Tag Archives: buddhism

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.
~Megan

A Taste of Thailand

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in Thailand for less than one week. We arrived in Bangkok at 5:30 a.m. local time on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. Immediately, we went to our hotel to freshen up and explore a bit. The afternoon consisted of a Child Safe workshop that engaged our group in a nuanced conversation surrounding the implications of child trafficking, tourism, and volunteering in Thailand.

View of the Bangkok skyline from the hotel rooftop.

The next morning, we got breakfast at the hotel’s buffet and headed to the airport for a quick, domestic flight to Chiang Mai. Once in Chiang Mai, we got situated at our new hotel and went to check out our local neighborhood. Chiang Mai, while the second largest city in Thailand, is much smaller than Bangkok. Chiang Mai has a lot of natural beauty and is surrounded by the mountains. It is absolutely breathtaking.

That night, we headed to the Old Chiangmai Cultural Center for a traditional Khan Toke dinner and Thai dances from many of the regions. We sat cross-legged on the ground and were served family-style. The food was delicious and the dances were incredibly graceful.

A park in Chiang Mai.

On Thursday, we set off as a group to a local, community market. There, we were met by the owner of the Cooking@Home cooking school. He showed us around the market and pointed out some of the ingredients we would be cooking with that day. I decided this was the perfect opportunity for me to buy and try some durian (I liked it!).

Next, we all climbed back into the van and headed to the cooking school on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. There, we watched the cooks prepare a dish from scratch, tasted from their plate, and then made our own individual portion. We made dtom yum goong soup, som dtam malagor green papaya salad, khaow neow mamuang sticky rice with mango, and khao soi noodle curry from Northern Thailand. It was all fantastic!

Cooking@Home cooking school four-course meal.

After we left the cooking school, feeling very full, we drove to the temple, Wat Suan Dok, in Chiang Mai. This Buddhist temple was built on an old flower garden, which gives it its name of the flower garden temple. Wat Suan Dok housed a relic from the Buddha, his shoulder bone. The story says that the Buddha’s shoulder bone was brought to the temple, but on the journey, it was split in two. Once it arrived, one half rested at Wat Suan Dok, while the other was then attached to a white elephant. Wherever the elephant died that was where that half of the relic would stay. The white elephant walked up the neighboring mountain and passed away at the top. At this location, Wat Phra That Doi Sutep was built and it then housed the second half of the Buddha’s shoulder bone.

Inside, the temple’s ceilings are incredibly high. The beautiful mosaics and gold leaf that decorate the walls make for an impressive sight. One of our guides explained the significance of the Wat and demonstrated how to properly pray in the temple. Heads are considered the highest part of the body, while feet are the lowest. It is important that feet are never higher than the rest of your body or pointed toward a Buddha.

After a tour of Wat Suan Dok, we went over to the Chiang Mai university-sponsored Monk Chat with Phra Kae Kae. He discussed with us the main tenets of Buddhism, his life story, and ways to follow the middle path through moderation in all things. His one main takeaway for us all? Balance your life.

Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai.

~Kat

 

Pre-departure Blog

Hello! My name is Genevieve Locke. I am a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, studying Strategic Communication with an emphasis in advertising. I am also minoring in Digital Media Studies. I am the Sales Manager at the Minnesota Daily. I plan to go into a career in Account Planning. Outside of work and school, I enjoy running, crocheting, writing, and spending time outside.

I am excited to head to Thailand, and I think that the trip will help me to grow both personally and academically. One of the main things that drew me to the Thailand program is that it has an interdisciplinary lens, and the program focuses on many different aspects of Thai culture. I am excited to learn about education, diversity in Thailand, the hill tribe communities, human trafficking, Buddhism, and many other topics during the trip. I think that it will be interesting to see how the different aspects of Thai culture are connected.
I like hands-on, experiential learning, so I am excited to learn about Thai culture outside of the classroom setting. I think that this program will round out my education by broadening my cultural perspective through new experiences. Because I am going into a profession in strategic communication, it is important that I understand how different cultural backgrounds affect the way that people process messages. I hope that this trip will allow me to immerse myself in a culture that is very different than my own.
Personally, I hope to learn a lot about Buddhism on the trip. I have been very interested in Buddhism for quite a while now, so I am excited to have the chance to learn about the religion in Thailand, visit Buddhist temples, and talk to monks about their experiences. I also hope that the trip stretches me to step outside of my comfort zone and experience unfamiliar foods, activities, and places. I am very excited to see what the trip has in store!

Wat Thai

On April 21, 2018, our Thailand study abroad group visited Wat Promwachirayan, also known as Wat Thai, in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

Photo credit: Wat Promwachirayan

When we first arrived, we took off our shoes at the temple’s entrance. Shoes and feet are not considered clean in Thai culture, so it is important to remove shoes before entering certain spaces. In addition, feet should always be pointed away from people, especially religious leaders.

We were given a warm welcome by the woman who manages the restaurant Amazing Thailand and she explained a little more about the day’s activities and some cultural differences we should expect once we arrive in Thailand.

Next, we participated in a Buddhist ceremony led by a monk. While the recitations were all in Thai, we actively participated in the ceremonial pouring of water. The man seated next to me informed me that it was fresh water for ancestors since it is unknown if people have fresh water after they pass on.

Photo credit: Wat Promwachirayan

Once the ceremony was complete it was time to eat! However, the monk must be fed first and at a separate table. We all gathered around his table, where all of these dishes were laid out for him to eat. We then helped bless his meal. The monk at Wat Thai eats twice a day before noon. After his last meal ends around noon, he may only drink liquids, such as fruit juices, the rest of the day. Some monks only eat one large meal a day and must cease all consumption of solid food at precisely noon, even if they are not finished. The food we ate was so delicious! Everyone was so hospitable and welcoming to us at the Wat.

Photo credit: Wat Promwachirayan

We even got the chance to sit down with the monk and chat. He was so friendly and willing to answer all of our questions. We learned about the rules that monks and other members in Thai society must abide by, as well as the differences that he observed between being a monk in Thailand and Minnesota. One notable difference is that he must do more errands and tasks on his own in America. For example, in Thailand, monks will be offered food by other Thai people, whereas he must cook some of his own meals here in Minnesota.

Photo credit: Wat Promwachirayan

I cannot speak more highly of my experience at Wat Thai. It was such important cultural learning before our departure to Thailand. I want to offer my sincerest thanks to all of those at Wat Thai who opened up their temple and culture to us that Saturday.

~Kat

Blog Post One. :)

  1. Being at the Wat Temple during orientation was the first encounter that I had ever had with the Thai culture, other than eating Thai food or watching Thai movies. The Thai community members were very welcoming and it reminded me of my family. It was really interesting to see how respectful and mindful the Thai community acted towards the monk and to see how much the Buddhism religion influenced Thai culture and their ideas of morality.
  2. One learning goal that I have for myself in regards to this Learning Abroad seminar is to be open-minded and to be able to understand things through different perspectives. I feel like it is hardest to understand things that we aren’t accustomed to in our own cultures that sometimes we just disregard them instead of trying to appreciate them like the people who practice those cultures. So my goal is to appreciate things even though I may not be able to understand them.
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