclined to marry men who are already married. I also talked about “transnational abandonment” and how problematic this can be for Hmong women. After a few moments of silence, Qai shared a story of a Hmong woman who encountered this in his village. The woman got pregnant by a Hmong American man but was left behind with uncertainty. She lived with her parents, but her reputation changed the way others view and treated her. She began to carry the negative stigmas of being a single mother.
After dissecting the issue and reflecting on the conversations I’ve had with the Hmong Thai men, I have come to understand that this is an ongoing problem because there is a lack of conversation. The men that I interviewed acknowledged that this topic is not often talked about. Many individuals know that this problem is impacting their loved ones, but many are also not willing to engage in conversations; maybe in fear of provoking those above the hierarchy who are participating in these practices, or in fear of not knowing what the conversations may lead to. I believe that by having courageous conversations with the community, and through collaborative efforts, this problem can be alleviated. My passion towards community empowerment has certainly grown from this experience. I hope to become more informed on the various issues in the Hmong community as I continue to engage in courageous conversations with those around me.


Susan Xiong
Topic: Diversity in Religion

Where do I stand with my religion, do I know enough about my religion to say that it is my own belief? Do I believe in the practices of Shamanism, or am I just thinking that because my family practices it? My stepmom is a Shaman and being born into a Shaman family with little knowledge about why it is practiced the way it is, brings a lot of questions about the root of my religion. Coming on this trip and being able to be exposed to the diversity in religion with Hmong people has given me a different point of view about religion. Many people do not know but Hmong people are scattered around the world and because of that Hmong people adapted to religions that will help them survive. This trip has opened my eyes to understand the reasons why Hmong people are not limited when it comes to religion.

Animism is the most practiced religion in the Hmong community. For those who do not know what Animism is, according to Animism is defined as “the attribution of a soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena or the belief in a supernatural power that organizes and animates the material universe.” Hmong people believe in healing sickness and health through spiritual calling and supernatural. The way how Hmong people get in touch with the supernatural power and practice the acknowledgment of a soul is through a Shaman. Shamanism is the second most practiced in the Hmong community. For those who do not know what Shamanism is, according to Shamanism is defined as “a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to encounter and interact with the spirit world and channel these transcendental energies into this world.”

By coming on this trip and getting the opportunity to visit two Hmong villages that are so opposite with their religion has helped me gain insight to my own religion. The first Hmong village that I had the chance to visit was in Chiang Dao District. In this village, more than all of the families have converted into Christianity. The head leader said that there are only probably two families in their village that still practices the old way and he was referring it to Shamanism. I was so shocked to hear that Christianity was such a big part in the Hmong villager’s life because I came to Thailand expecting Hmong people to still keep the old ways so that I will be able to learn more about it. I told myself that by coming on this trip, I wanted to learn more about where the root of my religion or shamanism came from but it felt like a dead end hearing that it is not practiced in the first village. I asked the head leader why they decided to choose that route and he answered that it is because of survival. By being shaman, there is a lot of animal sacrificing which results in a lot of money and living as a hill tribe in the mountains, they are not provided with the resources to continue the old ways. After hearing their decisions to why they converted, it made me realized how survival can play such a huge role in religion. Even though the questions I had about my shaman beliefs were not answered in the first village, there was still the second village.

The second Hmong village in Chiang Khong had a head shaman that answered many of my questions to why Shaman is practiced the way it is. Everyone in the second village still practiced the old way and it made me felt like I was home because I finally realized why things were done the way it is when I participate in the Shaman ceremonies. I finally gained knowledge to why animals are sacrificed and the use of each tools during the rituals. Some of the things that I have learned from the head Shaman are that the gong used during the ritual symbolizes the calling to guide the Shaman spirits back into the house, white horse symbolizes death or a bad omen, and pigs are sacrificed to protect the bad spirits away.

Animism and Shamanism is most practiced but Hmong people are adapting to their religion based on where they live and the resources that are given to them. Having the opportunity to go to a Monk Chat and meeting Prab Jo Lee was an amazing experience, especially knowing that he is a Hmong monk. He said that the reason why he decided to become a monk at such a young age was because becoming a monk, he was provided with food and education. He lived in the mountain and was not given the chance to go to school so becoming a monk gave him a new life and opportunities. Like many others, religion is based on survival and on what will bring happiness in the future.
As Hmong people move into different locations, religion is changing and our old ways are slowly disappearing. The diversity of religion in the Hmong community is depended on geographic, the lifestyle that will help them survive, and the resources that are provided from them. Now the religion of Hmong people can be anything from Animism, Shamanism, Christianity, Lutheran, Catholic, and even atheist.


