Category Archives: 2018 Thailand Learning Abroad Blog

Human Trafficking

There are four members in our group named Jess Bacon, Greta Mertes, Matt Reiser, and Sophie Meads. I am Jess Bacon and my major at the University of Minnesota in Business Marketing with a minor in Management. I came on this trip to experience Thailand and to learn about the culture of the people here. I chose to have the topic of human trafficking because I have always been fascinated by this issue and how the types of trafficking vary by country. My original perception of this problem coming to Thailand was that children were mainly taken for either slavery or prostitution.

My name is Sophie Meads and I am a Family Social Sciences Major at the University of Minnesota, College of Education and Human Development.  I chose to come to Thailand this summer for study abroad because I wanted to experience a culture very different from my own to push myself and see a part of the world I had yet to explore.  Travel has always been a passion of mine and I love to experience as much diversity as possible, gaining world knowledge about people from all over. Child trafficking is an issue that I am passionate about given how large and quickly the trafficking industry continues to grow, and how many populations it is affecting. It is an issue that needs worldwide awareness and a global effort so I want to do whatever part I can. My original perceptions of child trafficking were that this is an issue that is not particularly affecting one place or population and that child trafficking can look a variety of different ways making it difficult to conquer.

My name is Matt Reiser. I’m majoring in Accounting and Finance with a minor in Business Law.  I chose to come to Thailand originally because it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  As the trip came close and I was able to learn what we were going to do on the trip, I became more excited about being able to see the world from a different perspective for a couple weeks.  I chose the topic of Child Trafficking because of how prevalent this issue is in Thailand and around the world. My original perception of Trafficking was the typical view of a person being taken and sold as some sort of slave.  I also thought that it only happened in developing countries.

Hi, my name is Greta Mertes and I am ending my sophomore year with an experiential learning experience in Thailand. At the University of Minnesota, I am a Family Social Science major with a minor in Spanish. For my topic in Thailand I chose to go more in depth on an issue that doesn’t only find itself in this country but also occurs across international boundaries: sex trafficking and more specifically child trafficking for manual labor or sexual exploitation. I chose to look further into this topic because I didn’t know how prevalent this issue was nor how to identify/go about handling situations that could potentially be exploitation of a child. Prior coming to Thailand, my expectation was that child exploitation was going to be more explicit and obvious; however since being here, I have learned about the implicit ways that children may be coerced or forced to remain in exploited ways that my group talks about below.

Human trafficking is a worldwide problem that isn’t specific to a particular country, but rather an issue that crosses borders and creates a system of its own. There are an estimated 215,000 Cambodian migrants in Thailand, and about 130,000 of those migrants are undocumented, and 15,000 of those are children. Children who are at risk for trafficking come from families in poverty, are often time unemployed and undocumented, therefore minimizing their protection from exploitation. Many of these children are taken from Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and northern areas of Thailand. As trafficking gains popularity, these children are being brought to larger, popular tourist locations. Due to the children not being documented, it is more difficult for the government to monitor the movement of children across borders. According to the article that we read before coming to Thailand,  Human traffickers can make promises of financial gain and a better life to either the children or the families from poverty-stricken areas. From there, traffickers may break their promises and exploit the children through manual labor, sexual abuse, and using them for street begging.

As part of our experience in this course, we attended a Child Safe Workshop to educate government centers, tourists, and businesses about the potential dangers of unknowingly contributing to the exploitation of children. Child Safe works with kids who are at risk to protect their rights and providing them with resources to prevent further trafficking incidents. When these children come to the country, it is hard for the documented citizen which makes them more at risk. Even though these children are not documented citizens, Child Safe works to give them the same protection that documented children receive. They also work with neighboring countries such as Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar because they recognize that this is an international problem that is not constricted by borders. They work with and train government staff and centers to be aware of signs of human trafficking because they do not have reliable power to deal with these issues on their own. Corruption in the government is a problem that Child Safe may face when combating human trafficking. Since these human trafficking organizations have been gaining power throughout Thailand and surrounding countries, they may have the financial resources to convince corrupt government officials to turn a blind eye to this issue.

