Category Archives: 2017 Thailand Learning Abroad Blog

Home Sweet Home

For as long as I could remember, I grew up listening to the stories of a place called Thailand. I’ve always known it as the place where my parents met and fell in love, started a family, and most importantly, where my parents and grandparents sought refuge. As a Hmong daughter born and raised in the United States, I hardly saw Thailand as my home. Growing up in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, a predominantly Caucasian suburb, I was always reminded that I was different. That I was Hmong. I was always one of the two or three students who wasn’t Caucasian, and sometimes, the only Asian. I grew to become very uncomfortable with that because I never liked to stand out, therefore, always aimed to disguise myself by adjusting to the American culture. Although I’ve learned to embrace my native heritage throughout my college years, my past of allowing society to validate my identity continues to haunt me into believing that the States is my only home.

Throughout my time in Thailand, I’ve experienced a roller coaster of emotions. Our visit to the Pha Nok Kok Hmong village was a wonderful experience but it initially overwhelmed me considering my unpreparedness to translate for the entire class. This is due to a personal lack in practicing my native tongue to where I wasn’t completely confident regardless of Hmong being one of the most spoken languages at home. In addition, we learned a lot about the Hmong culture, such as Shamanism being the most common religion. Because of my affiliation with Christianity, I felt that I was unable to answer a lot of the questions that I was asked. This also resulted in my assumption that I didn’t have much of a part in explaining the ways of my culture because of the different practices that my family partakes in. Eventually after one week, which was also the longest I’ve been away from home, my feelings began to consume me and I became very homesick. I felt like I didn’t fit the description of my own people, nonetheless, the Thai culture that my father takes pride in.

After talking to Jory about my situation, I learned that homesickness isn’t necessarily something that a person has to overcome but that it could just be something to accept. Through this, I was able to accept the fact that I thought about home too often because I was convinced that I wasn’t “Hmong enough” to properly interact with the Hmong elders and families in Thailand. Although the next day, in my opinion, felt like it occurred just in time because it was the day we visited the Hmong Club, CRUU, at the university in Chiang Rai. The amount of interaction that took place during this visit was overwhelmingly comforting and marked the beginning of a new approach for me. The students and faculty members at the event were very welcoming and did not shy away from initiating conversation. I had many discussions of what life was like in the United States and overall got to know many of the students. Something that stuck out to me was the fact that I wasn’t the only one struggling to communicate in Hmong. To my surprise, the Hmong students also found it challenging to speak in their native language because of the dominant Thai culture. In the United States, it is very easy to assume that the Hmong youth in Thailand are well-immersed in the Hmong culture and language when in reality, they’re no different from us. Through this experience, I learned a great amount about my own culture that I never got the chance to, such as learning how to make the balls for ball tossing, and felt at home through the connections that were made. This was definitely one of my highlights which also motivated me to just live in the moment each day moving forward.

With an abundance of activities that our class has had the privilege to take part in during our time in Thailand, no one-day will suffice for the sacrifice that my family, as well as my people, made in order for me to be here today. One of the most meaningful moments I experienced occurred yesterday during our last lunch at the Mekong school in Chiang Khong. A man came up to me and asked if I was Hmong as I responded with a, “Yes.” We then continued to have a discussion about the Hmong population in Chiang Khong which led to his conclusion of the exact words, “Thank you for visiting your homeland.” These words were unforgettable to me because it reminded me just as to why I decided to embark on this journey in the first place. Thailand is filled with immense culture and life, and is home to my people, my family, and therefore, it is my home. I hope to bring back the lessons and experiences with me with the goal to embrace more of my language and culture, so that one day I may return with more eagerness to live and learn.

Nothing Ever Grows In A Comfort Zone

Only one week left and I can’t believe how many breathtaking experiences have already been had! Thailand has been a whirlwind.  I came into this trip trying to keep myself open to the idea of new experiences, with no expectations holding me back.  I wanted to experience Thailand for all that it is and the last thing I wanted was my anxiety, nerves, or worries to rob me of an amazing opportunity.  As I prepared for this trip to a country on the opposite side of the world, so different from anything I had ever experienced, I just kept this quote I had been using as a mantra in my mind.  “The comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there”.   This has been a super healthy mindset for me during this trip to consistently put me in perspective and continue to challenge myself.  I  came on this trip for new experiences, new outlooks, to learn about the culture, and to learn more about myself as well.  I already feel that this trip has granted me those wishes.  

Looking back on these last two weeks I have learned so much, and really seen myself grow as a person.  There has yet to be an experience I feel that I did not learn from, but there were a couple specific experiences that really stand out for me during this trip.  The first significant experience for me was the trip to Wat Suan Dok, a buddhist temple in Chiang Mai.  I have never seen anything like this in my entire life.  The temple was gorgeous, all white with a gold tower in the center.  It is the biggest temple in Chiang Mai and utterly remarkable.  We explored the temple for awhile, and after enjoying the temple we settled down in a room where a Buddhist monk, KK, came and shared the Buddhist philosophy and Monk way of life.  This was a discussion that really hit me hard.  It was everything I had been trying to embody.  Everything I was trying to change, in order to take care of myself, and overcome my mental health issues.  Each thing he said made so much sense and I just felt like this was knowledge that would help me longterm, and help me live and healthier, happier life overall.   A few of my biggest takeaways from KK’s teachings include the importance of balance, mindfulness and the understanding of self, and the toll of attachment and dwelling.  The Buddhist philosophy is all about balance, balance in your life, and more specifically balance between the physical being and the mental being.  We do so much to care for our physical being, we exercise, shower, eat, sleep, but in what ways do we care for our mental being?  This is something I had never considered before.  Additionally, the Buddhism philosophy embraces the idea of self knowing.  When our mind has unhealthy or unhelpful thoughts we need to know ourself enough to be able to overcome them.  Using mental self care to establish the development of wisdom (knowing yourself), self awareness, mindfulness, and learn to be able to easily let things happen, and easily let them go, never to dwell.  I was so surprised how much this session with KK meant to me and how much I would take with me once it ended.  I already feel positive changes starting to happen in my life and I believe that all starts with a healthier and cleansed mind!