Culture is something that is always changing and evolving right before our eyes – as you can see, even the Hmong culture has changed through migration and time, and sometimes people see it as good and sometimes people see it as bad. One thing that we should all keep in mind, though, is that “we are all Hmong, no matter how far and different we are. Don’t ever forget that and each other.”

Education in Thailand- By Ka, Amanda, and Katie

Education- A Human Capital Asset in Northern Thailand

A wise friend once said, “your education is your religion.”  From the moment we are born, we enter a lifetime of learning and education. This is true no matter who you are and where you live. As elementary education and family social science majors, the three of us (Ka Vang, Amanda Bartholf, and Katie Zellner) decided to focus on education in Northern Thailand. During our two weeks here, we have witnessed education and teaching take on many forms. The three of us will be approaching education from different angles and in a variety of domains. We hope that by the end of this, everyone will expand their understanding of what education is. Teaching and learning is not just in the classroom, but stretches out to the home, to the community, to the world, and back to us. What we learn in life shapes our way of living and view of the world. It is what guides us to become who we are. Education is in many ways, life.

Ka: Like all other young adults, I’m fearful of my future. What if I don’t know what to do in life? What if my life becomes meaningless? For my entire life, I was told to strive for the American dream. To go to school and graduate college… to own a house and start a family… to retire happy and content with my life. As a Hmong-American, the American Dream was supposed to be my purpose in life. At a very young age, I was taught to believe and value certain things: independence, physical health, speaking up, beauty, intelligence, etc. Back in the US, we call it the “hidden curriculum”. It’s not stated in our academic standards, nor is it a requirement for students to take courses in it. Yet somehow, certain morals and values have been instilled in us. We all have been educated to think and behave in a particular way. The hidden curriculum is culture itself. While I have been here in Thailand, I have learned about their culture and way of life. There’s one thing I am sure about; it’s that Thai people believe in having a pure heart and helping others; that’s their “dream”. The way America paints the American dream is the same way Thailand teaches their people to value a generous heart. I want to focus particularly on Buddhism and how its teachings have influenced Thailand’s curriculum. Acharn Kathy states that students take official courses in Buddhism. So while not completely “hidden”, Buddhist teachings appear outside of the classroom as well. During our chat with a Hmong-Thai monk, Jou Lee, in Chiang Mai, I learned a lot about Buddhism and its teachings. Some of the main highlights I remember were:

  • To not commit bad acts (killing, hurting others, etc.)
  • To not follow blind faith and follow what’s true to your heart
  • Take care of your mind and body
  • To release yourself from suffering
  • Happiness is giving and getting
During the monk chat, I felt like I began to understand why Thai people behaved the way they did. I think Buddhism plays a lot into this. Thailand is a country where 90% of its people follow Buddhism. What I know about Buddhism seems to come to life when I interact with Thai people. Buddhism teaches people to have a good heart and give to others. No matter how little or much a person has, they always seem to work hard and help others. I saw this prevalent in many of the people and places we met:
  1. Mekong school (local leaders coming together to empower communities who live by the Mekong river).
  2. Suksasongkroh Chiang Dao School (providing educational opportunities for students in poverty)
  3. Eve’s story (working hard in school and life and giving back to schools like chiang Dao)
  4. Hmong villages (structuring their village on equality and generating income)
While strolling the market one night outside out Chiang Khong hotel, a couple friends and I stumbled upon an elderly woman selling eggrolls. We stopped by her cart to buy some food and ended up with a conversation about her life. She told us that her daughter was all the way in Bangkok for school, a story that seemed to be common among many Thai parents. She also said that on nights that she didn’t sell food, she cooks for students in a school in Chiang Rai. No pay at all. She does it because she understands in giving and helping others. She does it so that the students can continue their education. She does it because she has been learning from Thailand’s hidden curriculum.
Beautiful  Thai-Vietnamese cook from the streets of Chiang Khong

Education and Families in Northern Thailand 
Katie: As a family social science student I think primarily about the family as a system, interacting with environments such as schools, communities, culture, etc. When it comes to education, I thought it would be interesting to explore how education impacts the family system. I want to focus mostly on boarding schools, where children may leave their families at a very young age to pursue an education. Specifically, what happens when that child finishes their education and returns home?  While I may not know the exact answers at this time, I’m going to use some of my own background knowledge to understand ways this might play out.