The Child Safe Workshop that we attended provided our class with seven tips to be mindful tourists when traveling around Thailand. Three tips that we found to be especially significant as a tourist are “Children are not tourist attractions, let’s not treat them like they are”, “Volunteering with children feels good but could be harmful – look for better ways to help them”, and lastly “Children pay the price for your generosity – don’t give to begging children”. Often as foreigners, we put children on a pedestal and want to spend time with them, so people will visit child institutions such as schools and orphanages. As an outsider coming into a different environment, we can perceive kids similar to a zoo animal; something to temporarily look at and interact with. We may take photos with them and “try to change their lives,” but end up objectifying them as something we enjoy, instead of the person that they are. Throughout the workshop, we were challenged to think about a foreigner coming into our kids’ schools and taking pictures with them, objectifying them, and potentially exploiting their rights. The second tip that we found important emphasizes the idea of volunteering and around the damage that can be reinforced by temporarily volunteering. Children from an unstable family life may have developed attachment issues and insecurities, or experienced past trauma,  making future relationships that much more fragile. When volunteers come into the lives of vulnerable children, it is important they develop a long-lasting, secure relationship. If a volunteer develops this relationship with a child but isn’t there for a prolonged amount of time, may reinforce pre existing attachment issues that a child might have already been dealing with. Finally, the third tip revolves around the idea that providing these resources to children may contribute to either the cycle of poverty in Thailand or to the traffickers that own the child. If the child learns that they can get money from begging, they could lose the incentive to attend school and to make money that capitalizes on their strings. Along with that, traffickers may take the money that the children received off of the streets, for their financial gain. Overall, we found that these tips educated us on the explicit and implicit ways that human traffickers and tourists exploit children.

Initially, we all had the idea that it would be easy to identify children being exploited in Thailand but we learned that there are many underground ways that these organizations can function. Whether this includes taking a picture with a child to objectify a person, giving them short attention, or giving money to a child begging, these are all versions of how the tourist industry contributes to child exploitation. The child-safe workshop provided us with great information to ensure that we were mindful tourists throughout this trip. Child trafficking is an issue in America as well, so we can incorporate these teachings into our everyday life so that we are not contributing to this issue.

Our Experience with Indigenous Peoples in Thailand

Our Experience with Indigenous Peoples in Thailand

Sawatdee Ka!  We would like to start by giving you a quick introduction to our group!  My name is Brenda. My gender pronouns are she/her/hers and I identify as Hmong-American. My name is Gao Zer Nancy Xiong. I am majoring in Family Social Science and use the pronouns she/her/hers. Hi, my name is Genevieve Locke, and I am studying strategic communication with an emphasis in advertising. My name is Lydia and I am an upcoming senior double-majoring in Psychology and Family Social Science.  We will never forget the people here, especially those we visited in hill tribe villages as they shared their lives and culture with us.


Throughout our time in Thailand, our studies have been heavily focused on ethnic minority groups, and hill tribes.  While here we have gotten the opportunity to visit both a Hmong and Karen village, visit a Hmong student group at Chiang Rai Rajabhat University, visit the Chang Dao primary school, and engage in discussion with the Hill Area Development Foundation, who focus on social justice initiatives for vulnerable hill tribes.  Of all these experiences, the main themes that emerged were that of pressures to assimilate to Thai culture, the generational divide between the younger generation and elders, the role of community-based tourism, and the implications of stateless.

Because many of our experiences are based on interactions with students from these communities, we have seen how they balance Thai culture with their native traditions and the challenges this can create.  One of the biggest challenges is the pressure to assimilate into Thai culture.  This stems from ethnic students attending schools in which the majority of the students are Thai.  Because of this, language barriers then become apparent as schools are taught in Thai therefore students from hill tribes must learn to speak Thai, but have no designated space to continue practicing their native language.  This combination can lead to students merging languages

as was common when speaking with the students in the Hmong student group at Chiang Rai Rajabhat University.  Another outcome of pressured assimilation to the Thai language, is loss of native language skills.  Speaking to the chief of Pha Nok Kok Hmong Village many Hmong students that leave the village to go to school in the city loose language skills.  Language is the main way we saw pressure to assimilate, but there are many other pressures as society continues to change and Thailand experiences the impacts of globalization.