The second experience that really sticks out in my mind is the visit to the Karen village.   Going in I really had no idea what to expect.  But the village as a whole was so welcoming and warm.  They were so sweet and eager to show us their culture.  They were excited to share every aspect and even more excited to see us participate and engage in the activities they do on a daily basis.  It was amazing to learn through this experience.  We worked with the elders in the community, as they showed us their weaving projects and looms, the work they had done was amazing.  I couldn’t believe the craft, dedication, and time these women put into these fabrics and embroidery.  They had such kindness in their eyes and such patience to be working with us, even given the language barrier.  I really felt accepted and wanted there.  I learned so much about what it means to be a truly authentic person from the actions and lifestyles these women live.  It was truly inspiring and I hope to be as much of a badass in my old age as the women who hopped in the back of a pickup truck like it was nothing and then proceeded to climb a mountain.  Mind-blowing!!

There have been so many more events in my mind that make this trip one that I know I will cherish for a lifetime.  I can’t imagine the possibilities for this last week in Thailand, but I’m sure they will be just as worthwhile as these ones have been.  I cannot wait to share my experiences with my friends and family once I’m home, and also fully get the opportunity to process my time here.

 

Post-departure Blog

Nyob Zoo!

My name is Brenda Xiong and my gender pronouns are she/her/hers. I am a upcoming Senior majoring in Human Resource development. I am a proud first generation and Hmong-American who enjoys traditional Hmong dancing. I love being involve with my AAPI community and am always looking for opportunities for self growth and development. My favorite season is summer because I can travel and do out door things!

Thailand has always been a place where I knew I wanted to travel to. I did not expect to be able to achieve my goal this soon. Thailand is one of the many homes of my parents. As refugees, they fled to Thailand during the Secret War to seek refugee. With this experience, I hope to re-connect with my Hmong identity that has many intersections with the Thai culture.

– Brenda Xiong

Pre-departure Blog

Hello! My name is (Gaozer) Nancy Xiong and I am a junior majoring in Family Social Science. I was born in Winona, MN but was raised in the Twin Cities metro area in the city of White Bear Lake. I am a  daughter of Hmong immigrants and the last of eight siblings. I enjoy playing tennis, hiking, eating and trying new foods, and spending time with my family and friends.

One goal that I have for myself is to reconnect with my Hmong identity being that my parents and grandparents grew up in Thailand. The thought of visiting Hmong tribes in Northern Thailand and Hmong women & children organizations excites me but also makes me anxious because of the unexpected feelings that I may experience when coming face-to-face with these families and individuals. In addition, I hope to learn more about the Thai language and culture because it is another large part of my family’s history. My dad was a former Thai teacher in Laos and Thailand, therefore, I hope to come back home with some knowledge of the language in order to briefly converse with him in a language other than Hmong and English. Overall, I aim to better understand the ways of my culture as well as the Thai culture in order to continue on with my journey as a first-generation student and future professional.

 

Pre Departure Blog

My name is Kendall Garvey and I am currently a sophomore at the University of Minnesota. I am majoring in Marketing and minoring in Retail Merchandising. I was born in Chicago and currently live in Plymouth, which is about 30 minutes from campus. I enjoy doing yoga during the school year to destress from everyday tasks and prefer running during the summer! My favorite place in the world is my cabin. I spend a lot of time there in the summers participating in activities such as wake surfing, kayaking, gardening and walking my dogs.
When I am abroad, I hope to adapt to changes around me, as well as get to know the Thai culture. I would like to change my perspective and view situations as a local Thai citizen would by the time I return to America. I also hope to detach from social media when I am abroad, and meet many new friends and acquaintances in the different cities. By the end of our travels, my main goal is to absorb the culture and not stick out as a ‘tourist’. Overall, I am looking forward to getting to know a foreign culture and the cities in Thailand.

Human Trafficking in Thailand

What is human trafficking: Anna

Human trafficking is defined by the United Nations as, “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation.” According to UNICEF there are 21 million people around the world being trafficked generating about 32 billion US dollars in profits.

 

Individuals, especially young persons, are often drawn into the trafficking industry by the promise of security and money. Cambodian, Lao and Burmese victims are often brought across borders to be used as labor, sex workers or to beg on the streets for the benefit of their traffickers. Migrant workers are also common victims of human trafficking as people from other countries often leave their home countries in search of better wages. Thailand is unique in which it is the only country where the government attempts to address the issue of human trafficking. The Thai government works with several different non- governmental organizations to combat the issues that the country faces regarding the trafficking of vulnerable individuals. The hope is that the work that non-governmental organization performs would be transferred over as the work of the government in the future.

 

What is being done: Ernie
With human trafficking being such a prominent issue in Thailand, especially for the vulnerable population such as children and ethnic minority groups, we visited and talked to two non-governmental organizations (NGO) to find out more about what was being done to combat this. The first was Child Safe, an organization that work alongside the government to help children and youths. Children and youths are constantly being exploited for profit. They are used as entertainment/ attraction for tourists, sex, and beggars for money on the street. This is a large issue in Thailand and Child Safe is working to stop that. According to their website, they aim to “protect children & youth from all forms of abuse, to prevent children & youth from engaging in dangerous behaviors and to influence all tiers of society and the international community so they can create positive environments for children & youth.” They do so by educating the public, working with the Thai government, and working with the children on a case by case manner. In educating the public, Child Safe launched a Think campaign that taught the public, through brochures, 7 ways to protect children while traveling. Child Safe also works closely with embassies, ministry of foreign affairs, ministry of social affairs, and ministry of tourism to help protect children and youths. As for working with children on a case by case manner, the organization has a social work team that help identify the children and a reintegration team that help the children integrate themselves into society through vocational training. The second NGO we visited was the Hill Area Development Foundation (HADF). HADF primarily works with marginalized hill tribe people in Northern Thailand to end their exploitation, educate, strengthen, and empower the communities. Human trafficking is a big concern for the tribes, many young and beautiful girls are often taken to work in karaoke places and/or sex trafficked. The sex traffickers, or “agents”, are usually someone the villagers know and trust. Often time the agents have been trafficked themselves, they make money, go back to their villages, the villagers see their wealth, they want to know how they made the money, and the mentality around the occupation starts to shift. This is a perpetuating cycle that opens the villagers up to further exploitation. In order to stop this cycle, HADF work closely with villages to educate the villagers against this. They also help the villagers with vocational trade so they can have an alternative option to make a living, build confidence in themselves, and integrate themselves further into the community. This makes it more difficult for the agents to exploit them. Both NGOs, Child Safe and HADF, have done an amazing job in helping children and ethnic minority groups. I am extremely proud and happy that organizations such as these exist to help vulnerable populations. There is still a lot to be done, but their work is truly inspiring.

