We have roughly three hours remaining in Bangkok until we have to begin our long journey back to the states. As many of my other trip mates have described, this is a truly bittersweet feeling. The past week in Bangkok has been a whirlwind of activities; more learning experiences both academically and culturally. The Bumrungrad International tour was one that resonated in my mind the most. I am hoping to pursue a career in the hospital field, the faster pace the better. I was fascinated by the administrative aspect and how well they are reporting for their margins of operation. The entire design of the hospital is something to take in, it had more of a hotel feeling than a health care facility. I was certainly awe-stricken from the first moment we stepped in the Bumrungrad until the last. The pharmacy robotic system also created some personal excitement in regards to how it could improve the patient safety
I was fascinated by how respectful the students in Chiang Dao school are. I remember when we step into the building, where we will be watching the students perform one of the students smiled at me and wai to show respect. They really show respects to their older peers and adults. I was very shocked to learn that the students here in Thailand really have the skills that can help them to live independently without depending on their parents. As for the students in America we were not taught the skills to live by ourselves other than focusing on our education, ourselves and find which career we want to do. I also learn that schools like Chiang Dao has goals of making sure after their students graduated the students are able to find a job and have the skills to live independently. I noticed that in Thailand the main language is Thai but then there are also other tribes that still speaks their native language.
I noticed that the climate changes as we go higher up the mountains. When we were in Bangkok the weather was very hot and the air is very thick. If we are not in a room with cool air conditioning it will be hard to breathe. However, when we went up hill to Pra-nok-kok Hmong village the air is more refreshing. Although it may be a little bit humid we can survive because of the refreshing air and breeze. I also noticed that uphill in the mountains it is more green then in Bangkok and where we stay at. I think the reason for this is because it is less populated where the tribes live.
On our first day when we arrived to Thailand we went to a cooking class called Cooking at Home. This is where I learn about how families are in Thailand. I remember that our cooking instructor’s husband told us that they own their own business at home. When it is not busy it will just be their family running it but then when they have like tourists like us come, their neighbors will also come to help them as well. This is something that I was very surprised to had learned about. Because in America our neighbors will not help us like how the neighbors will help this family.
Going to Thailand was a very eye opening experience for me. I was reminded of myself. Going and staying in more of the rural areas felt comfortable for me. Staying in a homestay where there’s no ac felt comfortable. It reminded me of home, where it’s always insanely hot or raining as the rainy season in Guyana is also May and June. Going to the villages left a large impression on me because they are so happy and content with the little that they have. They enjoy their lives the way it is. The don’t crave unnecessary material things. They appreciate the small things in life. Being at the Hmong village and seeing the children playing with each other but just running around and enjoying each other’s company happily as ever reminded me that I was once a kid like that. I used to be happy with the little that my family had. I didn’t constantly want new and popular things.
I was also reminded how lucky I am to be able to obtain the education I am getting right now. I know as students we are constantly complaining about school and now even wanting to go to class even though we pay thousands of dollars for it. We forget how lucky we are, we should be thankful that we are able to get an education. We should be thankful that it’s so convenient for us to go to school, unlike these kids in Thailand who have to leave their families to get and education at an early age. Or kids who do not get an education because their priority is to help their families with another source of income to help their family survive.
Also, when we were at the school playing charades there was a little girl who sat next to me and overtime we got a new word she would look at me to tell her what it meant in English and then should would write the English words in the palm of her hands. She inspired and reminded me about my joy of learning . Her excitement helped me find my own again for that I am very thankful.
I am most thankful for Thailand because I was able to push myself and discover new strengths. I was also able to overcome my fear of heights. Hiking was something I fell in love with and plan on doing again as well as zip lining and those are things I wouldn’t ever plan on doing if it hadn’t been in Thailand. I am also very grateful for the amazing group of girls who I was able to experience this trip with, who were a great support system and who were always up for an adventure.
I was also able to learn that I was interested in Buddhism and I was also inspired to learn more about my own religion because being in Thailand I felt that believing in something or living your life a specific way based on a belief was something I was interested in and it’s something I feel I need in my life.
As much as I love Thailand, home will always be where my heart is. Unlike many lucky students, my journey to Thailand was quite a bumpy one. I mean, I did end up going to the hospital four times! BUT, I have to be thankful; no dengue fever. My fortune at Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep was right!