For this reason, there is an increasing effort by schools to offer programs that help ethnic minority students preserve their traditional culture.  At Chiang Rai Rajabhat University we met with the Hmong student group which is one way that students at a Thai university can connect back to their ethnic heritage.  In the club, students participate in traditional Hmong activities such as pov pob (ball tossing), ncuav (pounding rice patties), outreach to other hill tribes, and educating outside groups, such as us, about Hmong culture and traditions.  Additionally, these Hmong students wear their traditional clothing for special occasions, which we got to see first-hand when visiting.  When visiting the Chang Dao School, a school that primarily serves

 low-income students from hill tribes, students were also wearing traditional clothing.  Because of the large population of hill tribe students, the school encourages students to wear their traditional ethnic clothing on Fridays as a way preserve culture and create a sense of solidarity between students of the same communities.

We also visited the Hill Area Development Foundation (HADF) and learned about their initiatives to help schools preserve student’s identities as members of hill tribes when attending Thai schools.  One of these such programs, centers on the traditional food from the hill tribes.  The organization polled hill tribe students in the area about their favorite ethnic foods and used those findings to organize a cookbook to distribute to local teachers.  This cookbook’s purpose is to make these students more comfortable integrating into the Thai school system, to make sure ethnic minority students can preserve connections to their culture, and to combat the integration of unhealthy food into these student’s diets.

Along with the HADF, there are preservation efforts being made within the hill tribe communities as well.  One of the ways in which they engage in this preservation is through community-based tourism.  Community-based tourism provides hill tribe communities with the opportunity to share their culture with outside communities in a structured way as well as create financial opportunities so less young people need to move away for jobs.  While visiting the Karen village, we learned about their community-based tourism program that allows a few tourists to come to the village at a time, stay in the village, and learn about their weaving and agricultures processes.  This structure helps to combat the threat of tourists taking over the area or culture through processes such as gentrification.  The products made from weaving can then be sold to help create one source of income for the community.

While each of our experiences has taught us about the challenges hill tribes face and the efforts to combat those challenges, these are not representative of all experiences of hill tribe members.  Throughout learning about these communities and their culture one of the biggest themes we noticed and want to acknowledge is the resilience and resourcefulness of ethnic minority populations.  The ways in which these communities balance both Thai culture and their indigenous culture is admirable especially when students face such a large pressure to assimilate.  We are grateful to the communities that welcomed us and allowed us to become more culturally aware while learning about their language, traditions, and communities.

The End of a Chapter

As the end of our trip is quickly approaching, I can’t help but think back on all of the amazing memories that we’ve made together as a group thus far, as well as the memories we’ve made with the inspirational and often quite humorous people we’ve met.  From KK, the Buddhist monk, to the Mexican-Thai chef, every person we’ve interacted with along the way has had an impact on our development in some way or another.  What stands out to me when I think back on our experiences isn’t the food or the views, it’s always the individuals that we were able to form personal and intimate connections with during our activities here in Thailand.


It didn’t matter whether the people we interacted with were two years old at the Hmong school or 75 years old leading us up a mountain, each of them had something to teach us and something valuable to take away from the interaction.  Even just meeting people for a couple hours a day, I was able to take something away from every experience.  Without even realizing it, I’ve grown and changed so much in the span of three weeks that it’s hard to even imagine my life before meeting these people.

KK taught us the value of balance and the need to take care of your mind in order to lead a truly happy and healthy lifestyle.  The elders at the Karen village taught us that lessons can be taught without the use of words as well as the value of patience.  The children at the schools taught us how to have fun and deeply connect with people through craft and music despite difficult language barriers.  Even our guides, our beloved Beer, Nett, and Eve, taught us the value of relationships and how important it is to stay true to your unique personality.