What is not being done: Liz & Molina  

So far, we have seen many organizations that support the victims of human trafficking such as Child Safe and HADF These organizations aims to help victims recover as their case is being investigated; this can take up to 5 years. Not only do the Thai government support the recovery of victims, they also passed a few acts to protect them as well. The Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act (1996) will imprison and fine anyone who commits or engage in prostitution. These acts serves to protect the rights of possible victims of human trafficking. A lot of communities work with their youths to emphasize the importance of education and work on strengthen their skills. We see prevention of human trafficking but we haven’t seen the steps taken to break down the human trafficking systems in Thailand. A lot of investigations is being carried out, but that’s the last we’ve heard of it. It would’ve been nice to talk to Thai officials about the actions they’re taking to crack down the source of human trafficking. As college students, we didn’t have the access to confidential information and investigations. We’ve been here for only three weeks so there wasn’t much exposure regarding the perpetrators in human trafficking.

 

Recommendations for solution: Alex

Being that Thailand is a hub for human trafficking, it has been under much scrutiny in recent years, with foreign governments claiming the Thai government is not doing enough to end the issue of human trafficking. However, human trafficking is a multifaceted issue that is extremely complex and unfortunately there is not a quick cure all for this problem. To end human trafficking it will involve extensive collaboration between NGOs, the Thai local and federal governments, citizens, and foreign governments.

Based on what we have observed from our time in Thailand, we have formulated our own recommendations to eliminate human trafficking. Although this is not an all encompassing list, it is comprised of what we have seen first hand success stories for or have seen these techniques work well in other areas of the world. First and foremost, (and this was stressed in every one of our NGO visits) education and increasing literacy rates is imperative. By keeping kids in school longer, we are reducing the chance of them finding themselves in a scenario in which they fall victim to trafficking. Increasing literacy rates and time spent in formal education also will help these at risk individuals find better paying jobs that will once again help them avoid the draw of prostitution (often seen as easy money, and an unfortunately easy way to enter the web of human trafficking).

As another form of education, we believe that it is vital to educate the public about the prevalence of human trafficking and the negative impacts it has on the individual as well as society as a whole. Informing individuals who work in businesses that are likely to come across trafficking victims is also a great idea, and then giving these individuals the proper training on what to do when they come across an individual who may be being trafficked so that they are confident in their own abilities to report cases to the appropriate authorities/ organizations. Such employees include hotel staff, restaurant and bar owners, etc. Fortunately Child Safe has already begun to educate tourist businesses so that they can be deemed “Child Safe”. We all believe that patronizing businesses with the “Child Safe” badge is important so that these businesses thrive, and so that it inspires other businesses to undergo this training and certification process.

One deceiving organization as discussed earlier is orphanages, spreading awareness of the harm that volunteering at orphanages can do is also imperative. Eventually we would like to see the closure of illegitimate orphanages and programming set in place to assist impoverished families so they do not feel compelled to sell their children.

This is by no means an all inclusive list of recommendations, but these are topics that we learned most about during our trip. We do recognize the importance of eradicating corruption in the government at all levels, however as this has been a problem for every nation for as long as humans can remember, we do not have a solution for this problem.

Globalization and It’s Effects on Thailand – Callie, Kia, Samantha, Rachel

Globalization is a phenomenon that impacts countries around the world. During our time in Thailand, we have been able to identify some of the issues in this country, especially in comparison to our own country. Specifically, we have seen common threads regarding globalization including issues with the environment, tourism, public and private health, and culture and identity.

The people of Thailand are completely immersed in the environment of Thailand. In the hot and humid weather of the jungles, Thai people take full advantage of the land that they have. On May 25th, we went to an NGO called the Hill Area Development Foundation (HADF). One of the objectives of this organization is to protect the environment and natural resources that are in Thailand. We learned that deforestation is a growing problem in Thailand because they are making more land for cash crops that get exported to other countries. It is disheartening because these pieces of land are not protected by the local people. Cash crops are a component of globalization that seemingly impacts countries all over the world. People in our society today care more about economy and making profit, rather than respecting the earth that we live in. Alongside the issue of deforestation, there has been a decline in the biodiversity of the environment and an uprising in chemical use with agriculture. The biodiversity of the land here runs parallel to deforestation because as more plants and trees are cut down, it changes the entire ecosystem. Because of these issues, the Thai people, especially in rural areas, are suffering. As we learned about in the Huay Hea village, the villagers have to rent pieces of land, rather than just being able to own it. They pay 500 Baht per 2.5 acres of land. As a citizen in America, it is easy to see the similarities in both countries. We struggle with the same issues. Seemingly, there is not a way to conserve our environment while keeping a strong economy. These variables are intertwined with one another and globalization is a factor in the problem. The higher the demand of goods, the more the environment will suffer unfortunately.

