Historical Field Trip

The past week has been a big transition for everyone in SST.  We have moved out of our host families, finished our internship programs, and left Chiang Mai headed south toward Bangkok.  Leaving family members that have been living and providing for us for the past two months was difficult for everyone.  These families sacrificed so much in order to serve us and make sure we were comfortable, along with allowing us to have a rare glimpse at how the people of Thailand truly live their day to day lives.  My parents worked all day on campus at Chiang Mai University then headed to the local market to work all night, all the while providing for me in so many ways.  Overall the experience we had with our host families was humbling to say the least, and was something none of us will forget.

Being a Westerner in this Eastern world has been incredibly confusing at times.  I find myself constantly questioning what the people of Thailand actually believe as far as religion and philosophy are concerned, and after more than two months I still don’t have a clear answer.  Buddhism denies the existence of any deity or supernatural beings (at least at a philosophical level), yet everything we see here seems to go against this philosophy.  The numerous temples and statues dedicated to Hindu gods and goddesses, the spirit houses standing outside every public building, burning incense at altars, and worshiping Buddha images are all things we have seen daily in Thailand, and known as folk Buddhism.  In the West we constantly argue for one truth or one philosophy to live by, denying all others.  But here in the East it feels like everything goes, and people go about their daily lives practicing their beliefs in ways that don’t always make sense to us Westerners.

Anyways, back to what we have been doing… This past week we embarked on our trip down south toward the Capital, making numerous stops along the way.  The amount of history we’ve learned and seen has been incredible this week.  We have experienced history that is older than anything most of us have ever seen before, temples and palaces that are hundreds of years old, and are still playing a large part in society today.  Being able to learn about the various influences Thailand has had in the past, and then seeing how those influences have affected society through architecture and art has been an incredible experience.

Our first stop was Sukhothai, visiting various temples along the way and finally arriving at a hotel where we spent the night.  The next day we all awoke bright and early and rented bikes to ride around the ancient ruins of Sukhothai.  You realize  that you are part of something special when you find yourself biking with some of your closest friends through an ancient city in the middle of Thailand.  The entire day was something I will never forget.

After thoroughly exploring Sukhothai, we headed on to Phitsanulok, then to Lopburi where we found ourselves fending off hordes of monkey living among the local temple.  There were literally hundreds of primates (sometimes five at a time) jumping from student to student in search of food that we were given in order to feed them.   By the end of the visit, everyone was covered with little monkey footprints, and ready to wash their hands off in the nearest bathroom.  That night we stayed at a hotel that was decorated by numerous monkey sculptures, putting more monkeys into an already monkey-filled day.

The next day we headed to Ayutthaya where we explored a few temples and museums, and ended up having dinner that night on a river boat with a great view of the temple we visited earlier that day.  After all of this we ended up in Bangkok where we were able to explore the city via river boat, and were able to see the king’s palace, full of incredibly breathtaking views… and Chinese tourists…

Overall this week has been full of change and transition, but also exciting and fun.  We have seen things that we will never see again, and remember them forever.  I really want to personally thank SST and our host families for allowing us to stay with them and experience what Thailand is really like from the inside.  This entire experience would not have been nearly as insightful without the help of these people.

Thanks, Will

This week’s blog post was written by Will Thompson (pictured above), sophomore Sociology and Art major from Covenant College. Covenant College is located in Chatanooga, TN. To view the pictures from the historical field trip click the following link: Historical Field Trip.

Living with a Thai Family & Hospital Internship

It’s amazing how fast time flies by. It seemed like it was just a few days ago that we sat nervously waiting to meet our host families for the first time. It’s now been a month and a half and with one week left, many of us wishing for time to slow down so that we don’t have to say goodbye.

Coming to Thailand was a really big step for me— it was the first time that I would ever be away from my family for more than a weekend. Although Thailand has been a wonderful experience (and will continue to be), there are many moments where I felt that I just wanted to pack my bags and go home. However, I’ve found that my host family has really helped with easing the pain and loneliness that I felt. 

My friend Mandy and I are staying with the same host family. My host family consists of Khun Paw (Dad), Khun Mae (mom), and Phii Ton (older brother). Everyone in the family has such a great personality, and our times together are always filled with laughter. Khun Paw and Khun Mae are so loving and generous. They constantly tell Mandy and I that we are not just host students, but that they see as their own children. Phii Ton is like the perfect older brother. Like majority of older brothers, he constantly teases us and messes around, but he is also such a caring person. There have been so many instances that he has come home with treats in hand and gives it to us like it’s no big deal.

