Category Archives: 2020 Thailand Learning Abroad Blog

Knowing Who Grew Your Food

Throughout most of America there is a disconnect between who grew the food you’re buying and what it took to get it to your plate. A large part of it is our reliance on convenient foods and grocery stores. Whereas in Thailand, I’ve seen few grocery stores. There’s a heavy emphasis on shopping at markets and corner stores. It’s definitely a culture of what American’s would consider “farm to table”, when in Thailand it’s just their way of life.

Villages usually make their living from growing food and are sometimes solely dependent on only 1 or 2 crops. We heard first-hand from a coffee grower the differences in the number of times he was able to harvest due to environmental conditions. In short harvest amounts were down significantly in 2019 due to a drought. If people don’t have the resources to irrigate their crops, their income will drop. Additionally, in the United States we tend to focus on the effects of climate change surrounding rising sea levels resulting in lost coastal lands, and more intense storms. It’s different in Thailand. Climate change results in an income change. It very much so directly affects their lives.

In Minnesota I work on a farm selling plants in the spring switching to selling the produce we’ve grown by mid-July. We have regulars who always buy from us at the markets. I’ve only worked on the farm two seasons now, but some of our regulars have been coming for many, many years and know the family well. I’m assuming in Thailand things could be similar; there’s regulars that may always buy things from you, or you may trade goods, and there’s people who aren’t regulars.

In the spring, summer, and fall I shop at grocery stores very minimally, relying heavily on what’s at farmers markets. While I understand it’s not feasible for everyone, there’s this big wave to get more people to do the same. In Thailand, they already do it. Maybe it’s because there aren’t grocery stores everywhere to shop at, or this culture is only at the beginning of switching to unhealthy convenient food options (grab and go), there’s less dependence on a microwave when preparing food, or plain and simple: they value food differently than we tend to.

How Fortunate?

In the second leg of our trip in Chiang Rai, we met with a organization called the CRRU Hmong Student Club. CRRU you stands for Chiang Rai Rajabhat University and the club is for Hmong students, who are in the minority at the university. This gives theses students to a close group of people that they can relate to and help out the community in many different ways. We learned about the university and the history of the students enrolled in it.

With the CRRU Hmong Student Club, we had the opportunity to work with them and visit a local Hmong village, that was struggling to gather water because of the low water supply that they were experiencing. The plan for the day was to build water reservoirs up the stream for them to be able to gather their water from. It was awesome to see how the whole village and community came together to embark on this trip and complete this task. This involved a long, treacherous hike up the mountain to get to the spot and Ill tell you what, as someone who is afraid of heights, it took a lot of courage to get past some points in the trail. Once getting to the location, we began the process of making 2 reservoirs. Even though, we could’t speak the same language as them, they truly let us be involved and helped direct us through hand motions and gestures. I know I speak for us all when I say they truly made us feel like we were apart of their community and not an outsider or visitor.

This part of our trip was really fulfilling and eye opening , certainly for me, and I sure the others as well. To see all the work that had to be put in by the community to just get access to water was truly amazing. It really makes you sit back and think of how easy we have it and fortunate we are to not have to worry about this kinds of things in America. Any time I think I may have it hard, I will look back on this experience and think about how well off I really have it. It made us feel a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment to be able to help them complete this task and truly make an impact even if it may have not been the biggest. I learned, that community is very important to be able to successfully survive and provide for you village. They truly are like a family and it was definitely felt throughout that experience. Thai people welcome others with open arms and make you feel at home and is something I will try and do more throughout my life.

Merging CRRU and UMN Students

While staying in Chiang Rai, we were given the opportunity to meet a professor from Chiang Rai Rajabhat University (CRRU) and three of his students as we helped build a water reservoir for a local community. On our ride back into the city, I was given the opportunity to ride in the truck with all of them, where we got to get to know each other a little bit better. I was able to connect with these students in many different areas; from sports and video games to music and culture, I could tell that we had a lot of things in common right off the bat. Although Chokchai dislocated my pinkie playing soccer that day, I really enjoyed getting to be “one of the guys”. This is why when they asked us to play futsol (indoor soccer) with kids from their school the next day, I said yes with no hesitation.

This takes us to the next day, where we met the students at the indoor court to play. The game was very chaotic for me personally; not only do I rarely play soccer, but I also do not speak Thai (if you didn’t already know). Even with these barriers standing in the way, it took no time for me to feel like part of the team. Whenever someone on our team scored a goal, we ran around like we just won the World Series, which I believe really brought us together. I was even lucky enough to score two goals!