On the Mekong River
By Callie

As we learned at the Mekong School, Thailand has made many strides in triaging the impacts of globalization on the environment. They are educating the community on water conservation, the history of the river, and more. Instead of taking advantage of the river negatively, they are working towards education. Education as explained, is an incremental part in helping people understand conducive ways to treat and use the environment.

Night Market in Chaing Mai by Kia

The Thai culture is very rich and unique, from the food, music, tuk tuks, and night markets. Thai culture is heavily influenced by Western culture though, despite being the only Southeast Asian country that has never been colonized by the Europeans or Americans. Western influence is seen in Thai advertisements and products that cater to Western standards. During our stay in Thailand, I (Kia) noticed that many beauty and convenience stores sell skin whitening beauty products.

Skin whitening products in English
By Kia
Skin whitening products in English
By Kia

Thai people have traditionally believed that lighter skin is more beautiful and represents wealth. Lighter skin means that you have less exposure to sunlight; thus, you don’t do extraneous labor such as farming. With the impact of Thailand’s surrounding countries being colonized in the past and Western beauty standards (high nose bridge, double-lidded eyes, white skin, being tall, etc) dominating the world as what’s ideal, having white skin is even more sought after by Thai people. In addition, a lot of Thai brands and advertisements are in English. Many schools also require their students to learn English. The westernized advertisements and products in Thailand, along with learning English in Thai schools, demonstrate that Thai people think Western culture is more appealing. This shows how much the Western world has impacted other countries through colonialism and white power.

Another aspect of cultural globalization in Thailand is the influence of Thai culture on racial minority groups who reside in Thailand. Because these racial minority groups assimilate into the Thai culture, it is difficult to retain their own culture. Many younger generations go through an identity crisis as they experience living in between two different cultures– the one that they are born with and the one that they grow up with. Even though many of these minority groups have been residing in Thailand for decades, they face racial discrimination and most individuals do not have Thai citizenship. When our class visited HADF, we learned that it is an incredibly hard and long process for stateless peoples to gain Thai citizenship. Ethnic minority children who are born in Thailand must also wait 15 years to gain Thai citizenship. The Thai government feels that this is the length of time needed for ethnic minority children to become fully accustomed to the Thai culture. Furthermore, students who don’t have Thai citizenship, known as G students, are renamed at school with a Thai name. Our class visited the Mekong School in Chiang Khong, where we learned that Thai schools mostly focus on teaching the history of Bangkok and Thai people, less on the history of other small cities and ethnic minority groups. These are just some of the causes that lead to a cultural identity loss. There is a lack of preserving the culture and history of minority groups due to influence of Thai culture.

Pha Nok kok village near Chiang Mai
By Kia

The Hmong people is one of the hill tribes groups that this class learned about. The Hmong are a stateless nation who reside in scattered parts throughout the world, mainly in Thailand, Laos, China, Europe, Australia, and America. The Hmong have assimilated to all of these other different cultures. As a Hmong person myself who has assimilated into American culture, it was interesting to see how the Hmong have assimilated into Thai culture. When we visited the Hmong village, Pha Nok Kok, the village chief stated that there are Hmong children who don’t accept their Hmong identity because the Hmong are a marginalized community. I realized that wherever Hmong people are, there is a struggle to understand and accept their Hmong identity. The Hmong culture has overall been affected by globalization.

I (Samantha) feel globalization is the development of international influence in another country, culture, or nation. Coming from a developed country to a developing country as a tourist studying abroad has allowed me to really see the difference, but also the similarities between nations. In the United States there is tourism in all of the major cities. Thailand is similar, but even the villages get tourists. In the U.S.A tourism is more subtle. In Thailand a majority of the tourists are easily identified as not Thai, therefore, I felt it was less subtle. Everywhere our vans go, whether in the U.S.A or Thailand, you can see huge tour busses full of people wanting to experience a different city, country, nation, a different way of life.

Bangkok
By Sam

Driving through the streets of Thailand we pass Western influence through stores and restaurants like 7 eleven, McDonalds, Starbucks, pizza, KFC and more. Going to the homestay village, Mae Kampong, the influence of coffee was ever present. The coffee shop was the only place in the village with wifi and coffee. The study abroad group spent a lot of time in this location. We played cards, had coffee and it was the meeting spot before all of our daily activities. I couldn’t help but think what it would’ve been like for the two days with our 20 students not having their daily caffeine dose and a place for us all to get together and relax. I found that even in the two days at the homestay, wifi and coffee were very much a western culture need. As tourists came and stayed in the homes, as we did, they wanted to get a taste of living a traditional and culture of the rural Thai way of life.

Homestay at Mae Kampong village
By Sam

In Thailand it is important for villages to keep their culture and traditions. Becoming a more developed country is starting to bring in more tourists because their income can help the country, any country, become more sustainable. In the Mae Kampong village we stayed at, the chief gave us an interview. He developed what I thought to be an amazing system to keep the culture, environment, and traditional way of life. This was all while keeping the village sustainable. His vision became a reality called Cultural Based Tourism (CBT). CBT took 4 years of preparations and has been active for over 10 years. Villagers let tourists into their homes. They cook the meals for their guests, they involved us in their morning donations to the monks, as well as opened businesses like hiking and coffee shops. The money given from tourists goes into a pool. Within this pool the money goes to income, health care, birth, death, and education. The chief wants his people and his culture to strive.

Mae Kampong village cheif
By Sam

The children at Mae Kampong were fortunate to have a village leader and village to try something new and support education. Some youth don’t have as much fortune. Some kids are sold to trafficking, taken or bribed. Some of these children are on the streets, other street children are making money for their families. Tourists have a habit of visiting locations like the market, orphanage, and sometimes sex trafficking locations. We visited a workshop called Child Safe. They teach tourists how to go about with youth in Thailand. Child Safe provides a place where they want to keep children safe and education tourists is a part of that. Tourists will let their empathy show and give a little child money on the street for singing or dancing. What they don’t know is that is keeping the child out of school because they could be making 10 to 15 dollars on the street. Giving to orphanages or playing with the kids is just as bad, causing abandonment issues and more orphans, but giving money or being there. Many of the kids actually have family somewhere. Many are not orphans. The number one thing Child Safe wanted to tell tourists was THINK! How are your actions limiting this individual.