It’s a little mind blowing that two months ago, the people I now consider my family were strangers. In less than two months I’ve really grown fond of them. Every morning, Mandy and I would wake up and get ready for school. At 7:30, we would head downstairs where we would greet Khun Paw with “Sa-wat-dii-ka” (Hello) and he would respond “Good Morning” with a smile on his face. The three of us would sit down and eat the breakfast that our Khun Mae had prepared for us. At 8:00 we would all gather in Khun Paw’s car and head out for school.

After classes and internships, Mandy and I would meet up at Suan Dok Hospital where our Khun Mae works. We would walk into her office and greet everyone and someone would always tell her that we have arrived. Mandy and I would sit patiently and wait for her to finish. However, some days it was actually her who sat alone in the office waiting for us. Whenever we ran late we would always apologize and she would always say with a big smile, “Mai Pen Rai” (it’s okay).

When we get home, Khun Mae would go straight to preparing dinner. Mandy and I would go to our room and change out of our uniforms and do other miscellaneous things. At the beginning we would always ask Khun Mae if she would like us to help and she would always tell us no. To this day she still shoos us away.

Dinner is probably my favorite time of the day. We have pretty much a set routine for how dinner begins. Khun Mae always sets the food that she has prepared on the table. Mandy goes to the sink and she grabs water bottles and utensils as I grab plates for everyone. Once the table is set, Mandy starts by scooping rice from the rice cooker and I start to grab food from the different plates. Once we are done, Khun Paw and Khun Mae will then start to pile food onto their own plates. They always wait for us and never go before us. To them, making sure we have enough is more important than them eating right away.
During dinner everyone shares about their day. Khun Paw always starts by asking what we learned today in class. From there on, our conversations go in all sorts of tangents. As always, it’s filled with laughter. Dinner is also generally the time that we get to see Phii Ton. Phii Ton always makes an entrance by usually picking on Mandy. After we all finish our dinner, we continue to sit at the table and just chat for a good 30 minutes then move the conversation to the living room.
If there is not a lot of homework, Mandy and I will sit with the rest of the family and watch TV or movies. My Thai Family has a wall filled of movies— there are probably at least one thousand DVDs on that shelf! We always end the night with good night and sweet dreams.

I can’t even wrap my head around the thought of taking a stranger into your home and loving them as they are your own. It’s an amazing experience to receive so much love. I can’t help but feel blessed when I am in their presence. Khun Paw’s smiles and laugh is always a comfort because it just makes you feel like everything is okay. Khun Mae’s bright personality and love is felt with the hugs she gives. She always smiles so brightly and you can’t help but feel a ray of sunshine from inside out. Phii Ton’s teasing makes you feel like you’ve been a part of the family for ages and his kindness makes you feel right at home.

As happy as I am to return home in a month, I am saddened at the thought of leaving here. When I first moved in, I was really unsure of how things would turn out or if I would even enjoy it. I have never felt so happy to have been proven wrong. Many of my fellow classmates and I are trying to make the most of what little time we have left and by enjoying all the moments that are to come. I know that when I go home, the memories and bonds I have made with my family will forever be with me.

A quick reflection on the San Sai Hospital internship:

While studying abroad it is important to immerse yourself in the culture as well as doing hands-on service. This is one of the reasons why I chose this program, because it offers an internship in a hospital setting where I was able to observe various areas in San Sai Hospital. During my time in the hospital, I had the opportunity to rotate between the emergency room, NICU, outpatient department, operation room, and maternity. Most of the time, I am scheduled in the Emergency room where I witnessed many situations where I doubted myself in the medical field. I came across a situation where a patient was put on palliative care and I once walked into the middle of CPR performance on a patient in the ER. Who would have thought that shadowing doctors in a small hospital would be easy? My favorite place to go is the operation room. The first operation I experienced watching was a toe amputation on a patient who had diabetes. As I was taking deep breaths, I started to sweat. Can I possibly go through this? I continued to push myself through the entire operation, up until the toe was snapped off from the foot. Whew! I made it! I have enjoyed every second of this experience and everyday I look forward to the clock turning to 12:45pm so I can go on my internship.


