I was nervous before we went to the Wat Temple last month. I remember I left over an hour early because I was scared I would get lost or be late and I wanted to make the best impression possible. I also didn’t know what was appropriate to wear and the last thing I wanted to do was offend anyone. Sometimes I forget that everyone else probably has the same thing going through their minds. To be honest I was a little uncomfortable when I got there. I didn’t really know how I should sit or how I needed to address the abbot monk at the front of the room. Thankfully Acharn Cathy showed us how to introduce ourselves by putting our hands together in front of our mouths and noses and bowing our heads slightly. We learned later from the abbot monk how the placement of the hands is very important. The lower the placement, the less formal the greeting. I found it fascinating that just the placement of my hands signals respect for a person. It’s something so simple and subtle, but its things like this that help me understand the Thai culture. I also learned how to properly sit in a temple. I remember after we were told to sit with both legs to one side staggered I immediately switched to that instead of being cross-legged. I also found it interesting that a woman can’t sit close to the abbot monk. I’m interested to see how gender might impact certain things in Thailand. I have a tendency to forget that not every culture treats genders the same way.
One goal I have for myself while abroad is to try everything at least once. I’m a picky eater and I have to say being in a culture with very different food than I’m used to makes me nervous. I really want to stick with the mantra “don’t knock it till you try it” because it would be a shame to miss out on any experience while I’m in Thailand. I think food is a big part of this. In my mind, food is an important part of any culture. I’ve had Thai food here in the U.S. but I’m smart enough to know that the Americanized version is probably very different than authentic Thai food in Thailand. I think this goal can go beyond food as well. We are going to be doing a lot of different activities that involve doing a lot of different things. I just want to go in with an open, positive state of mind. No one in my family has ever been to Asia and this is a learning opportunity that I can share with them.
Here are pictures of me with my dog Sydney and with my brother Jacob.
Before heading to Wat Thai Temple in Elk River, I had imagined a large temple adorn with beautiful architectural designs and glistening gold. To my surprise like everyone else, I assumed, there was no temple to be seen. Instead, in its place is a regular house that would pass as a family home if not for the signs at the gate reading “Wat Thai”. Despite my shock and confusion, I still proceeded to enter the temple with everyone else that I arrived with; my heart filled with anxiety and excitement.
Upon entering, I immediately felt out of place and awkward. Everyone was already seated on the floor with cushions facing the abbot monk who sat on a raised platform. There was little conversation in the room and I remember Acharn Cathy talking to some of the women present in the kitchen. I sat in the back of the room near the stairwells and waited for what was to come. I honestly did not know what to expect. This had been my very first time at a temple and I did not know very much about the Thai culture.
From the day, I would say that my favorite part was learning the different ways to greet people, especially when it comes to the hand placements. I always saw these actions done in the few Thai movies that I watched growing up, but I never knew that there were differences in the placement of the hands. It was nice to learn about it and finally know the difference, as it would play an essential part in Thailand. As a lover of learning, learning about the hand placements provided me with a small taste of Thai culture (in addition to the food, hospitality, and atmosphere of Wat Thai), a great and exciting beginning to the 3-weeks of cultural immersion in Thailand.
From this seminar in Thailand, one of the many learning goal that I have for myself is to challenge myself to critically think and analyze the issues and interconnectedness surrounding the topics listed on the syllabus. I recognize that while I should allow myself to explore and absorb the Thai culture while in Thailand, it is also important to be an active thinker so that all the experiences I will be having will be meaningful and not just learned for the sake of learning. At the end of it, I want to be an active member in the global community and recognize that my world is bigger than what I know it to be.
Growing up in a diverse neighborhood, I thought I knew what it meant to be culturally competent. I have friends from many cultures and am a woman of color. But there’s a difference between cultural diversity in the United States and cultural diversity around the world. Life, language, humor, social norms, and education are things that differ and change as you move from one country to the next. I don’t know a lot about Thai culture, so going to the Wat Temple in Elk River was a great jumpstart to our study abroad trip. I enjoyed many things about the orientation, but the most meaningful thing to me was the food. There’s something magical about food; it connects people who are different and brings them together to share this everyday act. During our meal, I learned a lot about Thai culture and the group. The food was delicious and during our lunch, we got to know each other a lot better. We all became closer as we shared our eagerness to travel to Thailand. I learned the value of giving and receiving food. Food is culture, and I am ready for Thai culture.
I recently read a novel called Island’s End
by Padma Venkatraman, which told the story of a young tribal woman and her struggle against modern civilization. Set in 2004, this young woman tries to keep her tribe together and continue their traditional way of living when threatened by modern civilization. The main character described human life and the environment as an intertwined entity; the trees, soil, plants, animals, and water have souls and are living like we all are. It was an eye-opening novel that showed me a side of life that I didn’t know about. Growing up in the city, I’ve undervalued the beautiful natural world that surrounds me. Something seems to be missing and I feel like I need to dig deeper in life and my surroundings. As I embark on this study abroad opportunity to Thailand, I want to explore the real meaning of life and the natural environment. Looking over our syllabus and itinerary, I am excited and thrilled to explore a world that I’ve only heard about in stories. Perhaps when I return, I will look at the city in a different way.