Lecture at Child Safe workshop
By Sam

There are two types of markets in Thailand, a local one and a tourist one. The tourists ones are jampacked with people trying to buy knock of goods and souvenirs. Local markets have much more handcrafted items. There are silk scarves, hand stitched bags, handmade jewelry and more. However, many tourists don’t buy from these markets which hurts that income of local people because it is their livelihood. As we stopped in a village to visit there would be so many shops and I feel no one walked away empty handed because of the support we wanted to give the village. Even the small villages there was tourism.

Because of the high influx of tourism, there has been an increase in demand for certain fast food and coffee shops. Globalization has impacted the business infrastructure in Thailand because of this increase in demand from tourism. I (Rachel) saw multiple Starbucks and McDonald’s on this trip which leads to increased competition and a decrease in locally owned shops. We talked about this a little bit with a local restaurant owner in Chiang Khong, who was stressing that we had to be patient when a group of seven of us came in for dinner because he and his wife made all of the food fresh and they weren’t like the ‘big chain restaurants’. The powerhouse businesses like Starbucks and McDonald’s expand into new markets with such a strong base that it makes it near impossible for locally owned businesses to compete. The increase in these fast food chains has also had an adverse effect on the health of Thailand’s people, as there is a higher demand for unhealthy snacks.

On the Friendship Bridge between Thailand and Laos
By Sam

Thailand is full of global influence. We talked a lot about how the U.S.A has an effect on Thailand, but in reality they are influenced from all over. being the only country down on this area that has never been conquered they receive influence from Europe, China, the countries surrounding and more. China has one of the biggest influences in Thailand. Having only three weeks isn’t long enough to really see the depth of how other countries and cultures really affects this one. We only touched a surface of a few global influence and are always looking for more.

Thailand Education: Observations, Research, and Reflection

Mai Chia Lee, Molleysa Yang, Wennicha Yang, Deeh Chah, Sia Thao, George Vang

Acharn Cathy

FSOS 4150 – Global Change, Community, and Families in Thailand

03 June 2017

Thailand Education: Observations, Research, and Reflection

Throughout these past three weeks, we learned a lot about Thailand’s education system through village visits and engaging with students and staffs. Surprisingly, we arrived in Thailand during the start of their school year – May. Traditional Thai Schools begin their schooling from May to March, and have about 200 days of school (Clark 2014). Throughout our trip, we visited two schools: Suksasongkroh Chiang Dao Boarding School at Chiang Dao, Chiang Rai, and a Hmong elementary and middle school at Bahn Thung Na Noy, Chiang Khong. At Chiang Dao, we met many energetic, happy, and passionate high school students who dreamed of becoming teachers, auto mechanics, pharmacists, nurses, and tour guides. At the Hmong elementary and middle school, we met many eager students who were not sure about who they wanted to be in the future, but were hopeful in keeping what they already have – smiles, laughter, and culture.

(Above) Suksasongkroh Chiang Dao Boarding School

Chiang Dao, Chiang Rai: The students are in their traditional clothes as it was a Friday.

(Below) Bahn Thung Na Noy, Chiang Khong: The Hmong students joined the UMN-TC students in doing the Cupid Shuffle as a cultural exchange activity

 

A typical day of schooling differs between institutions for students. At Chiang Dao, a boarding school for vulnerable youth ages 7 – 18, students wake up at 4:40am to exercise and clean their dorms. They are served breakfast at 7:00am, begin school at 8:00am, and end school at 4:30pm. After school, students have dinner at 5:00pm, relaxation at 7:30pm, and bedtime at 9:00pm. Very differently, the Hmong elementary and middle school begin school at 8:00am and end school at 4:00pm. Since their school is located at their village – versus the Chiang Dao Boarding School – many of the children are able to come home and live with their family. As the Thai government provides free education for all students ages 7 – 18, we will begin to explore how these students are supported by their staffs, families, and government, and struggles we noticed throughout our visits.

Many Thai students receive emotional support from their families. From our visits to Chiang Dao and centers such as the Mekong Child Rights Protection Center in Chiang Khong, Chiang Rai, we learned that most hill tribe and poor Thai students do not live with their families during school sessions. They get to visit their families for at least 1-2 months during breaks. I (Deeh) believe that parents of these students value education, thus, allowing their young children to live away from them in order to attend school. From my personal experience, my parents sent my older sister and me to live with our aunt in another village to get an education when we were still in Thailand. Furthermore, many Thai students receive educational support from governmental decision makings. According to a Hmong uncle from the Hmong Christian village, Pha Nok Kok, it is Thai law for children to be in school by age 9. If a child is not in school by 9 years old and the Thai government finds out, the parents will be arrested because they are preventing their children from getting an education. One reason for such action is, according to our meeting at the Hill Area Development Foundation in Chiang Rai, many hill tribe families want their children to farm and support the families. However, most families want their children to be educated. Therefore, this law ensures that every child in Thailand obtains an education and are not left behind.

 

(Above) Child Rights Protection Center: The girls and UMN-TC students are doing fun activities together.

 

Although Thai students are given support to go to school from their families and government, there is barriers and discrimination that they have to face in their process of obtaining an education. According to the article, Educate a Child, “In 2011 13.1% of the [Thai] population still live below the poverty line and 80% of these population live in rural area where the benefit of their economic success has not reached all area as equally as it should.” Although the Thai government provides free education for students, some families cannot afford to send their children to school because they do not have transportation funds. Additionally, not every school nearby is public – meaning free education. From many of our village visits, we learned that there is not always a school nearby, which can also be a reason to why some families do not send their children to school. Fortunately, schools like Chiang Dao School support the hill tribe families who cannot afford to send their children to school. They welcome vulnerable and impoverished children to boarding schools where they live and learn until they have graduated. At Chiang Dao School, many things are provided free for them such as education, food, uniform, dormitories, school supplies, hospital visits, and etc by the help of the government. Therefore, some families do not have to struggle financially to provide these items for their children. However, not every student attends a school like Chiang Dao, and not everyone goes to a boarding school.

