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.
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.
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
News, 12 Mar. 2102. Web. June 2015.
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.
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.”
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
Mekong school (local leaders coming together to empower communities who live by the Mekong river).
Suksasongkroh Chiang Dao School (providing educational opportunities for students in poverty)
Eve’s story (working hard in school and life and giving back to schools like chiang Dao)
Hmong villages (structuring their village on equality and generating income)
|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.
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.