As irritating as these hospital visits were, I did get the opportunity to experience receiving medical care in Thailand. When you compare this to the United States health care system, the difference in cost is mind boggling. After four visits to the hospital including medication and lab test, my total cost came up to around $100. If you compare that to services in the US, it would have easily cost a couple thousand dollars.
This whole getting sick-thing honestly really made me miss home. During the plane ride home, all I thought about was coming home to my mom and my fiance. It was emotionally satisfying to soak up their warmth and love as they welcomed me home. They are my boat and anchor; sailing me to tomorrow and grounding me to appreciate what’s around me.
As I nestle back into my comfort zone, I start to think of all my what ifs and should haves. ‘Oh what if I purchased my zip-lining videos?’ ‘I should have taken more videos!’ ‘I should have eaten more fruits!’
But then I look back at my photos, and realize I did capture breathtaking scenery, and create lifelong friends that made this trip absolutely worthwhile.
“I will go back to Thailand after I graduate from high school, to the place where I was born. It doesn’t matter if it’s a study abroad or travel by myself”, I would always tell myself. I remember it was just a goal I set for myself. A year past, with a blink of an eye I actually make my dream come true. I got the golden opportunity to share my experience to study abroad in Thailand with twenty wonderful sisters and four caring acharn (professors).
Photo credit to Eve Rungrada
Fast forward to three weeks. I remembered vividly the day that we returned back to Minnesota. It was on the Sunday morning at 3:45 am that everybody packed and went down to check out from Ramada Hotel. It was a bittersweet moment because at that moment I am glad that I will be able to see my family again in the states but at the same time I will be leaving a country that has impacted myself so much in just three weeks. I remember we did not eat breakfast like how we usually in the hotel but instead we were given breakfast boxes. As I exited out the doors of Ramada Hotel I look back and said to myself that I will come back to visit this hotel. I sadly walked away and noticed that it was still very dark outside. As I walked to get onto our bus I quickly get on because I don’t want my memories to pull me back not wanting to go home anymore.
It was around 8:40 that we board on China Airlines to Taipei. After 18 hours on three different plane, we finally arrived in Minneapolis. It was around 11:15 at night that we got off the plane and went to claim our luggage. As I got off the plane I feel dizzy and different the moment I stepped my foot in Minnesota soil again. It feels different because of how long I have been away from Minnesota. I remember following the sign with Shengyeng to claim our luggage. As soon as I got to where the luggage claim location is, I saw my two sisters waiting with the biggest smiles that I have see for the first time for 18 years. I remember seeing my parents down in the baggage claim trying to look for my luggage. I have never feel this much love before since I was away.
I have to admit that ever since my arrival back from Thailand I have been having a hard time adjusting to the time in Minnesota. My sleeping schedule has been messed up for about two weeks until I am able to adjust to my normal sleeping schedule. For two weeks straight I will get tired when it’s only 7 at night and then woke up very early like around four and five in the morning. While I was trying to adjust to my normal sleeping schedule I reflect back to what I’ve learn abroad.
I remember the university we visited called Rajabhat University where we were given the golden opportunity to enjoy a meal of the Khon tote style with very friendly students and professors. I remember laughing childishly and happily as I watched the dancing that the students at the university performed. There is nothing more fun than getting the chance to actually physically participate with the performers to a salavon dance. I was a little slow and shy as others were already getting up to participate. As I looked up, in front of me was a student that sat with me and Shengyeng. He said, “come on! Let’s go dance. It will be fun!”. I slowly stood up and try to follow the lead. It was fun while it lasted.
While abroad I wouldn’t have guess that I will be learning about myself as well as learning about the Thai culture, families, and environment. Before going abroad, I know by heart that I am a little quiet but not extremely quiet. As we stay longer in Thailand I realized I am extremely quiet. I speak very few words and looks bored as everyone is going out at night enjoying themselves. As I am trying to find out more about myself step by step again I figure out that it depends on the people that I hang out with. There are a couple people who shares my similarities which I can bond quicker than some who I still have to learn about them as we participate in activities. It takes time but it works.
Thai people are the happiest people I have seen. They smile a lot. It is hard to tell if they smile because they are mad or if they smile because they are happy. I can see why Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles. Thai families are quite different from families I see here in America. Thai families help each other even if they are just neighbors. I was very impressed to see this happen when we went to Cooking at Home. The environment in Thailand is quite different from the environment in America. When we first got to Thailand the first thing I feel is the thick air. It was a little bit hard for me to breathe because of how thick the air was. I also noticed there are a lot of trash everywhere. I wonder if the trash is useful to people in Thailand in some ways.