In addition to the numerous people who we’ve met here, I feel incredibly lucky to have added 14 new people from the US to my list of friends.  It’s not often that you get a group of people who mesh so well together.  I feel as though I’ve developed such a deep connection with each person in our group and that each one of them has taught me things about life and about myself.  From sharing our worries and hardships over lunch to a game of charades before bedtime, I will cherish every memory, both big and small, that I’ve made here.

While we’ve been learning overtly about Thai culture and many incredible organizations throughout the country, we’ve also subconciously been learning about ourselves and how to be better global individuals.  I truly hope that the growth and progress we’ve experienced on this trip stays with us and is able to easily translate to our lives back home.  One thing that I know we all home to implement is KK’s philosophy, “Let it be, let it go.”  I think that quote sums up our trip as a whole: accepting things as they come and not being distraught when they don’t turn out as we initially hoped they would.

The saying often goes that a country is the sum of its people.  It’s difficult to truly understand that until you travel and connect with the people who call that place home.  The welcoming and open spirit of the Thai people will stay with me forever, and I hope one day to return and get to see their smiling faces again.

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Home to many people is a place that brings you joy or people that gives you comfort. We search for a community to belong to, seeking others to make us feel whole. Thailand for the past 3 weeks has been home to me and I think it will always be. Through the people I’ve meet, the organizations I have partake in, and the culture I’ve engaged with, I’ve reconnected with my identity and learned about cultures that I have fallen in love with.

As a Hmong-American, I’ve struggled with my dual identity. Never feeling “Hmong” enough and not feeling “American” enough. In order to fit into the “American” culture I neglected my culture and was ashamed of it. I chose to not speak my native tongue: Hmong with my Hmong peers so that I wouldn’t be looked down upon. I chose to not learn about my Shaman religion and Hmong customs because I didn’t see a reason for it. Thailand changed it all.

Pha Nok Kok Village was the first Hmong encounter I had on this trip. I had the honor to meet the Hmong people of this village and the opportunity to see their way of life. As I was translating and communicating with the Hmong elders, I realized how important language is. Language allows people to connect with one another. One of the student from the Hmong Club of Chiang Rai Rajabhat University said that “although we are from different parts of the world, one thing we have in common is our Hmong language because we’re able to feel a sense of familiarity with that”. Being able to translate and communicate with all the Hmong individuals I have meet on this trip has reminded me why it’s so important to know my Hmong history, culture, and language.

Seeing different organizations such as the Karen Village and the Hmong Club of Rajabhat University working to preserve their indigenous culture has sparked me an interest of mine which is working with Hmong Organizations to preserve and educate our youth on the Hmong culture. There is richness in every culture. Thailand has allowed me to recognize the richness of my Hmong culture and all the cultures that we have encountered.

The past 3 weeks in Thailand have been pure happiness, learning, and warmth from those that I have encountered. Thank you Thailand for allowing me to find reconnect with my identity and helping me discover a passion of mine. I know this won’t be the last time here.

-Brenda Khang


The Beautiful Teachings of Buddhism

I used to think happiness was achieved when I made it to the American dream. Whether that included a big house, a happy family, nice cars, and exceptional vacations. I was happy before this trip to Thailand, I’ve been happy on during the duration of this trip, and I intend to be happy in the future. After talking with a monk named KK in Chiang Rai, achieving happiness in the future will be different from how I originally intended to find it. Western culture revolves around stress, long hours, and negative attitudes. Don’t get me wrong, there are many significant aspects of western civilization, but I feel like many people could benefit from the teachings of Buddhism.

Initially, I thought Buddhism was a religion, and to only practice Buddhism, you needed to attend temples and to believe in its God. Buddhism is a way of life, and the key to this “religion” is finding the perfect balance. The ideal balance entails finding peace between your mind and body. Before this trip, I pushed the limits on working out some days and overly stressed myself out in school. However, at the end of your lifetime, what will matter most? Will it be the experiences that you’ve lived through, the people you surround yourself with, or the amount of money that you have? When you put that idea into perspective, the hours of stressing and working long hours of the day won’t matter when you’re laying on your death bed.

