Category Archives: 2017 Thailand Learning Abroad Blog

Thailand’s Human Ecology Model

The Human Ecology Model (HEM) is based on the interdependence of organisms (individuals and families) and the environmental systems with which they interact. Family is one of the most prevalent values among Thai people and the occupants of Thailand; no matter the culture or ethnicity of the person, family value has been emphasized repeatedly throughout our learning here. For this blog post I am going to focus on the socio-cultural environment aspect of the HEM, which includes the relationships, beliefs, language, laws, cultural values and norms, and the educational, political and religious systems.

The two relationships I have observed to be relevant in all of the places we’ve visited in Thailand are the relationships between parent and child, and the relationship between individual and Buddhism. Both of these relationships can be referred to as nested models, meaning that they are reciprocal, both parties are influenced by and influence each other. The relationship between parent and child is the result of the cultural belief and norm of respecting elders, and taking care of the family that took care of you.  Unfortunately, people in the Hill Tribes and villages do not have superb geographical access to education, so many families send their children away to boarding schools and usually only see them on holidays about twice a year, unless the student can visit during their semester breaks or if the family can visit during the weekends. Most of the youth here play a huge role in the functioning of their family system, providing child care for their younger siblings, helping out with chores around the house or on their land, and strengthening their bond with their family while living a simple and balanced life. Once the students graduate from their higher education, they will either move into the city for better occupational opportunities and send money back to their family, or move back home and reestablish  their  role in the family system.

The last aspect of the socio-cultural environment is the lifestyle that the people in Thailand shape after their Buddhist beliefs. The political, educational and religious systems in Thailand have a very heavy influence from the Buddhist beliefs such as living simply, maintaining inner peace, spreading compassion and acceptance, and karma. The people we have met encompass these values and live accordingly.

First Experiences in Thailand

If I were to describe my experience here in Thailand with one word, I would have to say unexpected, for it has undoubtedly been a bit of a bumpy ride. From floating markets to dangerous accidents, I can’t even fathom how much has already happened in just one week. There’s no way I will be able to share everything in this short blog, so I will just try to highlight the key events. I hope you find something interesting from all of this rambling!

In order to begin, I’ll have to back track and describe my first day here, which started at 7:00am on Monday, May 15th. I arrived far before the rest of the group who landed around midnight, meaning I had the entire day to explore by myself. Though I was excited to be independent, it was a bit rough as my luggage got stuck in Abu Dhabi, leaving me to explore Thailand wearing a three day old “Hollywood” T-shirt and no map. Fortunately, right as I found myself lost at a train station, I came across another solo traveler who invited me to go to the Grand Palace with him. The beauty was unlike anything I had ever seen before with statues of demon guards at the gate of the fortress and blue gems embroidered in the Buddhist temple. This is an example of the human built layer of the ecology model and after analysis, we can see how these buildings and interactions within reveal Thai culture as well. For instance, at the entrance, I was surprised by the modest rules that required me to purchase a sarong to cover my leggings. I could not believe that the socio-cultural ideology of respect was so strong that people would rather faint of heat than show their shoulders or legs. Another observation from my first day is that although most of the Thai people spoke English, it seemed as though it was disrespectful if I did not address them with, “sawadee ka.” Therefore, I made a special effort to become comfortable with this greeting as well as thank you or “kap kum ka.” I then visited the Floating Market in Bangkok, which is probably still my favorite experience to this day. I instantly fell in love with the tropical scenery along the river as well as the handicrafts sold by local vendors, which falls partially into the natural environment layer of the human ecology model. Furthermore, each of these layers impacts Thai families through interpersonal relationships as well as their hospitality for tourists.