This week’s blog post was written by Youa Yang (pictured above, right), with an excerpt from Mandy Vang (pictured above, left) about her internship at San Sai Hospital. Youa is a junior legal studies major at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN. Mandy is a junior biology major also from Hamline University in St. Paul, MN. To view the photos from this week, please click the following link: Cooking Class, Art Class, etc.

Pottery Village & Temple Stay

Not a week goes by here in Thailand that we don’t learn and discover something new. Just in this past week and a half we have got behind the wheel (a pottery wheel), meditated with monks, and learned the many ways of a wok.

I am thoroughly enjoying all the hands on learning we get to experience here at CMU. Our classes really bring together what we experience in Thai culture and what we learn in the classroom. Everyone has different learning styles, I personally think using a tactile approach adds a refreshing source of reinforcement, since not everyone can absorb or grasp concepts solely from PowerPoint or lectures. The well roundedness of our curriculum is teaching us all how to think independently and gain valuable knowledge, while also enhancing our cultural immersion to make our interactions more genuine and receivable.

To my surprise, art has become the class I look forward to most. It has been so interesting to learn about the role art plays in Thai history and culture. After learning the background, we get to see some of the works, and then get to make some ourselves! Northern Thailand has a history of producing quality ceramics. The finest of ancient ceramic pieces that have emerged from the area were Celadon. Celadon is a transparent gloss that is used in ceramics to beautifully highlight surface textures. Available in different colors, here in Thailand, typically the green glaze is most popular because of its resemblance to jade, an admired stone and color associated with wealth and success.

 One of our art professors, Ajarn Meem, took us to Baan Muang Goong Pottery Village. It was a small, quaint village where it was free to walk through and observe the grounds and all the artists at work. Ajarn Meem gave us the tour and explained the various niches. We got to get a close look at the kilns, where the clay objects are fired at extremely high temperatures to strengthen the mold. It was so cool to see the artists in their environment and all the innovative wheels and throwing techniques they used. In this village they make everything from big pots and vases to candleholders. Most artists were either hand building and/or throwing. A lot of the artists who were throwing, were using small cleverly made wheels that they turn by hand… or foot. After the walk through, we arrived at a house with a sweet set up of 10 small stools in a circle, each with a wheel and a chunk of clay. Lets just say we quickly had a newfound appreciation for the artists we had just watched at work. They made it look so easy! So effortless! After ten or so minutes of fiddling with frustration the instructors helped most of us finish the job so that we could have a nice, and more importantly functional, little vase to take home.

The following Saturday morning we set off for our weekend trip and headed to Lampoon, one of Thailand’s oldest cities, located about 30 minutes north of Chiang Mai. Our first stop was Wat Pra Taat Ha Ri Phunchai, a very large temple with numerous structures dating back from different periods. This temple is peacefully situated right along a river where the bridge doubled as an O-top shopping area. Many wonderful different stands set up for clothes, accessories, and snacks. Of course we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to do some great shopping! We reconvened after shopping for a delicious family style lunch. The cashew chicken was a-mazing.

Next stop was to Wat Pra Baat Tak Pha. Beautiful grounds situated on top of a hill. We drove up to the area, but the other side has approximately 400+ steps up the side of the hill that lead to the temple. Ajarn Mike mentioned that in previous years students would race up the steps and quickly a handful of people said they wanted to follow suit. Sophie, Carly, Kyle, Will, and Vincent all trucked down the many steps preparing to race back up. The stakes: winner gets an ice cream courtesy of Ajarn Mike. The remaining people in the group stood at the top of the stairs cheering on our friends, watching as they climbed in the torturous heat. When Will, whom was leading the pack, got about 5 steps away from the top he sat down. We all shouted, “Go Will! C’mon don’t quit now, you can do it!” But he didn’t get up. Confused, we watched as the second place runner came up and took a seat right next to him. Each following racer did the same. When the last person reached that step they all stood back up, held hands, and climbed up the final steps together, stepping over the finish line at the same time. Ajarn Mike had no choice, but to treat all 5 winners to some much-deserved ice cream.

Next pit stop we unloaded from the Rot Dangs to have a go at some spelunking! After a 10-minute climb up a hill, we reached the entrance to the cave. Headlamps on and in we went. The cave was filled with stalagmites, stalactites, and a ceiling of bats; it was remarkably scenic, when you could see that is.