During our first week in Thailand we visited Suksasongkroh Chiang Dao School. This is a diverse boarding school for children from 9 ethnic minorities or hill tribes. These children often live in rural communities who don’t have a lot of other opportunities, and in some cases, may be at risk for being sold into human trafficking. I do not want to downplay this amazing opportunity these children were given because it’s possible that for some of them this was their only shot at a better life for themselves. However, boarding school means that many of the children live at the school away from their families. In many ways, especially for the very young students in first grade, their teacher becomes a stand in parent for them. The teacher is there to put them to bed and take care of them when they are sick. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for the children’s actual parents to know they aren’t the ones doing this for their child. I think of my own mother who still wishes she could come to take care of me whenever I’m sick even though I’m 21 years old. Then I think of how much trust these mothers must have in the teachers. The mothers are essentially trusting the teachers to take care of their children the way they would. Knowing that the teacher is taking over these mothering roles for the young ones, I’m interested to know if they eventually develop a closer attachment to the teachers than their parents. To my understanding, attachment seems to form based on not only the amount of interaction, but also the ability to fulfill a child’s needs. Young children attach from birth to their primary caregivers, so it seems likely that before coming to school, the child did achieve attachment with his or her mother, but as the teacher steps into that mothering role I have a hard time imaging the child not forming an attachment with the teacher. How does this attachment affect the mother child relationship? It must put at least a little strain on it I believe. When the child grows up and looks back at their childhood who are they going to credit as their primary caregiver?

We also observed at the school that the children are being taught the Thai language right from the start of their education. I’m not sure how many opportunities the children have to speak their native language, but I can see possible problems stemming from this. For example, if they retain enough of their language to communicate with their families verbally, it’s possible that they won’t be able to write in their native language. This is very extreme, but what would happen if the child didn’t retain enough of their native language to even communicate with their families? I think back to the native American children who were taken from their families and sent to boarding school. When they returned, many of them could no longer communicate or even understand their native culture. While I’m not implying that this is in any way happening at the boarding schools in Thailand, we have talked a lot about how there is an emphasis on being Thai here opposed to another identity. The kids learn Thai in schools, they sing the Thai national anthem in the morning, and are taught aspects of Thai culture such as dance. I’m not sure what opportunities there are to learn about their native culture. I think the boarding school we visited was better about integrating some of the children’s native cultures, but I don’t know that every boarding school is the same way. If a child doesn’t have the same connection to their native culture as their family, I would imagine conflict arises out of that. For example, immigrants who move to the U.S. often experience generational conflicts with their children. I think it’s hard for parents when the children begin adopting more and more of the American culture and leave behind aspects of the native culture. Culture helps forms bonds through celebrations, rituals, and many other things. When a parent and a child no longer share the same culture I could imagine relating to one another would be difficult.

Finally, at the boarding school we learned that the main focus is teaching the students vocational work so that they can return to their villages. When they do return I would imagine at that point they are more formally educated than their parents. How does this affect the roles of parent and child? The child may take on a more authoritative or instructive role if they are teaching the parents something they learned about farming for example. In that instance they are stepping out of the role of child and the parents are no longer in their traditional parental role either. There is almost a role reversal happening. This role reversal often happens over the lifespan especially as parents require caregiving from their children. Even towards the end of life, this role reversal is hard on a parent. negotiating the new roles is even harder. Imagine this role reversal happening earlier in the lifespan when the child is 18-20 and the parent is middle aged. There has to be conflict or at least strain on the relationships in the family when this happens.

Formal Education in Thailand
Amanda: Once only provided by Buddhist monks to boys, Thailand now provides formal education to all genders and mandates schooling from ages six to fifteen. Although it is not compulsory for children to attend preschool, there are nurseries and preschools offered for children age’s three to five. Government or public schools are free for Thai nationals. Children that have at least one Thai parent are considered Thai nationals if their birth was registered in Thailand by the Thai parent. As a Thai national, they are able to register in a Thai public school and receive all of the educational benefits allocated to a Thai national. Despite these large strides to make formal education inclusive, UNICEF claims that 600,000 primary school age children in Thailand are not currently attending schools. Reasons for this range from having to work and help support their families to lack of accessibility with no efficient transportation to reaching these facilities.