Moving on to the first few group field trips… A couple of which really invoked reflection on my own beliefs and life goals. To begin, we went to a child safety program that taught us the 7 tips for travelers regarding orphanages in relation to human trafficking. I had no idea that orphanages were a type of exploitation as it turns out that 80% of the children actually have family members they could stay with, yet these institutions remain in business simply because they have become tourist attractions. The part that really resonates with me was the idea that people who travel abroad to provide “service” for “underprivileged” children may be actually doing more harm than help. This creates a conflict for me as one of my possible career paths is helping children in South America. I understand that regardless of our intentions, our actions and presence could indirectly convey imperialism and superiority, but being altruistic, I still want to believe that long term support could be beneficial if the focus is on community development and self-sufficiency. The next speaker that I related with was the monk, “Pra Kae Kae,” for his philosophical thoughts on Buddhism. I had always thought that Buddhism was a religion, but now I see that it is actually a psychological way of life that focuses on balance and gives thanks to Buddha for his wisdom. The monk’s socio-cultural emphasis on peace, happiness, and tranquility have really helped me through the following conflict of my trip…

Surprise, my friend and I got in a car crash. Something you would never expect, right? I know this might not be the normal or appropriate topic for this blog assignment, but after contemplation, I decided I wouldn’t be able to write a blog about Thailand without including this one little enormous factor. The car accident happened Saturday night, May 20th, at around 12:30am on our way home from a bar. We were stopped at a stop sign in a “red car” taxi (A hooded truck with side benches, no seat belts, and no back door), when I watched a white truck slam into us from behind. The head of another man in the taxi hit my forehead as I was flung backwards towards the front of the taxi. After the initial daze, I noticed that I was covered in blood from head to toe, the white truck was totaled, and the driver had disappeared. My friend got bruises and scratches but no severe injury. About an hour later, I received 16 stitches above my right eyebrow at the local Thai hospital and have had to wear gauze on my forehead ever since. I tried really hard to think of some message or lesson to take away from this and I just can’t. There was no way we could have predicted this nor any way to prevent it. It just happened. It made me think of how fast life could be taken, and how life goes on for others when it is. I’m still not sure if this means I should take risks because yolo or that I should be careful because everything is dangerous. I want to live by the former, but I’m scared now; still haunted by flashbacks of the crash.

The monk spoke about relaxing your mind and enjoying the simple things in life and the only thing I knew is that I didn’t want this misfortune to ruin the rest of my trip. I began taking things slow, not just because of my constant headache, but also because of my desire to find peace. The laid back lifestyle of Buddhism conflicts with my Western fast paced culture and I consciously have to keep reminding myself to breath and that this isn’t the end of the world; it could have been worse. Not that I have converted to Buddhism or anything, as I am still Christian, but I have a much deeper appreciation for the socio-cultural ideology that Thai people live by. Furthermore, my experience in Thailand has taken a different turn than others but has still been educational, analytical, and incredibly fun nonetheless. Ultimately, I hope everyone will someday have the chance to eliminate any subconscious biases they have by exposing themselves to the Thai culture, or really, any culture different from their own.

Continue reading First Experiences in Thailand

Would You Do This in Your Country?

On our first day in Thailand, we attended a Child Safe workshop, where we learned a lot about the exploitation of children in countries such as Thailand. It was extremely informative and I learned a lot. One thing that really stuck out for me was a talk by Marie, a Child Safe worker, about orphanages.

In Thailand, many tourists are given the opportunity to visit orphanages and spend time with the children (walking into the workshop, I never knew visiting orphanages was something you could do.). While this sounds like an amazing opportunity for those who truly love children in that they are able to give attention and affection to those without, it is extremely harmful and foster a cycle of child exploitation. According to UNICEF, 70-90% of the children in those orphanages are not orphans to begin with, 99% of those children have a living relative somewhere (this was extremely surprising to me. Being raised in America, I have come to expect that children in orphanages are in fact orphans. I am sure this applied to most tourists visiting so I can see why they would have less issues partaking in such activities). However, because of the profit orphanages make, many children are taken away from their parents or relatives with the promise of free education and place of residence for the child. The families are also usually compensated with rice (this is extremely sad, children have to pay the price for the profit of others. It is also sickening that orphanages profit by the exploitation of children and families in poverty).

