Hey guys, my name is Kiarra but everybody calls me Key. For 2011-2012 Winter term I was blessed to go to Thailand with an amazing group of people. As we all know, no matter how much you study in advance or research the best places to go while abroad, the abroad experience itself teaches those things all over again. With that in mind, my goal is not to try and teach or “warn” you of anything but to share my experience. The biggest advice I have is to go with an open mind, but not just an open mind towards the experience, but an open mind towards how others will experience you.
I am a 5’5 African American plus size woman and that’s something that I’ve never been ashamed of. Going on this trip, I never thought about how much my looks would play into my experience. Because of my confidence, I never stopped to think of how different I would look compared to the majority (if not all) the people I would see, but that’s where I made my mistake. Because I didn’t think about this before, once I got their and noticed the stares, it took me by surprise. In the beginning, I was very offended, and even angered at the way I was stared at every time I stepped off the bus or outside the hotel, but once I reflected on it, it made more sense. Yes, I still feel as though it was rude. The pointing and staring and secretly taking pictures are something that I can’t dismiss, but the reasoning was where my comfort lied. I looked at it as a way to teach. I saw myself as a learning tool and trail blazer. I believe it’s safe to say I was one of the first black people (most of) these people had ever seen, so I saw it as a way to break down barriers between the two culture groups. Unfortunately because of the language barrier, I wasn’t able to have conversations with them, but actions really do speak louder than words.
From my story I would like members of the next group to take away the power or need to reflect. Without reflecting on my feelings while abroad I would have probably became very angry and shut down from the group and experience but because I had a journal, I was able to get out all my feelings and read them later to reflect. I also want you guys to know that no one will experience Thailand like you, not even the people that you go with so don’t expect them to. Having a journal is really important. Not just a notebook that you would take notes in during lectures, but a journal that you can be blunt and honest with. Aside from that remember to have fun and that this is a once in a life time opportunity so live it up every day, or in the words of Alex, “Fire up!”
Hello from Bangkok. We are about to head to the airport to begin our long journey home. It is hard to believe how quickly these last three weeks have come and gone. What is even more difficult to believe is how many experiences I have had in this time. We have done so many amazing things while I have been here, and I know that I have grown so much as a person.
It is hard knowing that we are leaving this beautiful country, but it’s bittersweet knowing that I will see all my friends and family again so soon. I wonder how hard the culture change will be for me once I get back home, because I have a bit of a special case. I am not only moving back home to Minnesota, but I am graduating and moving back to the town where I grew up. I know that I am not the same person I was when I graduated high school. So, I’m curious to see how this adjustment will work out for me.
I will be sure to get back to all of you in a weeks time to explain how the move and adjustment works out. Also, I have a job interview on Tuesday that I am extremely excited about. I will let you know how that goes.
So, until then, be safe and see you soon.
I can’t believe that we are leaving Thailand today! It is very bittersweet for me. I have enjoyed so much about this trip, this country, the culture and the people… I feel like I have just started to finally fully adjust to things and get used to the lifestyle here and now we have to leave 🙁
Bangkok has been an experience in itself – it’s a city that has such life and energy. I have really enjoyed taking in all that this city has to offer… the many sites, sounds and smells. I love walking through the streets, wandering around the markets and people watching. It is a different pace than how it was in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, a lot more chaos it seems… but I think the “chaos” is what has made it so interesting for me. There is so much going on all of the time – the traffic itself is enough to keep you on your toes. The funny thing is, to me, amidst the busy hustle and bustle that I have noticed in Thailand, I still have a sense of relaxation and simplicity when here. This don’t seem as complicated as they do back at home, life seems simpler and I think that is something I will miss the most. I believe a lot of this comes from the culture of the Thai people, and maybe relates to some of the Buddhist principles that we have learned so much about… self realization, simplicity, peace of mind, happiness… even in a busy city, I can sense these things in the people around me and I have started to feel it myself.
Overall, I have enjoyed putting my life in perspective while being on this trip and looking at things from a different lens. This experience has opened my eyes to so many new experiences and overall has taught me so much about myself, about how i want to live my life and about what really is important. Upon returning home, I just hope I can keep these things with me and remember all that I have gotten out of this trip. I love Thailand and all I have experienced while being here… it’s a beautiful place and the people I have met while here have made it all that much better. So, this is why I say that leaving is bittersweet – I miss home but I also know that I will miss being here once I am back into my normal routine. It’s been 3 weeks that I will never forget and I can only hope that I will come back someday!
We have arrived back in Bangkok. Yesterday we spent the day at a beach in Pattaya. It was amazing. I loved spending some time in the sun and seeing one of this country’s beautiful beaches. I really noticed how close we were to the equator because even though I was adamant about using sunscreen I still got pretty burnt. It was defiantly worth it, and I think that yesterday was one of my most enjoyable afternoons here.