Today as I am writing this I know for sure that this study abroad trip will not be the last time that I will go to Thailand. A few weeks after we got to Minnesota I have been thinking and come to realized that there are a lot more places that we didn’t get the chance to visit. Therefore, there will definitely be a next time that I will visit Thailand again despite how thick the air is and the trash that is everywhere. I will go and try the fruits and food that I should’ve try, but first I will learn some Thai so I can speak as well as understand.
I will see you soon Thailand!
Mai Mee Lee
The moment we landed in Minnesota, I felt my body present but my heart was still in Thailand. I was honestly glad to come back home until I realized how grateful I’d be if the trip was one week longer. I truly enjoyed my time in Thailand and I learned so much about myself.
Since the beginning, I told myself that I shouldn’t cover up who I was and I should just be myself whether people like it or not. I was afraid of not making any friends because I can be loud and weird MANY times. What I learned most about myself was that I like people and I like making friends. I haven’t made a friend during my first year at the U of M because I am a commuter and worked right away after my classes. I never had time to meet people. Coming to Thailand and building these bonds with different people was nice. It’s refreshing to know that people still accept me (I think). I learned to appreciate people and their presence. People weren’t the only thing that I learned to appreciate. Coming back home from Thailand, I think I have changed to become a better person. Intentions really challenged me on this trip and I learned that my intentions really does matter.
Prior to this trip, I wasn’t such a good sister and daughter to my family. I’ve been having personal issues with everyone in my family but this time I came home with different intentions. I want to treat my family good and not start random problems that are not necessary. I’ve learned to appreciate my relationships and family as well.
I think if I return Thailand someday, I would like to go with my family so they can experience what I did. No one will understand until they have been in my shoes and felt my experiences. I’m coming back to you Thailand.
So, I’ve been home for over a week now since my trip to Thailand. Jet lag only lasted a few days and my sleep schedule is mostly back to normal. I even went back to work this week! Honestly, It wasn’t very hard for me to adjust back to my daily routines at home. In fact, it didn’t even feel like I had spent 3 amazing weeks with so many amazing people in multiple places in Thailand.
There was no more packing and repacking of my suitcase to travel to another city, or sweat that stuck to my body as soon as I walked out of my A/C’ed hotel room. No more Nina who laughed at my lame jokes and screamed when I said there was a bug on her. No more pad Thai and fried rice for most meals. Most importantly, no more yummy fruits for such low prices (I bought mangoes a few days after I got home; definitely not the same). Just me in the house that I’ve lived in for 21 years and the noises of my nieces and nephew watching Youtube on their tablets.
A few days ago I went through my pictures to decide which ones I wanted to use for my digital story (I thought it was due today). It was only then that I started to miss everything about Thailand. I started to recall little memories that I had forgotten for a week. The sound of the little creek that ran behind the house that I stayed in for two days in Mae Kampong Village. The dog that would fetch rocks and climbed steep hill sides to get them. The taste of cold water after a long and hot day full of activities. The excitement before devouring a Magnum ice cream bar that I got from Seven Eleven. I remembered the thrill of zip lining through the forest and the pain that I felt during that one station that everyone who zip lined will know what I’m talking about.
I remembered certain places and feelings that I wanted my friends and family to experience with me. When I went to the Grand Palace, I told myself that I would bring my boyfriend there because with his architectural background, he would be able to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of the buildings. When I went to the Hmong Village, I wanted to bring my parents there with me. Because seeing them interact with other Hmong people and being able to show me a part of their life was special to them.
I loved my time in Thailand and I don’t regret any minute of it. I would most definitely go back again. I would travel to new places in Thailand and apply what I’ve learned through my past trip to my new experiences. I am so thankful to this experience and am proud of myself for actually following through with it. Thank you to all of the amazing new people that I got to meet, for contributing to my fulfilling experience in Thailand. You guys are the reason why my experience was great.
Thailand, I’ll see you again.