Aside from most children in orphanages not being orphans, it also brings up the issue of qualification. While many people go to orphanages with the right intentions, most are not qualified to interact with the children. They do not have the training or education needed to interact with children in an institutional setting, especially those without a family. Children in orphanages usually have abandonment issues and need care that tourists are inadequate to give. When the tourists leave, it can make a child feel like they are being abandoned all over again. Children need regularity, not people who come and go (listening to Marie talk about all reasons why you should not go to an orphanage, it was all pretty self explanatory. Anyone with some common sense should be able to deduce that it is not appropriate, however, so many people are unable to and still go. Sadly, I could totally see myself being one of those people. I am not sure why just because it is offered in a country that people tend to think it’s ok, even though they would never do it in their own country).

In the United States, visitation from strangers in orphanages would never be allowed to happen. Orphanages are heavily regulated and maintained by the government. This begs the question, “why do you think you can in another country?” (Marie asked the group this question, and I honestly do not know. I’m not sure why my common sense goes out the door when I am in another country. I’ve also never really been aware of this fact until that workshop. But now that I am, I know that I will be a better traveler for it).

Overall, Thailand has been an amazing experience. I have learned so much and became a better traveler for it. I have also met so many great people along the way. I have been to Thailand many times before, but I can definitely say that this is one for the books.

Combating barriers

My experience in Thailand has exceeded any expectations I came in with. The country is so beautiful and I have learned so much about the diverse cultures here. This has made me notice and reflect on my own culture and privilege, and see how my previous experiences overlap with the ones I’ve had here.

The child safe training was one of the first things we attended in Thailand that really stands out to me. In my social work classes back in the U.S. one main focus is on marginalized communities and populations, and how we can assist in combating the barriers they face. Similar barriers but to different extremes happen in America such as poverty, substance abuse, physical abuse, mental illness, etc. After hearing from the local social worker in Thailand, I saw many intermingling approaches as well as differences.

A noticeable difference I found was the lack of resources and a lack of trained social workers in the community. The social worker said they have 8 social workers in their community, they each are responsible for set neighborhoods. This means that the social worker is responsible for a vast amount of client situations and needs. Compared to the U.S where social workers are given clients and or they work in institutions or organizations with set intervention strategies and resources they know and are practiced in. It seems to me the quality of care and necessary intervention may be compromised because the social workers have too many clients and situations to cover. More socialworkers could widley assist in continueing to combat the barriers and reach more marginalized people.

One prevalent similarity I found was their philosophy and approach to build up the family system and support the child and keep them within the family and culture. At home as a socal work student in Duluth we apply this approach to marginalized communities there. The Native American population has a history of being maginalized and the (ICWA) Indian Child Welfare Act that protects the child from being sent immediately to a foreign home by instead looking at the family support circle and working to keep the child in the home.  I found this so similar to the organization here in Thailand and their intent to keep the child with the family, and work on that support system instead of opening orhanages and removing children from homes.

It is apparent that communities and families all over the world face barriers and difficulties. I really stand behind the child safe organization and espeacially one of their intents  to work with the families and build that support system.

I am stoked to continue this journey and look forward to discovering more along the way!

 

The intimacy of food in Thailand

Image may contain: flower, plant, table and food

 

Food has always been an element of human existence that brings individuals together, it sustains life, it can bring forth great conversation, and for the Thais it is an intimate experience, from market to table.

On our tour through the fruit and vegetable market, I was enthralled by the countless stalls with heaps of fresh fruit and vegetables, the tanks nearly overflowing with unsuspecting fish soon to meet their fate, and the aroma of fresh fried treats waiting to be eaten for those in a hurry. The experience was so pure and so tempting (I wanted to buy just about everything…except fried chicken heads, I haven’t quite gotten on board with that yet…ahh the sensitive western pallet…it is still within me) As I walked through the stall I wondered how there could be so many vendors selling the same things day in and day out and not have most of their products spoil before they were even considered for purchase.

Luckily our guide stepped in before I even had to ask a question. He told us that historically people did not have a way to keep food fresh in Thailand’s relentlessly hot and humid climate. (Which makes sense, I mean I left a granola bar unattended for 45 minutes and the thing was unpalatably soggy…though I was able to choke it down with some peanut butter) That being said, the only way to enjoy fresh Thai cuisine in your house every day was to prepare the meal right before consumption. This meant going to the market 2 or 3 times a day to buy just enough for whatever was for lunch or dinner. And although the majority of Thai households have refrigerators now, this is a tradition that seems to stand for many.