Other barriers and discrimination that many hill tribe students face would be the language barrier and assimilation. For migrant students who do not understand the instructed Thai language, they are likely to drop out, according to Mr. Som Chai, the chief of the Huay Hea Village. When hill tribe students attend school with their traditional ethnic name, many adopt a Thai name because their Thai teachers and students cannot pronounce it. Many of these students instead are given a Thai name from their Thai teachers. This act is problematic because it teaches non-Thai children to lessen the value of their ethnic name, and to become more Thai. As hill tribe students learn more Thai, many forget how to speak their native language, as experienced when we met Hmong students at the Chiang Dao School.

(Above) Huey Hea Village: UMN-TC students are learning how difficult life can be without Thai citizenship, for example, from Mr. Som Chai.

In addition to barriers and discrimination that many hill tribe students face,  tribal students have minimal role models to look up to at school because there are not many staff members who are of their ethnic background, and faculty members who speak their ethnic language. Moreover, students who are not citizens of Thailand are not able to attend a University; they can only attend school up to 12th grade. There is not enough scholarship and government funds to help them throughout college.

During our visit to the Pha Nok Kok village, I (George) learned about assimilation in the Thai Schooling community. Their chief told us many struggles of the Hmong people. According to the village chief, the one thing that parents struggle with is having their child talk in Hmong after returning from school. Many of their children are forced to talk in Thai during their time in school and have little time to speak their native language. Over a period of time, they forget how to speak their language. Not only are they forced to learn the Thai language, but they also learn about Thai culture. After graduating from high school, most of the children stay in the cities to work and do not have time to visit their families at home. This prevents a lot of the minorities to keep their identity because of how immersed they are with the Thai culture.

(Above) Pha Nok Kok: The chief shared about their village life while Sia did the translation for the class.

When we visited the Hill Area Development Foundation and Huay Hea village, we learned that the Thai teachers gives no effort in pronouncing a student’s name and thus, gives them a new name. The villagers are trying to work with the school to fix this problem because they’re aware of their child losing their identity and culture. From our experience in the United States, we have never experienced a teacher giving their students new names. They give an effort to learn a student’s name no matter how difficult it is to pronounce.

 

It was amazing to see that education in Thailand is highly valued in all the areas that we’ve explored, and I (Sia) am positive that it is also valued throughout Thailand as well. However, I noticed that Thailand’s educational system is excluding multiculturalism, leading to an imbalance between the students’ education about their ethnic history, culture, and language and the Thai history, culture, and language. As a result, most students do not know about their history, their culture, and, like we’ve mentioned above, is losing their native language.

According to all the teachers and students that we have interviewed, only Thai history is taught in school. Many Hmong-Thai students that I have talked to had little to no clue about their history at all; some seemed to have never even thought of their history before. Those who knew about their history only heard them from the conversations of their elders. It’s sad to see that many Hmong-Thai students do not have a lot of knowledge about their history anymore. While I do not know much about other ethnic minorities’ reaction to their history because I was not able to communicate with them as much, I believe that they are also facing similar situations regarding to the Hmong. Without history, we would not know where we came from and how we came to be where we are today. This could easily lead to identity challenges and many other issues. While I have not done an in-depth research about the Thai educational system and its implementation of ethnic minorities’ history, from what I have seen so far I feel sad and upset that the Thai educational system seems to be seclusive to ethnic minorities’ history. The situation with culture for ethnic minorities is similar to their situation with history.

Due to the lack of transportation offered by the government for students, if students do not have transportation to school then they will either have to quit, go live near their school, or go to a boarding school. Because ethnic minorities mostly live on the mountains and/or far away from schools, they lack transportation. Moreover, they are usually poor and cannot move to urban areas for their children’s education. Therefore, many minority students are sent off to live alone or to boarding school. This distance between them and their family decreases the connection between his/her culture until he/she goes back to the village (which a lot of students nowaday do not go back to because there is no job offered at their village). In addition, with no classes at school to teach about different cultures in Thailand, I believe that students’ interest in studying and learning about their culture and other cultures will slowly diminish.

Like the sub-chief of Pha Nok Kok said to us in the discussion, he has seen students lose their culture and convert to other cultures; if he did not call and check up on his kids regularly, he believes they would probably lose their culture and language, too. This was evident at Suksasongkroh Chiang Dao school. When I talked to the Hmong-Thai students at Suksasongkroh Chiang Dao school and asked them about their culture, they were not able to provide a lot of knowledge. It was understandable because they have been at the boarding school instead of home for many years. It saddens that they do not have the chance to learn about their culture and its many beautiful practices. It saddens me even more that Thailand has no multicultural trainings for teachers. Thailand is populated with many ethnic minorities but there are no trainings for teachers to learn how to deal and manage the diverse population of their students. While there are organizations such as the Hill Area Development Foundation that works to help minority students to adjust to Thai culture and language while maintaining theirs, it would be great if there are more support for the preservation of students’ culture, and workshops that helps Thai teachers become more multiculturally censored in their workplace.

Thailand also does not offer classes about ethnic minorities’ languages. The Thai educational system offers only Thai and foreign languages. As a result, minority students are slowly losing their native language. The Hmong-Thai students at Suksasongkroh Chiang Dao school and Sunflower House shows that. From seeing and speaking with the Hmong students they seem to retain their culture well, but not their native language. Students that I’ve talked to cannot speak their native language without using Thai words in their sentence; they are not able to communicate solely with their native language. Of course, there are words that the Hmong language cannot convey without using Thai, but the words that these students are using Thai to talk to me were simple Hmong words or phrases that can be easily said without using Thai. On the other hand, Hmong students at Bahn Thung Na Noy’s school, a school in a Hmong village, were able to maintain their native language fairly well. They were able to communicate what they wanted to say solely in Hmong to me.