Continuing, after that hour-long talk, I’m going to start achieving happiness a lot differently. I will try my hardest to have an excellent job to provide for my future family, but I will also prioritize myself also. Meditation will solely be the reason for this difference. During high school and my first half of college, my mental health and focus was never a priority. Now, when life becomes too overwhelming, I will meditate. It was the critical teaching that KK touched on and I never truly realized the importance of it.

Along with meditation, KK also informed us of the idea of suffering. Before, I would do anything in my power to avoid pain. I also hated the idea of death and fearing those that I’m closest to, passing away. But death is a part of life, and it’s important to learn how to accept it. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be sad about the person passing away, but it’s important to understand that death is a way of life. Trust the relationship that you have with that person and remember the memories that you have with them forever.

Lastly, KK talked about the idea that you can’t dwell on the past, you need to accept that it happens and move on. Hearing this statement brought me back to the times in high school where the most unimportant event occurred, and I would act like the world is ending. My dad would always tell me that I was focusing on something that was in the past and that there was nothing in my power that could change it. You can only control the future and trust that your good intentions and values, will bring you wisdom in those hard times. There is just no need to focus your time and energy in those times, and they won’t matter when you’re at the end of your life. Going forth, I will focus on the positives in my life and not dwell on the past.

Overall, these few teachings that I learned from Buddhism will help guide my future to everlasting happiness. I’m determined to return back to America with a new mindset in life, that will help focus my energy and time to what is essential, and I couldn’t be happier to learn this in Thailand. Truly a memory that will last forever and will ultimately change my life, eternally thankful.

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.


Market Comparisons

Throughout my journey in Thailand I have learned about the culture through experiences and observations. In this blog post I will be focusing on the atmosphere and way of life I have examined in the Thai markets and how they compare and contrast with markets in America.
When we first arrived to Bangkok, I ventured down the street with some of my classmates to explore the area near our hotel. My first observation was there was an overwhelming amount of stores and produce stands in a compacted area. I began wondering how certain stands compete with one another in the produce market due to similar products offered. My second observation was the prices are extremely cheap, and many stands give the same prices for produce due to a price competition. In Bangkok the stands and markets have minimal setup costs and most of the business comes from fresh produce, which is rare to find in Minnesota unless you find a farmers market in the summer. In America, it is often hard for small pop up businesses to stay in the market because of the competition and high prices to keep a store running. For similar products in America, the prices can vary if the stores are not close to one another.
The market area in Chang Mai was larger than the market I observed in Bangkok. There were more products offered such as art, clothes and other items being sold. When my classmate and I were walking down the street, the vendors were extremely aggressive and were trying to pursued us to purchase products at an extremely high price. Acharn Cat informed us to bargain with the vendors in these types of markets, because most of the time the price markup is excessive. After bargaining and purchasing a few products I wondered if locals are used to bargaining with vendors on the daily. I have never bargained in America; the price of a product is usually non negotiable.
In Chang Rai, the market was smaller than I expected. The main difference I noticed between the markets in Chang Mai and Chang Rai was the attitudes and forceful actions from the vendors. In Chang Rai, the workers let you browse and examine products without trying to influence you to purchase the product which I enjoyed.
The most captivating observation and comparison between the different markets and cities was the different atmosphere of the markets. When first arriving to Thailand, I assumed most of the cities would have similar markets and ways of selling products to customers but I was wrong. It depends on the location (if it is a tourist spot like the market in Chang Rai versus a local area like the produce stand in Bangkok), the amount of competition between vendors and similarities of products, and the products you are searching for. Purchasing produce and products in Thailand and America are extremely different and have more differences than similarities. Although bargaining can be exhilarating at times, I feel as if it would get exhausting to do daily. However, that is the culture in Thailand and I am still adjusting to that aspect of their communities.


Example of products in Chang Mai

Chang Mai Market

Bangkok Market

Keeping Culture Alive

We were lucky enough to visit two villages in Thailand: a Hmong village in Chiang Mai and a Karen village in Chiang Rai. Looking back on these two separate occasions, I really admire the preservation of their cultures while being away from home. In both cases, the villagers lived in the mountains and were surrounded by people of the same culture. Seeing these villages made me understand the struggles of what it could be for a culture to immigrate and start acclimating into another culture.