During my time here in Thailand, there have been numerous stories and sights that have moved me both as a future teacher and as a human being. On the border of Laos, children beg around merchant shops to new coming tourists; one girl had her face half-scarred from scalding water due to her mother’s hopes that she could obtain more money that way. In Chiang Rai, I encountered a girl trying to steal money from my bag for reasons I will never truly know. On our rides back to the hotel, I often sat in silence—feeling powerless that I could not help or change the situations that transpired before me.

I had the great pleasure of getting to know our Buffalo Tour Guide, Eve Rungrada. Born and raised in a poor, rural border village in southern Thailand, Eve studied with the rest of her six other classmates, all of whom were girls. It was not uncommon to see unfamiliar men come into the village and approach parents, offering work for their daughters and sons in Bangkok. Unfortunately for these children they were part of the Green Zone, completely unaware that the parents that were supposed to protect them were selling them off to work and sex traffickers. Eve was lucky as she was top student of her class and obtained a scholarship to continue her education at Suksasongkroh Chiang Dao School. Her best friend, however, placed second and received no such aid. At the age of twelve, Eve desolately watched her friend leave for Bangkok, unaware that this was the last time she would ever see her. Years later while attending Mae Fah Luang University, she discovered that her best friend was involved in prostitution and died of HIV/AIDS.blog2.jpeg
Research shows that people born into poverty are likely to continue to live that way as adults. This is a recognized problem in Thailand and it is laws like the National Education Act, that institutions like the Chiang Dao School are helping to bridge the equity and opportunity gaps. Among the rural population of Thailand, hill tribes such as the Karen, Hmong, and Lahu, are disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of society, being largely dependent on agriculture for income and employment. The role of education in improving socio-economic conditions through human resource development is well recognized. While there is no single solution to the alleviation of rural poverty, I believe education, whether formal or non-formal, is one of the most critical elements for a better life. With basic education people are better equipped to make more informed decisions for their lives and communities, while being active participants in promoting the economic, social and cultural dimensions of development. It is equally accepted that without basic literacy and numeracy, people face limited employment opportunities, except for basic wage labour. Promoting education and training opportunities is therefore essential for poverty alleviation and sustainable rural development.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed my time at the Chiang Dao School and was thrilled to connect with the many children who attended there. The continued incorporation of home language, dance, and dress was a welcoming sight and the students who attended looked genuinely happy. With that being said, I think Thailand is on a good path but can continue to make improvements.  I was curious how the school’s push for learning the Thai language and culture was affecting their own self-identity. Personal identity is the way one sees themselves and is closely related to their self image. It is very important because it affects the way one feels about themselves and how they behave in challenging situations. I also believe Thailand needs to find more ways to further accessibility of education to all children of Thailand whether it be formal or vocational training. No child, whether they are from the hill tribes or on the streets of Bangkok should have to worry about selling themselves to survive.
The Mekong River School
    The two main river systems of Thailand are the Chao Phraya and the Mekong (Mae Nam khong). Together, these two rivers support the irrigation for the agricultural economy in Thailand. The Mekong River is the 11th largest river in the world and runs through China’s Yunnan province, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. For hundreds of years the Mekong’s predictable rising and falling water levels have: Deposited sediments that improve soil fertility, sustain the productivity of freshwater fisheries, provide water for irrigation, and dilute stagnant and polluted waters.  According to Great Rivers Partnerships, “of the 60 million people who live in the lower Mekong Basin, 80 percent rely directly on the river system for their food and livelihoods.”


    In 2008, massive flooding brought devastating damage to Thailand as hundreds of homes were submerged in water. Many locals had thought it was due to พญานาค (Phaya Naga) that aggravated flooding in the region. . The true nemeses, however, were the Chinese dams and the destruction of small Mekong river islands to give passage for Chinese cargo ships. These dams allow China to control water levels in the water, and when their cargo ships become stuck, they release great amounts of water, leading to the floods. In recent years, locals in Thailand have reported less fish coming from the river and less water available in the dry season for agricultural use. This is where the role of long time advocate Kru Ti and others who founded the Mekong School play a crucial part in the welfare and sustainability in these communities.
It was always a dream of Kru Ti to have a school right on the river and work to preserve the natural environment and resources of the Mekong. The Mekong School serves as a bridge between locals and government and provides them both with valuable knowledge. The Mekong River school network wrote a book that consists of community knowledge of fish populations and species. This information really showcases the necessity of local knowledge and how it can aid government officials in their political decisions. The Mekong School has also provided the community residents knowledge on how dams, runoff, Chinese ships, rapids, and construction on habitat has lead to the current changes of the Mekong and how Northern Thailand can unite their voices and bring change through the court systems.


