Category Archives: 2017 Thailand Learning Abroad Blog

Gratitude

Hey everyone! I thought about doing a couple different topics, some more along the lines of tangible objects, like water. But for me, I think the idea of gratitude was a larger overarching theme that I felt. Even with tangible items like water and how we take tap water and freshwater so for granted at home.

I am grateful to be here. Opening my eyes to the beauty around me, connecting with new people that have very different skills and talents, and learning so much every day. I am grateful to have this opportunity and to see some things that most people don’t see. I am halfway across the world, flying in on a plane, which many people don’t do, to see things like elephants, waterfalls, beautiful villages, and more. I am so lucky for this. Seeing these types of beauties is a very rare thing for most people.

I am also grateful for what I see here and comparing it to what I have at home. Wow, I am so thankful to have fresh water at home, toilet paper in bathrooms, cleanliness, and modern-ness in our cities and homes. Public transportation as well is a huge plus. It makes you realize that you really have it pretty good.

I am also grateful for communication. Wow, not being able to communicate has shown me how necessary this is to humanity. All I want to do is talk to the people here and give them love and kindness, so that is definitely hard to do with few words known. But, I’ve also learned and have been grateful for the ability to use non-verbal cues. These are so important and I am so happy they exist.

I am grateful for the people I have met here. Everyone is in different majors so it would have been hard to meet them, so it is cool to be in one place with these people. It pushes me to step outside my comfort zone and connect with people in a new way. And I’ve met some people that I really hope stay in my life as well!

Finally, I am grateful for who I am becoming when I am here. I have learned how to handle my anxiety better, I am becoming more worldly, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the positivity that I will take away from this and the gratitude for all that I have.

Grateful for the things I have seen!

I am very lucky. And so, so grateful!

Grateful to have met these people!

Hi, my name is Griffin.

My Name is Griffin Conway and I am a senior studying finance and accounting. I really love the outdoors and am an avid fisherman, but also enjoy a plethora of other activities including rock climbing, hiking and snowboarding. My main goal for this study abroad is to really get an understanding of what the Thai culture is like and to try and see it from as unbiased an opinion as possible. I have done some traveling outside the United States, but I feel this trip will be the one with the largest “culture shock”. I am excited to learn about the sustainability efforts that Thailand has been putting forward, as well as see the impact development has had on their wildlife.

Hi, I’m McKenna!

My name is McKenna Turner, and I’m a senior majoring in Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences. I visited Italy during my freshman year but that was my first time traveling beyond North America. I’m excited to experience a place and culture very different from my own which is a main reason I chose this study abroad experience! Also, I’m looking forward to trying different food and meeting people from Thailand. I’m very passionate about the environment, so I’m interested in observing their sustainability practices. In my free time, I like to read, so I’m hoping to get through at least a few books on the plane rides. I can’t wait to leave tomorrow!

(I’m not sure why this font is so big…)

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.