To conclude, multiculturalism is excluded in the Thai educational system. Due to that, there are no classes offered about the minorities’ history, culture, and language, creating an imbalance between the minority students’ education about their history, culture, and language and the Thai’s history, culture, and language. This resulted in many students not knowing about their history, their culture, and losing their native language. I really hope that NGOs and community organizations will keep making positive impacts in Thailand’s education, to the point that multiculturalism will be implemented.

In Thailand, there are other opportunities and repercussions that present itself when children do not have a formal education. Students of poverty who cannot attend formal schools, classroom-based and provided by trained teachers, are likely to turn to other forms of education, labor work, or sex work. Examples of other forms of education are vocational schooling. Child Safe is one of the organizations that we have met with and learned about the vocational training for youth in Thailand. According to Marie from Friends International, vocational training provides a stepping stone and the experience needed for youth to enter the workforce at hotels and restaurants. Employers are more likely to be interested in these students because they would have already had hands on experience, and gained interpersonal skills that would benefit these industries. Child Safe is offered to youth who are poor and not eligible to enter elementary and middle school because of their age. Child Safe aims to find children of poverty who are vulnerable to child trafficking for labor and sex work, and teach them skills that will lead them towards a brighter future.

Another opportunity open to children who can not attend school is labor work. However, from the villages that we have gone to, it seems like there are a lot of support for children to attend school. We did not see a lot of young people at most villages that we visited because they are attending school. This is only a scratch of the surface of what we’ve seen though. According to a speaker from the Hill Area Development Foundation, some tribal ethnic groups have lots of children where many of these children decide to stay to help their parents. As we have mentioned above about how some families do not have enough money for transportation and such, their children turn to help families with labor work, farming, and handicrafts.

(Above) Hill Area Development Foundation: Juthamas, the director, talks about the NGO history and projects that they do to serve hill tribe students and communities.

 

Lastly, we learned about sex trafficking as a repercussion for not having formal education. Desperate and no direction for income, some girls are lured into sex work. According to P’Eve, our tour guide, girls are deceived about work and follow the recruiters back into the cities. After being sexually exploited and learning about the lie, they return to their village with a huge amount of money for their family. This then attracts other girls to do the same, when they believe that there is a promising opportunity for work. This is one of the heartbreaking repercussions of not having enough support for the school.

Our visit to Thailand has been immensely powerful as we connected with schools, students, staff members, and the culture. Many of the Thai students are very passionate about their education because they want to have more opportunities than what they have already, and become great leaders for their families and the future. Many of the Thai institutions we visited were very passionate and intentional about their work as well – doing their best to make sure that students are not being trafficked, and are receiving necessary skills to thrive in their communities. Although it is governmental law for all students to attend a formal education, there are still students who fall through the cracks – especially those who live in the countryside, away from the city life; not all villages have a school nearby, and families can struggle to send their children to school due to the distance and being low income. Moreover, many school institutions do not teach their students enough to value the ethnic minority identities that are present at their schools, such as the Hmong, the Lahu, and the Karen. The main culture that is taught is Thai and a bit of Western, which can cause many hill tribe groups to lose a piece of their culture, such as their language. Although there are many things that we would like to see Thailand work on, being able to visit Thailand and their schools have been a beautiful privilege for us all. It has been a fortunate experience to step into a land that values education very deeply, and we are looking forward to bringing our learning to our communities back at home.

References:

Clark, N. (Ed.). (2014, March 3). Education in Thailand. Retrieved May 26, 2017, from http://wenr.wes.org/2014/03/education-in-thailand

Final Project – Multiculturalism (Matthew, Bridget, Toua, Marissa, Ellie)

Multiculturalism

Bridget***

Thailand is one of the most diverse places I have had the opportunity to visit. With the advantage of viewing every activity in the program through a multicultural lens, Toua, Marissa, Ellie, Matthew and I were able to critically think and reflect on our travels while maintaining appreciation for each culture we learned about. Through our adventures in the various schools, villages, and geographical distinctions, we noticed the preservation of tradition and the presence of the human ecology model through the clothing choices and the balance of a simple and peaceful lifestyle.

Toua***

During our study abroad program in Thailand, we had the opportunity to visit multiple villages and learned that there are more than nine major hill tribes in Thailand;  Lahu, Lisu, and Hmong are some of the hill tribes that we learned about.  Hmong is an ethnicity that originally originated in southern China and moved to many countries including Vietnam, France, America and Thailand after the Secret War. Before this trip, I thought all Hmong people in Thailand were going to be very traditional and uphold their traditional language. While visiting the Hmong village, Pha Nok Kok, I witness that some of their people were losing their language. For example, the Hmong lady who show us her grandma’s house struggled to speak Hmong and tended to substitute a couple of Thai words each time she speaks. Surprisingly, this was not that different compare to the Hmong population in the United States; I found this to be very similar to my family because growing up in America, we are surrounded by English speakers and have no choice but to speak English. Fortunately, I often speak Hmong at home and with my friends, so I’m still able to preserve my traditional language,  unlike my younger siblings that were born in the United States who can’t speak Hmong at all.This is a prime example of a phenomenon that many immigrants face as they attempt to assimilate to their new country.

Marissa***

Similarly, throughout disadvantaged villages in Thailand, as children are sent to schools such as the Suksasongkroh Chiang Dao School to get a free education, we observed the struggle to preserve socio-cultural traditions since majority of the students only visit their homes on holidays. In my opinion, this level of the human ecological model has one of the largest contributions to a person’s identity; when children are removed from this environment, some of their identity is stripped away. In addition, the schools are built far away from the villages, which impacts the family systems as well because distance can often weaken interpersonal relationships. Another characteristic within minority cultures in Thailand is marginalization. Each of the villages we visited mentioned facing discrimination for not belonging to the dominant culture of Thailand. We learned about the obstacles they face when attempting to gain citizenship and drivers licenses, which negatively impacts the families in these villages. For example, when family members are “stateless” they receive less benefits from the government and therefore are less able to engage in the basic family functions essential to the wellbeing of society. Overall, after analyzing these diverse villages and minority groups, we have able to broaden our understanding of multiculturalism in Thailand.