Returning home from Thailand for about a week now, I’ve come to reflect a lot about my identity and my surroundings. As I compare my experiences, I am reminded everyday how lucky I am to have a proper toilet, air conditioning, transportation, and an education. I have been telling my friends and family about how coming home from Thailand has transformed my outlook on how I want to lead my life and take care of the people I love around me. Thailand was a true eye-opener for me in appreciating what I have now, and taking advantage of what I have offered to me each day. Visiting my parents made me realize how special small talks are and cooking with my mom in the kitchen again made me realize how special these moments are to me as I continue to learn and reflect on my experiences in Thailand.
My Thailand experience really made me appreciate who I am, and where I come from. I am so glad that I have gotten this experience to learn my family history and appreciate what makes me Hmong. It was also interesting to not feel like a minority in Thailand because it felt like I belonged there. Having a sense of belonging and being able to truly be Hmong in Thailand made me feel more comfortable and have a closer connection to the things we were learning each day. To come back home and be a minority is a little different because I am now questioning if every act or service I get is because of my race in America.
I don’t quite know yet if I would return back to Thailand at this moment, but I am glad I got something meaningful out of this trip as I hoped and anticipated for. Thailand will always have a place in my heart as I move forward. I will always remember the friendships I’ve made a long the way, the struggles, and mindfulness, and the place my ancestors once called home.
06.12.16 – 7:09pm (start)
For three weeks, I was miles away from my comfort zone, naturally doing things the Thai way, struggling with my identity, and slowly appreciating every day of growth from this experience. As I post my photos on Facebook to keep my family and friends updated on my journey, they remind me of how proud they are of me and my accomplishments, but I remind them that I wouldn’t be here without their support.
It’s been a week since I’ve been home and not once have I not thought of Thailand. It’s hard to admit, but I miss Thailand so much! I miss it to the point where I have already looked up possible study abroad opportunities to go back. Although I want to explore different places, there is something unique about Thailand that makes me feel as if my time there was not enough. I don’t know how to explain it, but I just don’t feel right about leaving it and not going back to show what this experience have taught me. The more I think about it, the crazier it is to realize how much a place can have such a big impact on me.
Throughout my daily reflection of myself and my return from my first study abroad trip, the first thing that came to mind was how everything and everybody is still the same but me. I still can’t wrap my mind around it, but I know for sure that I was not the same young lady who just finished her first year of college. Then, I thought of how rushed I feel to get back into the routine I left. I told my best friend, as we try to plan a day to catch up, “On Wednesday I am meeting with our guy friends, Thursday I start work then I have a meeting afterwards, and I am busy this weekend with my family.” I went back to using my calendar to keep up with my life. How do I take my time and not fall behind? How do you live in the moment if your current actions reflect your future? How can I continue my life in Minnesota as if everything is still the same when it is not? As I ponder through these questions, I wished KK, the buddah we talked to in Thailand, was here to advice me because he always knew what to say.
While meeting up with my guy friends, they asked me to tell them the funniest thing that happened in Thailand. I thought about it and my mind went blank. I couldn’t think of any funny moments, only memorable ones. At the time, I was slightly disappointed that I couldn’t think of any funny stories to share. It made me think twice about my experience, but then I realized that I didn’t study abroad to have funny moments. I went to learn about Thailand, but I took away more than I could grapple. I discovered a bit about myself, met new friends, and had an experience like no other with the help of my acharns (professors), Thai native mentors, and peers. Although the only obvious change is my tan, I truly believe that something is different about me, but I don’t think I will ever be able to fully explain what that change is.
Until next time,
06.13.16 – 7:48pm (end)
Nhia, Lindsey, and Anastasia
Human trafficking is a worldwide issue, however it is surprising how hidden the issue can be. As an American, living in a just society, one would think that human trafficking is an issue only a third world country would face. Like every country, the United States also struggles with the issue of human trafficking which includes sexual and labor exploitation. It is only within the last decade that the problem of human trafficking specifically around sexual exploitation has spark up conversation towards political change.
As we end our study abroad trip here in Thailand, I can’t help but think how similar yet different both Thailand and the United States are in terms of their approach towards ending human trafficking. (Nhia)
How are they being trafficked?
Ethnic minorities, migrants and stateless people are the most at risk of being trafficked in Thailand. Many trafficked victims come from neighboring countries such as Burma, Laos and China, often facing political persecution or poverty which can unintentionally put them in vulnerable positions for being trafficked. The transfer and exchange of trafficked victims are done primarily within the sub-region of the Mekong River. Trafficking gangs often collaborate with local law enforcements and businesses making it difficult to crack down on the parties involved.