After the game, we were then able to go to the professor’s house for dinner. It just so happens that he is neighbors with a bunch of the students we played futsol with. This was a great opportunity to get to know all of them better, as well as see what their daily life entails. It was clear to me that most were very curious about our daily life, and we matched that curiosity. Everyone at this dinner was very giving, and it was a great experience that I got to make some new friends out of!

As the night ended, I started to compare the two different types of cultures reflected within the student body. The first thing that I thought was unique was that some of the students of CRRU were willingly neighbors with their professor and his family. This is something that I thought was rather interesting because it is something you would never see in America. This is a reflection of the interconnectedness that appears to be a common theme in all of Thailand that sometimes the United States really seems to lack. The other big thing that I noticed was how generous the students were, and how they invited us in with open arms. I felt like one of the group both playing futsol and at dinner, as I was constantly talking and laughing with CRRU students throughout the evening. They cooked us food and offered us a traditional drink that they made. It truly showcased their generosity.

Looking back on it, there was one main thing that I am looking to take away as I start my journey back home: being kind and open to people that are in an unfamiliar setting. The CRRU students/professor realized that we were in this unfamiliar setting, and they did everything possible to ensure that we felt at home with them. This is something that I don’t really believe college students in the United States would do as willingly, I know I certainly wouldn’t have done as much as they did. However, I feel like doing something as simple as this can be the small step needed to make a big impact in someone’s life, which is what I’ve learned that Thai people are all about.

Mae Salong village and sustainability

To reach Mae Salong in Thailand we had to drive through miles and miles of winding roads between the mountains. The mountain sides were covered with symmetrical plots of either tea bushes, corn stalks, or coffee trees. The HADF training center we stayed at was Situated between three hill tribe villages. The Akha, Lahu, and Yudanese people surrounded us. The training center was given to HADF to be a center point for gathering and fun between the tribes and especially for the children.

The two days spent in Mae Salong in the training center were enlightening. We spent the first day visiting the Akha village. It was a huge village with many community roles. From silversmith to someone performing a simple task of drying coffee beans, everyone had a role. They gather all their food organically from the area around them. We learned that the king helped the village to transfer from farming fruit trees and rice to planting coffee. Due to high demand they have gotten more return because of coffee. The coffee is grown nearby, picked by Akha women, and roasted by the towns headman. The organic ways of this village got me thinking about the power of self sufficiency systems.

In the past decade food waste along with sustainability have become increasingly relevant issues. All the meals I consumed at the training center were made from Organic foods grown on that mountain. The surrounding villages also ate what they could grow. They made money by producing coffee that the whole village participated in crafting. Women also stitched various crafts. Since I have been here I have marveled at the local markets that held such a fresh variety of foods. We can all take small steps in our own lives to be self sufficient in our futures to help eliminate waste trails. Even if we aren’t able to grow our own food or make our own crafts in America, there are more complex ways to look at Self sufficiency that we can adapt from a country like Thailand.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai was full of new experiences. Quickly after getting to Thailand, one of the first things you realize is that they drive on the “wrong side” of the road. Even more of a difference that you realize is that when walking down the street, you have to carve your own path because there are very few sidewalks. On our first trip to get lunch, we wove in-between the cars parked on the side of the street and the cars driving on the road.

Because of the time zone difference, by the time lunch was over it felt as if I had stayed up to 4:00 in the morning. After a 3-hour nap, it was time to hit up the night market. On the way there, we took a songthaew (red taxi with an open back end). It made it easy to see how the other cars all get super close to each other. At the market, there was all kinds of fresh food, Thai clothing, and most importantly persistent ladies who tried to sell you their toys. After the market, I watched a street show with fire-eating performers.

The second day was filled with walking around temples. The temples had many beautiful buildings and if you wanted to go inside any of them, you needed to take off your shoes. I wore the wrong pair of shoes for this, often making my peers wait a long time for me to put my shoes back on or take them off. The temples were all interesting and had more than the shoes rules, such as being careful not to point your feet at Buddha images, avoiding public displays of affection in front of the images, dressing in “appropriate clothes”, and not allowing women in specific buildings. 

After the temples on the first day, we got the chance to partake in a cooking school in Chiang Mai. There we learned about the many ingredients that are used in Thai cooking and learned how easy it is to cook at home. From Pad Thai to Curry and Spring rolls, I got hands-on experience making and of course, eating traditional Thai foods. My favorite part about the cooking school experience was when we added the spicy ingredients into the recipe and immediately everyone started to cough over the overwhelming smell. Following cooking our own lunch, we got to speak with a monk to learn about their experiences. Before leaving Chiang Mai we also got to take a trip up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. After driving up a mountain for 45 minutes and walking up 300+ steps, the view of the city was breathtaking.