One of the most intimate experiences I had with the Mekong School was our visit to Moung Chum, a nearby Thai village, and the work they have done to conserve their wetland and community forests.  Oot, the Mekong School ecologist, and others went out to local villages and worked with them on creating more sustainable communities. The village leader spoke of how their biggest problem 10 years ago was that the people had cut down most of the trees and did not have enough water for irrigation in the dry season. By replanting trees and allowing the forests to regrow, the trees brought groundwater up to the surface. This and the community’s  joint effort to build small, eco-friendly dams allowed them to retain the water they needed. I was shocked when I was told many of the locations were completely cleared of trees only a decade ago. The beauty of these areas were breathtaking and the pride in the village leader’s eyes made it all the more brilliant.

The people and work of the Mekong School will be something I remember for the rest of my life. Through informal education, villagers are empowered to stand up for their environments and ways of life. Not only has the Mekong School brought a voice to the adults in the community but they have instilled healthy practices by involving youth in active learning. Children physically participate in conservation such as learning how to plant saplings and learn about their cultural history and traditions through practicing dances and playing traditional instruments and keeping their languages. This involvement reiterates the importance of collective contributions and its role in actual change and improvements. Like Kru Ti has voiced, the Mekong it is not one person or country’s river; for all to benefit there must be a united effort in conserving the environment for present and future  generations to enjoy.

Education is intertwined in many aspects of life here in Thailand. We each see it playing out in different ways based on our past experiences and future professions. Ka used her perspective as a future educator to discuss the hidden curriculum found in schools as well as Buddhism. I (Katie) used my perspective as a future family scientist to discuss how education might impact the relationships within the community and the family systems. Amanda used her perspective as a future educator to discuss how education might shape the identify of an individual, help aid in environmental stability, and provide opportunities for youth. There are so many things that haven’t been said in this blog that could be said about education but our time and space are limited.  We hope that reading our perspectives on what we’ve learned from our experiences and interactions while in this course will give you a glimpse of some aspects of education in Thailand.   

Thailandia – Janey Kroneberger

I was pretty scared before coming to Thailand, being that I knew absolutely no Thai dialect. My friends kept asking me how I was going to navigate through the trip, if I didn’t even know simple words like “yes” and “no,” and to be honest, I really didn’t know what I was going to do! Shortly after we arrived, I realized that these fears we’re silly, because so many Thai’s speak English! I thought wow, this is so cool, no work for me! There are English signs everywhere, the bathroom, banks, restaurants, menus, street signs, etc., it’s not too hard to get by knowing absolutely no Thai! But when looking closer, what have we done in America to accommodate and learn about other’s dialect…not much, not much at all. Here and there you will see a sign with Spanish translations, but it’s not too common. America consists of a melting pot of different cultures and heritages, but we don’t really worry about any other dialect than English. It’s pretty much our way, or the highway, and in Thai culture, it is the exact opposite.
Why do so many Thai’s learn English and accommodate to Americans, but in America, there is not much accommodation done in return. For instance, if a strictly Thai-speaking individual came to America, what do you think their experience would be like? Unless this person comes into contact with an American having similar heritage to their own, they probably won’t be able to communicate with the majority of our population. It will be pretty hard for this individual to navigate the airport, read a menu at a restaurant, or utilize any transportation, due to the language barrier! When I entered the airport in Thailand, I didn’t need to seek out specific profiles of people to communicate, because most Thai’s speak English. When a Thai individual comes to our airport, they more than likely are going to need to seek out others with similar cultural/ethnic profiles, or they will have no chance at successfully navigating. Basically what I am trying to say is, why as American’s do we not feel the need to try and accommodate to other’s as much as possible…sometimes we don’t seem to return the respect that we are given.

Gender Roles: Bad vs. Different

     Fans oscillate slowly while I listen to the monk speak in a room at MCU Buddhist University near Wat Suan Dok. He iterates how all religions share common themes such as morality, love, and compassion and that sugar by any other name is just as sweet. He continued on that sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, and religion were not to be discriminated against and that all were welcome.

      In Thailand and a few other Theravada Buddhist countries, women are not allowed to sit beside and touch monks because they are told they are temptations against the monks’ enlightenment. Women are also not allowed to enter certain sacred sides. When asked why we were denied entrance at the City Pillar, the monk said it was originally put in place due to possibility of menstrual cycles but now it is up to the Abbot, or head monk, and his personal beliefs.