The Hmong culture originated from China and they are now having to adjust their life in thailand while keeping their traditions alive. It was interesting to hear how in both villages, the villagers are worried about the younger generations. It’s typical for the younger students to go the university in the city in order to get an education that can help them earn money in a job. It was really cool hearing the perspective from the elders because they are scared the younger generations won’t come back to the village and therefore lose their primary culture/tradition. Yet, I was interpreting that the reason the children leave is to help support their families back in the village. I took this as contradictory viewpoints. It seems like there is a lot of pressure on these kids to acclimate to Thai culture while still staying true to their home culture. I really clicked with visiting these villages because I was comparing my grandmother’s experience when she immigrated and how it was for my mom to balance these two cultures. My grandmother spoke only in Greek to her and expected her to work with my grandpa at his restaurant, yet my mom wanted to venture out and explore other things like sports, for example.

While these scenarios aren’t the same, the balancing if cultures really stuck out to me. Seeing two of my Hmong classmates interact with their native culture in Thailand., made me really appreciate those who integrate two cultures. I think it’s so important to stay true to who you are, but it’s also so impressive to see how these people manage these expectations from both sides.

I think this resonates with current immigrants in the US. Immigrants who come to the US are already expected to know some English and completely acclimate to the western culture but also want to keep their native culture alive while being in the States. It really is such a difficult thing to accomplish: the balance. Seeing these villages made me appreciate how much they hold onto their native culture because there is a huge push to westernize or to conform to the country’s culture. I loved seeing their traditions and daily life rituals that makes their native Hmong or Karen cultures so powerful!

Special Education in Thailand

I have been really interested in learning more about what special education looks like in Thailand and seeing how it compares to my knowledge of special education in the USA. It’s been really interesting to go to the various schools so far in Thailand and ask them about how their special education system is set up. I have been surprised at the variety of answers of how schools work with special education and students with disabilities. So far, I have found that students with special needs and disabilities in general are worked with differently in Thailand and the USA. When I asked more specific questions at schools, there seemed to be a disconnect of the definition of disability. From my understanding, how they view disability is more on a physical level than a cognitive level. It has been a little frustrating that some of the question I have tried to ask have been lost in translation in a way. There just seems to be a disconnect when I ask about the special education supports in schools.

The first school we went to was the welfare school and when I asked them about special education, they said that they do not really have any students in special education. They said that when students are slower learners that they will spend extra time with the teachers after school to work on the subjects they need help with most. The second school I inquired about was the school in the Hmong village we visited. When we talked to the chief of the village, he said that students born in the village with physical disabilities are often sent to specialized schools in Chiang Mai where they can receive the individualized supports they need. The third school I ask about was in the Karen village. I asked our host from the Hill Area Development Foundation about the supports in the village elementary school and what she told me was that they don’t really have special education in the village elementary school. She also mentioned that if a student has a physical or severe cognitive disability, that they will not even go to school but rather stay home and their families will take care of them. Sometimes these children will learn a trade or help their family around the house but will not compete a formal education.

So far, I have noticed that the special education systems in Thailand does not seem as developed as the systems in Minnesota. I do recognize that Minnesota is well known for being a leader in special education and special education research. However, I have been surprised at the seemingly lack of supports in place to help students, specifically in smaller cities and villages. I am curious to visit more schools and see how the special education systems and supports look in those schools and comparing that to what I have seen and observed so far.

Education in Thailand

“Diversity is colorful things that make our world more fancy.” – Professor Hlong Suphinan

Your friendly Thai education group!

During our time in Thailand, our group has learned about different teaching strategies and the Thai education system through observation and experiences.

Ally Rock chose to focus on education in Thailand because she is interested in comparing special education here to what it looks like in America; she is also interested in learning more about the laws and legislation that Thailand has to support students with disabilities. From our experience at the local schools, Ally has learned more about the systems in place to support students with disabilities and has been able to compare and contrast the Thai and American education systems.