To me this is truly a beautiful concept. You’re supporting your local “businesses”, spending significantly less than you would in a grocery store for great quality, and getting a fresh cooked meals every day instead of the dreaded leftovers in western society. In my eyes, this makes food a very intimate thing, to go through the careful process of choosing a recipe, selecting your fresh ingredients for that day, cooking the recipe, and then sitting down to enjoy it family style is so wholesome and beautiful in my mind. (although I am sure there are many ‘white collar’ families that may not have this luxury) From my previous trip to Thailand, I learned that eating ‘family style’ is almost exclusively what people do here. They all sit down to a meal to share and talk about their days, in fact, I’ve seen many large circular tables equipped with lazy susans just to serve to this eating style in Thai homes. (Something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in the US and I’ve been in my fair share of suburban households)

I compare this to food preparation in the US and I am severely underwhelmed by our current process as it is far less romantic. You go to Costco (can I get a hooray for screamin’ deals and bulk peanut butter?!?!) buy basically what you need for the month, make a big recipe to last the week, maybe order some pizza or Chinese takeout to break up the monotony of yet another night of Mom’s reheated hotdish, and repeat the process again next month.

Am I saying one process in the grand scheme of things is better than the other? No, they both have their downfalls and they both have their inherent ‘perks’. What I’m saying is, given the choice, I would much prefer going to a fresh market at least once a day to prepare a new and exciting dish to eat rather than meal prep (no offense Mom, your hotdishes are superb in their own realm). In my opinion, the Thai culture surrounding food is one that I hope to implement to a certain degree in my own life. Although my current western accommodations don’t allow for daily market trips, I hope to make an effort to buy from farmer’s markets and to be more mindful about food preparation and eventual consumption hopefully with the other members of my household.

Image may contain: foodImage may contain: fruit and food

Blog Post #2 // Liz

Wherever you may find yourself in the world there is always a public health issue or initiative to be discovered. As I set off on my first trip to Asia I was looking forward to identifying the public health issues that Thailand faces and also to seeing the ways that they are promoting public health throughout their communities.
As we boarded our bus at the airport upon arrival I immediately noticed that there was a sign at the front reminding us to fasten our seat belts. I was impressed to see this and it only raised my excitement level as I had my first taste of a positive public health promotion initiative in Thailand.
I got the chance to dig deeper into one of the many challenges that Thailand faces on our very first day in Bangkok as I attended the ChildSafe Workshop. During this workshop we learned about the human trafficking issues that many children in Thailand deal with. I was shocked to learn that nearly 90% of children living in orphanages actually have one or more parents alive and that they are trafficked into orphanages in order to make money off of tourists. During the workshop we were given a pamphlet with 7 things to remember in order to be a Child Safe traveler. I was very impressed by the amount of knowledge that the organization had and by the amount of effort they put into spreading awareness.
I have also been impressed by Thailand’s sexual health promotion on several occasions throughout the trip. As I was buying a chocolate bar at the gas station across the street from our hotel one night I noticed that the register displays contained boxes of condoms rather than the tabloid magazines you commonly find in the United States. I was also happy to hear that at the Chiang Dao school we visited there are comprehensive sexual health education courses taught to all of the students. It seems to me that Thailand is very proactive in their curriculum and that they are doing a great job of providing health information for students.
One final thing that I have noticed during our time traveling throughout different cities is that there are several building dedicated to public health services. I have seen an office for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an office run by the World Health Organization and the teachers at the school visit told us there was a public health community clinic located nearby. I am somewhat surprised, but very glad to see that Thailand seems to have the infrastructure needed to tackle the public health challenges it may be facing.
As we continue our trip I am really looking forward to our visit to the Cabbages and Condoms Restaurant that promotes family planning and HIV/AIDS prevention. Public health problems are inevitable, but awareness and action are necessary to limit their detrimental effects.

 

 

Blog 2: First Week In Thailand!