Trafficked victims are invisible to the public. As tourist, we were not aware that children or adults were trafficked and or being exploited until our conversation with our tour guide, Eve. We were advised specifically not to give money to persons performing acts on the street that presenting a certain demeanor because we would be supporting the continuation of their exploitation. It is refreshing to see the level of awareness that multiple organizations are doing to address the problem with human trafficking. Since Thailand’s economy relies so heavily on tourist, part of problem are reducing the demand on sex tourism and cheap labor. (Nhia)
Human trafficking in the Golden Triangle
Human trafficking and sex trafficking have always been something of interest to me. This past semester I was able to learn about the topic in more depth through one of my classes. I was shocked at how close to home human trafficking actually is. I have always heard it can happen anywhere, but it has more of an impact when you can see it or hear about it first hand. It is most prevalent in other countries. What got me interested in human trafficking was a video I watched in my class about human trafficking in the Golden Triangle in Thailand. I was most interested in this topic because of my upcoming study abroad opportunity to Thailand. This is why I have chosen to write my blog about human trafficking and sex trafficking.
First human/sex trafficking is happening everywhere. I will be focusing on the Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle is distant from any urban metropolis. There are many poor families and the area is rural so there is a lack of education available. Due to this, many families are faced with financial issues. They become desperate and seek ways to provide for their families. Human traffickers will often visit this area with promising futures for daughters and son of the parents who are in need of money. They will usually say something about a better education in another country or a busy city. The parents see it as a win win situation because they are gaining financial stability and they believe their children are gaining a better future. This transaction is common and is unfortunately due to a lack of education and a lack of authority to supervise the area.
To bring it back to my class from last spring, I remember a video about an organization in Thailand that advocates for children who are in danger of being trafficked. In the first minutes of the video, it showed a silhouette of a man who was describing his first encounter with children who were offered to him for sex. He describes how a line of girls filled the room aging anywhere from 10-14. He also states that his friend had been before and continued to pick the same ten year old girl because she was a “nymphomaniac.” This was very disturbing. Coming to Thailand I have learned from P’ Eve and from our friend Maia, at a human trafficking shelter, that the sex industry here is manly used by older men and a lot of tourists come here for that attraction. It is known that human/sex trafficking is popular here because of the ages of the girls. Many pedophiles will come here in search of young men or women who are in the sex industry. In an article from humantrafficking.org they state that “Ethnic minorities and women and girls from the northern Hill Tribes are especially vulnerable due to their lack of citizenship.” This is something we have heard throughout our time here in Thailand. I can’t help but ask, why there isn’t more supervision in the Northern parts of Thailand. I also believe more access to education can help raise awareness for this issue. (Lindsey)
Efforts to prevent trafficking and support victim/survivors
While staying in Chiang Khong, we were fortunate enough to be invited by a woman named Maia to visit the Center for Girls (CFG), an organization that works to prevent young girls from falling into the sex trafficking industry in Thailand. CFG–like the Chiang Dao School we visited earlier on our trip–shelters at-risk youth and provides them with education and their basic needs. The children are also able to stay in contact with their families back home. Maia said that CFG follows up with all of the girls who “graduate” out of the program, and it turns out that many of them go on to have jobs in the service industry and some even go on
to university. “We have a pretty good success rate,” she said with gentle pride.
In Minnesota we have some organizations, such as Breaking Free, that address sex trafficking as well. Breaking Free provides shelter, supplies, and support to victim/survivors of sex trafficking, works to eliminate human trafficking by educating the community, and campaigns to decriminalize victims so they can more easily escape and get help if they want it. During our visit to the Center for Girls, I wondered what it would be like to listen to a conversation between the staff from both organizations and hear them discuss human trafficking from different cultural lenses. It would be interesting to learn about their similarities and differences–in victories, strategies, and roadblocks–and see what sorts of inspiration they could draw from each other. (Anastasia)
It can be tempting for some people to assume that human trafficking only affects certain areas of the world, parts that are perceived to be less developed. However the truth is that it affects us all. While trafficking may vary in its visibility from place to place, the trauma of victims, their families, and communities have the same taste, no matter where they come from. The knowledge, emotions, and observations we have gathered in Thailand are applicable to the problems we face in Minnesota, and through this experience, I feel that we are in a better position to be able to serve and protect the people in our own neighborhoods. (Anastasia)