Kathryn Hyams was drawn to this group because she is continuing her education in a Master of Elementary Education program next fall. She is interested in comparing and contrasting the Thai and American education systems. Something that surprised Kathryn in the schools we have toured is the innovative curriculum and techniques that are used in the Thai school system.

Kendall Garvey is interested in learning about education abroad to observe how people in rural areas and villages have adjusted to globalization and the growing global education system. One thing she took away from the experience at the local schools is the energy and passion many students possess for different subjects.

Mel Leftakes is interested in education and human development in general. Human development stems from education, so she wanted to look further into what children get out of their education and how it leads to their future development. One takeaway she had from the villages was what they are able to focus on specializing skills through some tailored curriculum, rather than taking prescribed, general courses.

Megan Herzog is interested in studying education because of her background in language teaching particularly in teaching the English language to students as a second language. She believes seeing how the Thai schools implement English language curriculum into their structure while still trying to promote balance between cultures has been very interesting. One thing that surprised her was how the students coming to schools from hill tribes are able to balance their multilingualism, learning both English and Thai to market themselves in modern Thai society, with their traditional and cultural heritage.

Coming to Thailand from halfway across the world, we are noticing how small the world really is and how much we can learn from one another. We are using this opportunity to explore differences and similarities in the educational systems in America and Thailand. Because of the global nature of this experience and our collective interest in education and human development we want to share what we have learned from our research and firsthand experiences in-country. When we arrived at the airport we were surprised to see that most of the signs were written in both English and Thai. While traveling throughout the country, we heard English referred to as an international or global language. English language is a required class in all Thai schools and has played an important role in Thai education since 1891 when it was first introduced (Darasawang, 2007). However, there is an issue with how schools typically hire their English teachers, especially in villages and schools based on volunteer efforts. Many volunteer teachers, especially those native English speakers coming to Thailand from abroad, come into the system having only a minimal understanding of how English as a concept impacts communities and individuals. They are then expected to teach sufficient English but don’t necessarily have effective skills to teach the language in a sustainable and culturally empathetic manner. This causes the students’ learning experiences to be extremely repetitive and often damaging. We observed that many students at the Chiang Dao school were tri-lingual, being expected to learn both Thai and English, as well as hold on to their native tribal language, all while learning other necessary academic subjects. In classrooms that teach English, there must be a balance between promoting the students’ native cultures through activities and subject material and learning the background of English as a colonial language to become familiar with the history and culture of the language, as well as its global implications.

An English classroom at the Chiang Dao Welfare School.

Another aspect that really stood out to our group was hearing different areas of studies from the students of the Chiang Dao Welfare School. Many students were interested in studying tourism in the future. They informed us that this was a goal of theirs because the tourism industry in Thailand is very lucrative and will afford them the opportunity to provide for their families and communities in the future. We drew connections between the Thai tourism industry and our American hospitality industry. Like many other countries in the world, Thailand’s need for jobs in tourism and hospitality management is the fastest growing industry (Mahidol University, 2015). It is interesting to see how students are already choosing areas of study where they know they will have a secure job in the future. This could be influenced based on the school system, parents, or even through their own observation. This is in line with a collectivist society mentality, which prioritizes the greater good over individual aspirations. Looking at students from the villages, we learned that many children leave to pursue an education in order to access better-paying jobs. These jobs are typically found in larger cities, where these children get exposed to the dominant Thai culture but are expected to maintain their tribal traditions and values. This creates tension for these students, as they are being pulled between a more globalized Thai society and their traditional way of life.

When we visited the Chiang Dao Welfare School we learned from the principal that they offer three main vocational programs in their school. Within the school, the students have the option to focus on different industries they are interested in and can potentially pursue a career in later on in life. Students can further their education and focus on subjects within the food service, agricultural, and mechanical industries. Students may pursue agriculture to support and provide sufficient business knowledge to help their families advertise their produce; they can also learn skills regarding farming, catching fish, and more. Within the mechanic education, students can learn exemplary skills regarding woodworking, welding, and construction.