Sawatdee, Ka! This first week has been a rollercoster of activities. We started out with the longest plane ride I’ve ever been on. Once in Bangkok we went to a Child Safe Workshop. In the morning we woke up and had an unusual breakfast. The food was regular breakfast, but on top of it there was curry, rice, bread, sushi and more. Once breakfast was over it was back on the plane to Chaing Mai.

In Chaing Mai we went to a Khan Toke Dinner. This was a traditional Thai dinner to welcome us to Thailand. We sat on the floor and leaned back as we ate authentic cuisine and watched traditional dance preformances.

The next day we went to a local market, it was a little like a farmers market. This was so different than what we see in the U.S. Usually we see veggies and fruits ,  as well as some canned goods. However, one thing we don’t see — entire animals on slabs of ice. There were also fresh fish that they butchered right in front of you. We were going to a cooking class and needed some coconut cream. The cook ordered us 5 lbs of the cream. We got to sit and watch as the man made the cream. The coconut was carved and then shredded, finally moved to the juicer. It  was really awesome to see “how it was made” right there at the market.

The food we made at the cooking school was Tomyum Soup,

Padthai,

Phanaeng Curry

and Mangos with Sticky rice.

Every recipe was different. The food had more flavor and spiciness than I am used to. It was also interesting because there was a good amount of things that went into the soup that were uneatable. This is something not typically found in most American houses.

The food by far has been a favorite. I can’t wait to see how breafast changes everyday.  It’s going to have to beat the Thai donuts with dipping sauce that has been apart of our meal for 4 days. Tomorrow we headout of Chaing Mai and into our village. Can’t wait!

 

Blog #2: Same, Same, but Different – Anna Borromeo

Sawatdee ka!

The first week in Thailand has already come and gone, and I have already learned so much. As a Filipino-American, I have been finding myself constantly comparing my observations in Thailand to the United States and the Philippines. A common phrase heard in Thailand is “same, same, but different,” and I think this phrase accurately describes my experience in Thailand thus far.

When we first arrived in Bangkok, my initial observations were of the road infrastructure. I was really impressed by the construction of the highways and organization of traffic. I found it different to the Philippines but similar to the US, except that the lanes and driver’s side switched. On one of the first nights, I realized the difficulty of crossing streets as traffic seemed to be never-ending as we constantly had to check left and right. However, the drivers rarely honk, and they are not really as aggressive as those in the Philippines.

One thing I recently realized is the influence of the primary religion/philosophy on the people. In the Philippines, Roman Catholicism significantly influences the interactions between people and also the government. In the US, there is much diversity when it comes to religion, but Christianity is claimed to be the majority. We learned that in Thailand, 95% of the population is Buddhist. During our monk chat and visit to the local temple, Wat Suan Dok, we learned more about how Buddhism is a philosophy not a religion. Buddhism focuses on the belief in karma, what goes around comes around, and the practice of meditation and concentration. Pra KK emphasized that the future is impermanent and balance of the mind and body is key. Therefore, one should not be stressed. One should be simple, calm, take it easy. Through my experiences and interactions with local people this past week, I can observe the Buddhist philosophy within them as people are soft-spoken and move at a slower pace (which I even observed in their traditional dances). The Thai people are so friendly, respectful, welcoming, and peaceful!

A couple of my favorite outings were the traditional Khantoke dinner and the Thai cooking class in the beautiful landscape of Chiang Mai.

This post is just a snippet of all the great things and experiences we have had the past week. I have thoroughly enjoyed each outing (and meal because the food here is delicious!). I am looking forward to more learning experiences over the next two weeks!

Blog Post #2 “The Respect Elders Deserve” – Matthew Fuller

One thing that really struck me in my first week in Thailand was the idea of socio-cultural environment through the Human Ecology Model. The socio-cultural environment can be described as relationships, beliefs, language, laws, and cultural values and norms. I find this idea a lot different in Thailand than in the United States. For instance, I feel that in Thailand the elders are much more respected and are looked upon as people with wisdom and experiences that can benefit the community. I am not saying it is non-existent in the U.S. but it seems to be much more apparent here in the culture. One experience I had was when we visited the Chiang Dao School, the kids were so awesome and extremely respectful of their teaches and faculty. They were not only respectful to them but also to us foreigners, always properly greeting and staying engaged. It was really cool to see. I think this is extremely important due to the fact not only can you learn from the experiences and wisdom of an elder, but I believe it brings a sense of unity and foundation for a  strong community.