Ellie***

The Suksasongkroh Chiang Dao School we visited had many multicultural aspects. This school boards and educates children coming from low socio economic homes as well as students that have been abused, orphaned, or exposed to less than adequate family and living situations. The students also come from four different districts  and more than nine different ethnic groups. In order to accommodate the diverse population of students, the curriculum includes teaching five languages including Thai, English, Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish. They also learn about both Christianity and Buddhism.

     The school provides students with uniforms to wear, which creates community among the diverse backgrounds. With the school clothing protocol they balance between unity/equality and the preservation of tradition and individuality. Since the students are coming from various cultures, it is important to create an open and accepting environment that includes the majority of their practices and beliefs. The school recognizes that it is also essential to preserve and embrace the individuality and traditions of each student’s culture. One of the ways this school promotes the diversity and preservation of culture is by having the students dress in their traditional attire every Friday to embrace each of their individual cultures. With this system, I noticed the use of balance; This is an important aspect prevalent in Thai culture, likely stemming from Buddhist practice.

Buddhism intermingles within the Thai  culture as well as into societal norms and opportunities. During school breaks, some students go to see their families while other students choose to be Monks during this period. As I learned during our monk chat, Buddhism isn’t a religion, it’s a practiced philosophy. Thai culture seems to intertwine with Buddhist practices heavily throughout their lives. Buddhism could be considered to be apart of the socio-cultural environment on the human ecology model; it influences not only beliefs and culture of the society but also the education system and structure, as well as the opportunities and resources available.

Matthew***

           Another way multiculturalism can be seen in Thailand is through its geographical distinctions. These geographical distinctions can play a part in making the Thai culture more diverse and more accepting. For instance, the two and a half weeks I have been here I noticed a completely different culture between the southerners of Thailand (Bangkok) and the northerners of Thailand (Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Chiang Khong etc). Bangkok as a city is massive, there are tall buildings, lots of people, and way too many cars to count. When speaking with my colleague Ernie, who has strong ties to Bangkok, and who has lived in the city for many years. It was fascinating to hear what life in Bangkok was like; one thing I found intriguing was that everyone in the city wants to have a pale skin tone. The pale skin indicates the person either having a job indoors, or residing indoors instead of working in the field or on a farm, which is commonly associated with wealth and power. This is a prime example of status and hierarchy, which are elements of socio-cultural environment through the Human Ecology Model.

Before traveling to northern Thailand, I was expecting the same type of vibe that Bangkok gave; I could not have been more wrong. Arriving in Chiang Mai felt more like going into a different country, rather than just domestically traveling. Although still a city, it was much more relaxed and calm than the hustle and bustle that big cities tend to encompass. This region seemed to be more country people and farmers as well; the driving was even different with a lot less traffic and aggression. I observed that this reflects the people of Northern Thailand and their laid back nature; they had pride in their work and they were proud to be from the north. As described above, both regions have differences in their cultures. However, one thing that cannot go unnoticed is the overlying theme of the preservation of traditions in each region. There are people in both regions that come from many ethnic backgrounds and care very deeply for these values and traditions. This demonstrates the acceptance that the Thai people have for each other and their unique culture in which they come from.  

Bridget***

I feel especially grateful for the opportunity I have had to converse about the many different aspects of Thai culture with this group of scholars. Toua shared personal insights to the Hmong culture here while providing intelligent contrasts to his Hmong family and culture back home. Marissa helped us analyze the cultural appropriation within the sociocultural aspect of the Human Ecology Model. Ellie highlighted the appreciation Thailand has for their youth’s educational system, and the diversity that knits it all together. Matthew pointed out the cultural differences between the various geographical locations in Thailand, and the influence of western culture on the modern parts versus the traditional preservation the smaller cities and villages hold. The exposure to multiculturalism within the educational systems, the hill tribes and villages, and the geographical locations has enriched each one of us with intelligence that we would not be able to find on our own. Multiculturalism surrounds us on a daily basis, and I believe this trip has made us more observant and appreciative of the diversity that makes up Thailand, and more importantly, our world.

 

Pha Nok Kok Hmong Village

Buddhism shaping an entire country’s acceptance

In my first week traveling throughout Thailand I felt an overwhelming sense of acceptance woven throughout their culture.   This sense of acceptance struck me as such a beautiful thing and truly warmed my heart especially because it is something we definitely lack in America.

When we visited the Suksasongkroh Chiangmai Dao School I was  impressed that there were over nine different cultural backgrounds coming together to basically grow up together and their ability to maintain their own traditions while still accepting everyone else’s.  I also loved that when we asked about their opinion on when a classmate comes out their response was that it’s not even an issue, everyone can love who they want to love.  This was similar to when we visited Pha Nok Kok village and asked the chief what his opinion was on homosexuality in the village and he responded that it’s not an issue either because that’s how the creator made you and they will accept that

I loved when we visited the temple in Wat Suan Dok and how we were welcome to go in and look around, yet no one said we had to bow to Buddha or do anything but be respectful.  I also thought it was really inspiring that during the chat on Buddhism, monk KK didn’t try converting anyone to his way of life, he just answered questions and talked about his perspective on life due to Buddhism. I’ve never sat down with a religious/cultural leader and not had them try to preach to me about why I should follow their way of life, so I really appreciated that.

Overall, there is a sense of acceptance that I have felt throughout all of our different experiences in Thailand. The experience is so palpable that it has been beautiful and inspiring. From personal observation, it seems like it is in direct correlation to the country’s practicing of Buddhism. Buddhism is completely immersed into the Thai culture. That being said, the people here are all seemingly accepting and loving.