The principal of the school mentioned one of the main reasons they implement the vocational education system is because of the quality gap between teachers and capital in the cities versus schools in rural areas. The government funnels a large proportion of education funds toward schools where students already have a high likelihood to succeed, which disadvantages smaller and more rural schools (Rattankhamfu, 2016). He stated the staff does not want to put pressure on their students to compete with students that are exposed to more resources and networks. However, many students choose to continue their education in a university.  The American educational system has moved away from the vocational school system model, while many rural schools in Thailand persuade their students to follow these career paths. This is beneficial for students who are not planning on furthering their education in the cities. They receive a high school diploma and have a considerable amount of background information on topics that can help their villages sustain their way of life and potentially further their specified knowledge within those subjects.

The girls’ dormitory at the Chiang Dao Welfare School.

When we visited the Chiang Dao Welfare School in Chiang Mai we were lucky enough to see a demonstration from the elementary-aged students on an innovative curriculum approach called brain-based learning (BBL). In the video below, the students were practicing their multiplication tables in Thai. They would recite the numbers while hitting cups on their desk in a rhythmic motion. The children had memorized these routines of sorts, and the students nearest the walls were new to BBL and were just observing today. So, why BBL? The teachers explained to us that BBL is an effective educational approach because it combines physical movement with oral recitation, which helps the students retain information longer. It also injects more fun into the classroom and helps them get out energy, too!

We were able to draw comparisons between BBL and a similar technique in the United States called total physical response (TPR). TPR also combines physical movement with mental exercises. TPR works to simulate the experience of a young child using observations, such as sights and sounds, to make cognitive connections (TPR Teaching System, 2013). This approach then helps children grasp educational concepts more naturally.

It was an unexpected observation that the Thai classroom incorporated such innovative and creative learning techniques. Anecdotally, we were informed that there is also a lot of rote memorization and more traditional teaching approaches, so seeing BBL was very exciting. Chiang Dao is also a welfare school, which means that it is government funded. All of the students who attend the school must have families that make an income below a set poverty line. While the school’s staff was self-admittedly underpaid and resources could be hard to come by, they were still unquestionably dedicated to the children and their quality of education, which was highlighted through this new, modern approach to learning.

Kathryn with Lahu and Lisu students at the Chiang Dao Welfare School.

While observing several different schools that served different cultural groups, all of them appeared to have a common theme regarding students with different abilities. When asking the various schools about their programming for children of varying abilities, many responses said that most schools cannot accommodate diverse ability levels due to a lack of resources resulting in many students being sent to specialized schools in major cities to receive necessary supports.

Students who are Thai and need specialized services are able to attend government-funded schools while non-Thai students needing special education services typically attend international schools in larger cities (Chambers, 2012). One of the main differences we observed was that the Thai educational system did not appear as inclusive to students with different learning abilities as the current American educational system. In the United States, students in special education are required to be in the least restrictive environment when appropriate. Many of the schools we visited were not as physically accessible as schools in the United States, too. In the U.S., accessibility features are required by law in public places. These features make education more accessible to students with different ability levels and limitations. One example that is found in the U.S. are ramps to enter buildings. At the different schools we visited in Thailand, many of the buildings were only accessible by stairs. In Thailand, the education system is making great strides towards being more inclusive of students with disabilities in the mainstream classroom but still has a ways to go toward reaching full inclusion.

Throughout our time in Thailand, we have been exposed to many aspects of the education system. We will continue to observe and investigate further similarities and differences between the American and Thai education system and are looking forward to visiting more schools in the coming days!

~Ally, Kathryn, Kendall, Megan, and Mel


Chambers, A. (2012). Thailand Takes First Steps On A Long Road To Inclusive Mainstream Education. Retrieved from

Darasawang, Pornapit (2007). English Language Education and Education in Thailand: a Decade of Change. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp 187-204.  Retrieved from

Mahidol University (2015). International and Hospitality Management. Retrieved from

TPR Teaching System (2013). TPR English. Retrieved from

Rattankhamfu, S. (2016). Building and Sustaining National ICT Education Agencies. doi:10.1596/26313. Retrieved from