Another thing I have noticed is the diversity in Thailand. There are so many rich cultures in Thailand that are so different from each other.   It seems that everyone has a sense of Thai nationality, but also has rich traditions that are unique to their specific culture. It was also saddening to hear that minority groups are discriminated by some Thai people.  When visiting Pha Nok Kok village I was immersed in the Hmong  culture and was blown away about their traditions and culture. I loved how I could relate differences and similarities to my own culture to a culture that I had no prior knowledge of before this trip. It was an unforgettable experience to say the least. I found it also really cool to see the Hmong students in the group get to speak with the locals of the village. My fellow classmate Sia, did a wonderful job translating to English for a village elder as he was speaking to us.

Overall, the first week has been a truly eye opening and an experience incomparable to anything that I have ever done. I have met so many wonderful people and learned so many things that I cannot wait to see what the next weeks are like!

Photo of Acharn Cathy and my classmates and I with students of the Chang Dao School.

 

First week in Thailand!

Thailand has been an absolutely amazing experience so far. Our days are jam-packed full of activities and it has kept me on my toes. The essence of Thailand is vastly different than the essence of America. The people here are all so hospitable.  Some people believe that respect is earned, while others believe respect is a given until proven otherwise. Everyone here seemingly believes that everyone deserves respect. Although Minnesota is known as the nice state, a lot of people aren’t naturally warm and kind towards strangers (especially in other states).  The people here are so refreshing with their warm nature and value of kindness and compassion.  America values independence. I do align with independence and doing things for myself, but I also love that in Thailand, people seem to look out for each other. The community is more cohesive than individualized. I am not saying one country is better than the other in this context, but I really do appreciate the mentality here. Moreover,  people just do tasks more organically over here. They aren’t anxiety driven about the future or doing things in the fastest way. For example, we visited a Hmong hill tribe village yesterday and they showed us how to make cloth for clothes and other products from scratch. We were shown the process of using the hemp that they plant and how to make it conducive for clothes, purses, blankets, etc.  The process   took time and concentration. It was beautiful to see that not everyone only cares about mass production and making money, but that people still do things the “old fashion way”. Below is a picture of the hemp being made into cloth in the Hmong village:

Going to the Buddhist temple and talking with a monk has been the experience that has catalyzed me to be the most introspective thus far. Learning about Buddhism from the source was so informative and touching. We learned that Buddhism is a philosophy, rather than a religion. Kay Kay was the name of the monk we talked to. Kay Kay explained to us that the key elements of Buddhism are to live your life with, love, compassion, peace and happiness. He explained that everyone suffers, but to combat suffering, we must acknowledge it and let it. Then, spread those elements into the world. Although I know that everyone suffers, it was nice to be reaffirmed that nobody  lives their lives without suffering. We get so caught up in wanting happier lives and less suffering because we think that other people have it easier than us and that we were for some reason cursed. We compare our lives to others instead of focusing on how we can find inner peace and happiness, and letting go of the things that make us suffer. I think that focusing on love and happiness is what the world needs. Kay Kay explained that anyone can follow Buddhism because it is just a philosophy to love by. I am Jewish, but I still find myself aligning with Buddhist elements and way of being. I am a very existential thinker, and it was a good reminder to hear that these elements are the aspects that will make suffering diminish. We cannot control everything, but we can control letting it go and stopping it from consuming us. Kay Kay was such a good reminder of how I can live in a happier and healthier way. Kay Kay also touched upon living in the moment. I align with this idea more than anything. I truly wish that more people were conscious of this idea. I think a lot of people live their lives acting like they have all the time in the world even though they don’t. He talked about the idea of a “one day life”. We should live in the moment because that is all we have. Having this concept reiterated was inspiring, and I am thankful I got to have that opportunity.