     I have grown up in a family with many sassy women who are career oriented and independent. My mother paid every dollar for her college tuition herself and was forced to finish her four year nursing degree into six. She has worked late nights saving many lives and is the breadwinner of our family. Her sister, has also been very successful as she was the Director, U.S. Market Strategy & Engagement for Microsoft for seven years and is currently the Global Head of Business Strategy & Growth for Facebook and has her own fashion line DB Style. I was raised to believe that men and women have equal opportunities and that barriers hindering these alienated rights were wrong and immoral.

     In the five weeks I have been here, this blatant sign is only one example I have seen of gender roles. Various entrance signs to wats illustrated correct dress code and what not to wear; all of the pictures consisted of women models. Things like wearing a hat, tank tops, or shorts, could just have been easily violated by men. Then, as I was in the process of taking my shoes outside the temple, I was told a few times that wearing a hat was not allowed. However, I saw other men wearing them inside without being reprimanded. Lastly, when asking tour guide Icki about places women can go out to have fun, he claimed that women often stayed home and that it was not common for them to go out alone. His tone made me feel that he believed in that sentiment.

     Observing these events were eye-opening and my initial reaction was hyperfeminist. Why were women so accepting to being denied entry at the City Pillar? Wasn’t the sign sexist and discriminatory? I have pondered at those thoughts and have since wrapped myself in one question– what does it mean to be a woman in Thai culture and is equal gender roles the only “right way?” My ideals are very American where one serves themselves and strives to be successful. I have noticed that the Thai way of life is more communal and that their decisions best serve the interests of their family and community. Perhaps, designated roles do not strictly mean a lesser quality of life.  I hope to continue witnessing the roles of women, men, and children alike in Thai society and further evaluate the point of assimilation of modern ideals versus tradition.


One thing that I have been most moved by during my time here so far is the Thai people.  Since my language ability is limited, I have been observing with caution and using my body language (along with the few phrases I know) to communicate.  Something I have noticed is, yes, the Thai people smile a lot and many of us see it and comment “they are so nice!”, but I think it is more than just being kind. I think that it is all connected – the way they interact, the religion, the culture – but I am still learning how it connects.

Visiting the school helped me to understand more about kindness and warmth with the Thai people.  When I interacted with the students, three of the girls latched onto me and helped me in my time at the school.  When I sat down next to them I smiled and said hi and I could feel the nervous energy that surrounded us, but it was a hopeful and curious energy.  I immediately felt so welcome.  I think that as I became more open and comfortable, they too became more open and comfortable.  Kind of like a mirror image with room for give and take.  They were constantly giggling and smiling and very accommodating.  When we would move places they would grab my arm and lead me to where we were supposed to go.  My time spent at the boarding school is one I will never forget.  It also reminded me that receiving this sort of hospitality and welcoming is one that all people benefit from and something I would like to do more of.  

The monk chat allowed me to draw deeper understandings of suffering and love and kindness.  One phrase from the monk that really stuck with me was at the very end when he said “take what is good and leave what is bad”.  I think this goes hand in hand with the idea to not cause suffering to oneself and to others.  By taking what is good, one is bringing more love and kindness into their lives and by leaving what they do no want, no suffering will occur.  This idea fascinates me and is one I would love to take into my life.  I think that I sometimes cling on to things too strongly and that is what causes my suffering.  I believe that  the desire to not cause suffering relates to the hospitality and kindness that I have so strongly felt here.  I have noticed situations where I feel the need to say something, but the Thai people do not say anything and I think this stems from not causing suffering.  I think that maybe since suffering is usually avoided that we feel the warmth in a more genuine way.

Here in Thailand I found myself comparing different interactions to ones I have experienced in Minnesota.  I often find myself testing how the people react.  For example, when I find myself walking down the street in Minnesota a lot of the time the people will do anything not to look at you, and if they do look at you, there is no smile on their face.  I think that this has to do partly with our more individualistic culture.  Here I have found that people, if you look at them and smile, most will smile back.  It is kind of similar to what I mentioned before with the students.  I think that I still have a lot to learn about the Thai culture and people, but what I have observed so far I think also relates to how I am portraying myself and interacting with the people.  I am being open and kind and thoughtful and most people respond in positive ways to these interactions.  I think with more time here my connections will grow deeper and my knowledge on the topic will continue to expand.