Today we went to Chao Phya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital Foundation in Prachinburi. This hospital is world renowned for their use of alternative medicine. It was interesting to learn their utilization of herbal and massage therapies. I liked that they were using both traditional and modern scientific western practices in their treatment methods.
I purchased some herbal face lotion (mostly for my new sunburn) and I am excited to see how it works out.
Tomorrow we are debriefing, and we will be having our farewell lunch/dinner. Saturday will be a free day and then we will be heading home. So, until I see you all again, be safe and I miss you very much.
The vibrant symbolic colors, the delightfully kind and occasionally incongruent smiles of the Thai people, the souvenirs shop worker’s playful persistence, the humorous and insightful monks/tour guides, the bustle of other tourist, the aggressive yet amazingly alert traffic, the deliciously inviting scent of street vendor Thai food and overwhelming aroma of a crowded urban city, and the wonderfully fun personalities of new friends have all contributed to incredible spiritual, academic, and personal growth.
On our last day in Thailand, I felt all my experiences, conversations, and new knowledge come full circle. What I find so amazing about this spontaneous culture crazed trip is the amount of clarity and perspective it has given me. I have spent the last few years comfortably sitting in the gray of convictions and what are perceived truths both professionally/academically and personally. But with exposure to a culture which has been so different from the one from which I was raised, I recognize the similarities within my very basic human values.
Throughout this trip I have embraced the Buddhist idea of simply just “being”. I have tried to take all that there is to take in-smells, sights, knowledge, culture, religion, differing opinions- and explore how all these things have impacted me as a human being. Ajan Cathy used the term “perspective consciousness” referring to the idea that we are products of our culture and being in Thailand has given me perspective to see how this is certainly the case. While I’m absolutely influenced by my life and family back in the States, my awareness of other cultures has provided an opportunity to relate to life and ideas outside my comfort zone. Thus making me exponentionally aware of my 5 senses and he amazing stimuli this country has to offer.
Today’s visit at the Slum Child Care center was by far my favorite site tour. This center embodies the spirit of social services taking care of the community. Incorporating home visits in their services is a great way to actually learn more about each child’s family. Giving parents the opportunity to be held accountable to the outcome of their children’s lives seems to be the basics of these home visits. I loved the idea of not really allowing parents that actually need more guidance in parenting to hide things from the center. In the parenting program that I work in, parents have the opportunity to put on a show for me but behind closed doors they may not be doing what they tell us they are doing. Thought we hope that the parents we work with are doing their all to maintain and create healthy relationships with their kids as they are going through the custody battles but there is an element that we will never know which is the actual environment of the home. The employees of the program are able to get to know the families that they work with in a much more personal setting. I’m sure that its effectiveness is relevant due to the mere human to human contact that happens. It’s not a program that people are just looking to be paid or feel like they are just “helping out”. The passion for this kind of work must be present in order for there to be results.
Employing women in the slum community was also a great approach to the center, so not only are they uplifting these women by helping them learn how to parent their children but also giving them the opportunity to gain employment skills and an income they may not have had. Being a member of the community and learning how to take care of it they are developing the leaders of tomorrow. So when the founders are no longer running the program they are grooming people that know the system from the inside out to take over. I appreciate Thailand for bring to the fore front of my mind the idea of bringing things full circle. Apart of my career goals is to open a non-profit that can be a resource center for families that are living in urban areas and have financial limitations. I would want areas such as counseling, support groups, awareness workshops, legal services, education development, and career training to be incorporated in the center. It is my hopes to bring individuals in the community full circle in their path to becoming a part of a society that can look forward to a positive future.
Today is our last day. I cannot believe it, 3 weeks ago at this time I was sitting at home celebrating christmas, and anxiously awaiting my journey to Thailand and now here I am and my journey is coming to an end. It has been quite a ride, I have been so lucky to partake in so many wonderful experiences and learning opportunities. When I was preparing for this trip I was not sure what to expect nor what it would be like, but it has simply been everything I have hoped for. The new friendships I have made, and the memories that will last a lifetime. This entire journey has helped me to grow as a person, and given me the opportunity to step back and look at the whole picture, I have learned a lot about myself. So much has happened in these past weeks. One day I was riding an elephant and rafting down a river on bamboo wood and the next I was learning about the Grand Palace and Wat Po. Everything that we have done has been wonderful, and I cannot express enough how blessed I feel. Even when we were not attending lectures, the other activities we partook in were learning experiences, and great life-lessons. It is imposible to say what even my favorite part would be, and which city I enjoyed the most, they all are so different. They all have so much to offer, and there is always so much going on its like the cities never sleep. As a group we have done as much as we could to get out and see the cities, we went to the night bizarre, the markets, the temples, kao shan road and so much more, but there is still so much more this wonderful country of Thailand has to offer.