Blog Post #1 Yer Her
1) Before I went to Wat Temple, I thought that it was big like the one I saw in Thailand. I imagined there would big Buddha statues and a lot of people come and go. But when I arrived at the place, I felt a little shock. I saw a house surrounding by trees. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or not because all the thoughts that I had were all different from what I saw with my own eyes.
Personally, Thai culture was not new to me, however there still more that I still need to learned. I thought the steps of respect of Wai was very interesting. I saw Thai people wai all the times, but I never noticed the difference.
2) I want to have fun and gain as many experiences as I could. I don’t know when will I would be able to go back again. I also want to learned more about Hmong life in Thailand nowadays. I want to know how the parents handle their children education.
This photo was taken in a Wat Thai during Hmong new Year. Most of the men in this photo were the Her clan, but some were relatives from other family members. The cloth that they wore were Hmong men traditionally cloth. Mostly were by men who were Green Hmong.
As I pulled into the driveway at the Wat Temple in Elk River, I was filled with mixed emotions. I was excited to be one step closer to leaving for Thailand and to experience a different culture on that beautiful Saturday, but quite honestly I was nervous. I was nervous I would offend someone while I was there. I was nervous I would do or say the “wrong” thing.
I slipped off my shoes before entering the door and I felt welcome as soon I entered the temple. The inside was cozy and everyone smiled at me as I walked up the stairs. The abbot monk was sitting on a raised platform, crossed legged with a slight smile. I sat on the floor on a cushion, took a deep breath, and allowed myself to soak in the new experiences of the day.
The day came and went very fast. I left the Wat Temple slightly overwhelmed, but in the best way possible. The itinerary for our trip was perfect, the food they so graciously fed us was amazing, and I got a little taste of Thai culture. I left the temple feeling more prepared for trip to Thailand that is very quickly approaching. I now understood how to properly greet someone in Thailand and I (sort of!) learned how to introduce myself in the Thai language. I couldn’t help but smile as I got in my car because I knew how amazing my three weeks in Thailand would be.
I have many
learning goals for this study abroad experience, but my main goal is to go into this trip with few expectations and absorb as much information as I can. Of course everyone, including myself, has certain ideas or visions when they think of Thailand and what it’s like to travel there. However, my goal is to rid myself of those expectations in order to truly immerse myself in the culture. In other words, I guess I want to lose a sense of myself while in Thailand so I can allow my experiences to shape me into more of a global citizen. This is hard to do, but I believe it is absolutely vital if I want to get the most out of this experience.
Twenty University of Minnesota students and two faculty are preparing to embark on a 3-week learning adventure in Thailand, beginning May 17, 2015. We met at the Thai Wat (temple) in Elk River Minnesota (http://watthaiofminnesota.org) for an orientation session on April 18th. Students will initiate our blog by introducing themselves and sharing their thoughts on that session as well as their goals for Thailand. Students unable to attend the April 18th session will share thoughts about “A Meditator’s Initiation” by J. Hamilton-Merrit in the 2002 book Travelers’ Tales Thailand (J. O’Reilly & L. Habegger, Eds.), Palo Alto, CA: Solas House, Inc.
Our group with Pra Acharn Supap, abbot of Wat Thai, and members of the Thai community.
Pra Acharn Supap talked about some of the basic tenets of Buddhism and how to respectfully interact with monks and in Thai temples.
Acharns (professors) Linda and Cathy shared information about the course – syllabus, travel itinerary, packing tips, and a bit about Thai language and culture.
While reading “A Meditator’s Initiation”, I found myself connecting with the experiences that Jane was partaking in. As the piece started, I immediately felt like I was there with her, experiencing it alongside her. Jane described feelings of fear for this new experience that was occurring. Often times when I am fearful like this in new situations, I do exactly what Jane did in her experience. My mind is racing and I often second guess my intentions and abilities. Initially my fear can have the tendency to get the better of me. After her experience, she questions herself “Why had I been so afraid?”. I think that this is a common thought when we encounter new, scary, and exciting things. The key is finding a balance between our perceived fears and the actual situation enfolding around us.
I have attended some mediation classes here in Minneapolis at Tergar Meditation Center. My first time attending a mediation class I felt overwhelmed, yet excited, and like Jane I was deeply observing the room I was in, the people that attended and their rituals, and the teacher and his ways. I was very conscientious of everything around me, both externally and internally. I think that there is nothing that can take away from the purity of a true first experience.
I enjoy some of the teachings mentioned in this text that Buddha taught. There were a few phrases: dukkha, sukkha, and anicca. Dukkha is suffering or unsatisfactoriness caused by wanting, desire, craving, clinging, grasping. Sukkha is the elimination of all desires, including the desire to cling to life itself. Anicca is impermanence, or a constant decaying and changing that is common to all things. All of these words have to deal with the idea of detachment along with truly experiencing, something I am constantly working towards.
In regards to learning abroad, a goal that I have coming on this trip is is to go into this completely new experience and to detach from my expectations. I also hope to diminish my fears and experience what comes my way and go with the flow. I am excited for what is to come in Thailand!