Chiang Mai had a lot of extravagant things to see and I’m excited to see what the rest of Thailand has to offer as well.

Boys Cannot be Baht

We went to Urban Light to learn about Child Safe, as well as human trafficking. Initially I thought we would learn of women being trafficked—kidnapped off the streets to become prostitutes and to never be seen by their families again. I quickly learned that this specific organization was not targeting women, but rather boys and men who are at risk or have already been trafficked. How can that be I wondered… for grown men to be trafficked?

We learned that these boys and men get introduced to the industry of sex trafficking by word of mouth. Friends and other associates would tell the boys and men of the opportunities that they would be making if they choose that route. The money that they would be making is far more than they could earn elsewhere.

Some might say that the solution to this problem is simple. That these boys and men should make a different choice. That they should chose to work, go to school, or work their way up the ladder another way. The answer however is not that simple, especially since there are so many different systems at play. When looking at the microsystem—one’s family, friends, neighbors etc., exosystem—rules and regulations that are set in place, and the macrosystem—the beliefs and norms of the society, we begin to see that the opportunities for these boys and men are slim. For one, school might not be the main focus for families as some are farmers or didn’t grow up in the education system—and their main focus might be helping the family in order to generate income. The income being generated a lot of times is not enough to sustain a family, let alone cover the expenses to put children through school. There aren’t laws or programs set in place to help these families in order for them to create opportunities for their children. As boys and men, especially those that come willingly or are brought over from nearby countries, they come to Thailand for better opportunities, but find that they’re unable to work because as foreigners there are more obstacles in their way (especially laws that make it hard to get a job). Or if they are able to work, their earnings might not be enough. 

What Urban Light does, is raise awareness and provide resources to help end sex trafficking. The resources that they provide include—classes and activities throughout the week, counselling (as these boys and men have gone through a deal of trauma), meals, space to sleep, bathrooms where they can shower, employment opportunity, they have a housing project, and Urban Light staff work with the boys and men to help them gain new skills. The slogan of Urban Light reads, “Boys cannot be Baht” (Baht is the Thailand currency. We say dollars, they say baht).

With many systems at play the solution to end sex trafficking is not simple, but Urban Light staff try to combat this problem by addressing the issue in different ways. Indeed, boys and men cannot be baht.

Sebastian’s Intro

My name is Sebastian Haugen. I am from Duluth, MN and I am currently a freshman at the University of Minnesota studying Project management. I am also a member of Air national Guard at the 148th Fighter Wing. I enjoy being a student of life and really trying everything that comes my way. I enjoy running, connecting with friends, and bringing a smile to others faces. I was exited about the trip to Thailand because it seems so far off from the world I have grown up with. After being closed off from much of the world in northern Minnesota I was curious to go beyond the normalities of my family and social life and find new meaning in my life. I’m thankful to be afforded to travel to Thailand with a great crew and professor.

Riley’s Intro

My name is Riley Schissel. I am currently a senior going into my last semester of college with a Business Marketing Education major and a minor in Management. In my free time I enjoy spending time with my friends and family, watching and playing sports, fishing and going up north to my cabin. The reason for choosing this study abroad course was because I am required to have a applied experience course for my major and learned studying abroad would fulfill it. I chose to go to Thailand because the culture is some much different than ours in the US and is something that I believe could effect me and change my perspective on life with all the opportunities and how fortunate we are in the US. I am excited for this opportunity to learn more about Thailand.

Franka’s Intro

My name is Franka. I am south Sudanese, lived in Yemen, but mainly raised in Rochester, MN. Arabic is my first language, but I’m more fluent in English. I’ve always been fascinated of different cultures and I love learning from others. That being said, I’m excited to be in Thailand and to learn a culture that’s different than my own. I’ve heard great things about the people of Thailand and their culture, so I’m excited that I get to go on this trip. I’m not sure what to expect from Thailand or what I want to learn, all I know is that I’m going with an open mind. I will be graduating December 2020 with a Family Social Science Major (with a concentration in community education and financial management). I like to read, watch Netflix, and hang out with friends and family.

Logan Banks Introduction

Name: Logan Banks (He, Him, His)

Major: Management Information Systems; Minor: Business Analytics

Year: Junior

Hometown: Aurora, CO

Hobbies: Baseball, Football Listening to Music, Netflix,

Favorite Movie: Forest Gump

Favorite Genre of Music: Country

I decided to take this course because in Carlson you need to study abroad and I wanted to take a short time abroad because it is hard to find major courses abroad. I choose this one specifically because I liked the themes that the course was touching on and I felt they reflected a lot of things I valued. I am looking forward to seeing something different than the united states. I have never been out of the country before so I am just looking forward to seeing other places.