I am sad to be leaving this incredible place, and I hope that someday I can return. It is hard to express the thoughts I am having as I try to reflect everything I have done since we have been here. It is all so bittersweet. I am nervous to be going home, but ready. I am sad to leave, but miss my friends and family. I am not sure what to expect when I go home, to be leaving people that I have gotten so close to and spent everyday with these past weeks. It is gonig to be different, we all have found such strong unique friendships that if you had asked me 3 weeks ago about the group, I would of never thought I would develop such good friends so fast. The connections we all have made, and everyones different personalities have meshed so well. I believe everyone brought out the best of each other.
I keep thinking about the fact I am boarding the plane home in a few hours. This journey has been a great one, and I am excited for the way it will shape the rest of my journey and me when I return home.
When I arrived in Thailand 3 weeks ago I had no idea how different the transportation would be. In a way things are very similar but yet very different. Yes there are cars, buses, subways,taxis, sky trains just like back in the states. However there is also tuk-tuks, motor-taxis, and truck taxis. The tuk-tuks are 3 wheeled mini cars almost. The driver rides in the front and there is a bench in a cart like area. Depending upon where you are and where you were going the tuk-tuk seemed to be the best choice except for the fact you can only fit about 3-4 people, 5 if your really feeling crazy. The truck taxis are trucks in which the bed has benches and a cover over you, those were the best way to get around in Chiang Mai, but they are not even really an option in Bangkok. The first night we got to Thailand we decided to put all 18 of us into one taxi-truck it was a lot of fun but it was something that we decided not to do again. When we arrived in Bangkok we were informed that riding on a motor-taxi was an option, and after all the fun I had riding around with the students I was determined to take a motor-taxi, even though it is very ill-advised due to the safety risks. The fact is you ride on the back of a motorcycle, with a total stranger, no helmet and your driving in the middle of cars simply because you can. Transportation in Thailand is crazy, there are cars everywhere and everyone that is driving needs to be ready and alert because everyone is traveling fast. We all would talk about how shocked we were that we did not see more accidents. Navigating and getting around in Thailand is fairly easy, and negotiating the price you’re willing to pay usually works out in the end. At home I believe I am pretty good with directions and thought things would be no different here, I was able to handle myself in Chaing Mai and Chiang Rai but Bangkok was a whole different story. I decided to embark on a little journey to see my friend Faith, I took my map and figured it would be easy to take a tuk-tuk and thought that seemed liek the safest bet, however everyone kept telling me it was to far. I just kept walking down the sidewalk, deep down I was thinking come on Al just take the motor-taxi, but I was to nervous. I kept walking and walking then finally found myself at the sky-train station. I walked up to the counter, luckily had a picture of the address in Thai and English showed the cashier and asked which stop, she told me and I was on my way. The sky train part was easy, however after I still had no clue where I was. I walked down to the street, into a gas station they pointed me and I was on my way. One of the motor-taxi drivers walked up and offered me a ride I showed him the address he knew where to go. I thought to myself wow this is really happening and hoped on the back and away we were. As I was riding on the motorcycle I kept thinking to myself, oh my gosh this is insane, were traveling down the rode going a decent speed, I’m holding on for dear life and were weaving through traffic. I was simply praying I made it there. Nothing looked familiar to me and I was gettting a bit nervous when we finally stopped and we were in a dark street. I look over and see the sign Shanti Lodge. I was so happy, I had successfully navigated my way through Bangkok. The experience was insane, and my heart was pounding but I was extremely proud of myself.
The transportation in Thailand is crazy and unique, but in a way it is a lot of fun. I honestly think that the tuk-tuks and truck taxis should be an option back home, however the motor-taxi I think that may be out of the question.
We leave tonight. I cannot put into words on how these past 3 weeks have changed my life. The experiences, the laughs, the joy we all have shared to the new friends who have turned into the best of friends, have all made this an amazing experience. It has opened my eyes to know that there is so much more in this world than what I am used to in the state of Minnesota. Through my narrow minded eyes, I thought what we had in Minnesota was the best of the best, and that I would never move away from there. But there is so many people to meet, so many stories to be told and to be heard, and there are many cultures that we need to be experience before we can say we have lived. To fully live means to get out there, experience new things and not sit in the one city your used to; that one place that is familiar to you. Now am I saying that I am going to move away to Thailand or another country? No, because as I have stated before family is everything and I don’t think I could live 7000 miles away from them. But what I am saying is that this is the beginning of a traveling girl. I am going to live my life to the fullest when I arrive back in the states. I am going to step outside of my comfort zone and after that, I will know that I have lived a full life. And a great life at that 🙂