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.
“Diversity is colorful things that make our world more fancy.” – Professor Hlong Suphinan
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
My name is Kathryn Hyams. I am a graduate student and will be pursuing a Master of Elementary Education program this fall. I graduated with my B.A. in both English and Studies in Cinema and Media Culture (SCMC) in December 2014. I have a passion for working with children and I am excited to learn about the differences between the Thai and American educational systems and see them firsthand during this experience.
Before any big, international trip I am always faced with a similar range of emotions: curiosity, excitement, packing-anxiety, and eagerness. I can’t wait to be sitting at the departure gate for Boston, my first stop on the long journey to Bangkok, Thailand. Airports always fill me with a sense of independence and adventure. It is invigorating to be in a space where everyone is constantly moving, coming, and going. I love to be in the midst of the hustle and bustle.
I have never been to Asia, let alone Thailand, so I cannot wait for this experience to begin. This will be the seventh country I have visited. I have been to the United States, Canada, England, France, Australia, Togo, and now, Thailand. I feel it is important to acknowledge the incredible privileges I have had to visit and travel to all of these wonderful places. These experiences have helped me grow as not only a student or professional but as a human being. I would not exchange those experiences for anything.
Being immersed in a culture that is not one’s own is equal parts liberating and humbling. You will be judged and assessed from your outward appearance and country of origin, so it is imperative that you reflect inward on your past history and present reasons for being in this new space. No matter how many times I travel, I always depart for home with a renewed sense of self and place in the world.
One life lesson I have learned through travel is to have little expectations going into the trip. Of course, I expect the food to be delicious in Thailand, but I have not allowed myself to envision daily life in Thailand or romanticize my future interactions once there. While finals week certainly acts as a distraction from dreaming of my future visit, for me this is an important exercise in patience and living in the moment. Some of my favorite memories and experiences while traveling emerged from spontaneous or seemingly everyday tasks. Taking time to pause and savor the moment is the reason I am drawn to travel!
I look forward to embarking on this next excursion and sharing my observations along the way with all of you.
On April 21, 2018, our Thailand study abroad group visited Wat Promwachirayan, also known as Wat Thai, in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.