Finally, we arrived at the forest temple where we would be staying at for the night. Upon arrival at the forest temple, Wat Doi Lung Tham, we shared a delicious meal provided by the temple followed by our first mediation session. The abbot talked to us about the practice and teachings of the dharma how they related to meditation. Two different types: The 14 step hand motion to help guide your focus, concentrating on keeping your hands in the formalized motion; The second was sitting, 3 different ways to sit. We sat and focused on our breath alone. The busy day followed by the calming meditation session made for an excellent night sleep.

Greeted by dusk with our 5am wake up. I was hesitant to unwrap myself from my blanket as we gathered with the monks and traveled down to the village where they collect alms. After 20 minutes of following them, the sky began to lighten and we entered the village where people came out of their homes and were waiting with offerings. The monks chanted blessings to the people who gave offerings. It was so humbling to the many people out so early in the morning to provide for their community. In the midst of these happenings right in front of us, we saw a whole new meaning and understanding of Buddhism and its role in the community. We went back up to the temple, and shared the food that was all offered earlier that morning. After breakfast, in our second meditation session, we got the opportunity to learn about sitting and walking mediation, with a little yoga to go along with it. After a modest lunch of fried rice and fruit we had the opportunity to take a sauna that was especially created by the monks at the forest temple of Wat Doi Lung Tham. It was the most refreshing way to complete a relaxing, but busy weekend.

Back at school in the coming week we learned about one of Thailands’s biggest claims to fame… the cooking of course! Cooking class with a Southeast Asian twist. I bet you would have never thought our first instruction was to remove our shoes before entering the kitchen, but hey that is the Thai way after all. We were excited to see all the work and ingredients that go into the dishes we have come to love. We covered all the bases. We made a soup (Kluay buadchii- banana in coconut milk); two entrées (Muu thord kra thiam phrikthai- fried pork with garlic and pepper and Kuaytiaw phatthai- fried thai rice noodles (pad thai) phatthai) and a dessert (Kluaythord- banana fritters). Not only was the act of cooking fun, but we also got to enjoy the bounty afterwards! Comparing and tasting each other’s dishes, we saw that they didn’t all taste exactly the same, but they were all delicious. Plus, we got to take home the recipes so we can make sure to bring some of this new found knowledge back to the states, yum yum!!

This week’s blog post was written by Kori Hahn, pictured above. Kori studies nutrition and dietetics. Kori is from Long Island, NY. To view the photos from this week please click the following link: Pottery Village & Temple Stay.

Buddhist University, Temple Tour, & The Love Show!

We are now ending our fifth week of studying in Thailand. For myself, life is becoming more relaxing and a slower pace as I’m settling in with my host family and becoming more familiar with my internship. This week was mostly spent attending Thai language, culture classes and teaching at my internship.
For my internship, I’m interning as an English teacher at Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University (MCU). This university is for Buddhist monks and is located right beside the beautiful temple, Wat Suan Dok. Every day I have a different class schedule, which makes teaching exciting. One day I could be in a classroom with first-year students, who know very basic English, and the next day I could be with fourth-year students, who are pretty fluent in English.
There are four other students who are interning at MCU; Vincent, Ann, Youa, and Jess. We are typically teaching in a classroom with each other, but some days we may be teaching in a classroom alone. During class time, we try to make learning fun by playing English games like Pictionary and jeopardy. The monks seem to enjoy learning this way and they get very competitive! While playing an intense game of jeopardy one monk shoouted to another, “we are not monkeys, we are monks!”. The wide range of personalities is definitely something that surprised me while interning at MCU. I was expecting classes to be very quiet and calm, but it is just the opposite. The monks have a lot of energy and love to joke with each other. They are really great students and show a strong desire to learn.
This week in our culture class, we took a field trip to visit four different temples in Chiang Mai. We visited Wat Ched Yod (Temple of Seven Chedis), Wat Chiang Mon (seven hundred years old and the oldest temple in Chiang Mai), Wat Chedi Luang (the temple of the largest chedi), and Wat Umong (a temple of meditation and tunnels). All of these temples were so beautiful and hold so much historical value. My favorite temple we visited on this field trip was Wat Umong. This temple is the forest temple, which is meant for meditation. It is surrounded by outdoor beauty and animals, making it very peaceful and serene. In the temple there are many quiet tunnels to use for walking meditation. In order to fully understand Thai culture, it is important to understand Buddhism because it is the dominant religion in Thailand. Therefore, all aspects of life in Thailand are strongly influenced by Buddhism.
For Valentine’s Day we were invited to attend a special performance, “The Love Show,” by the Interact Center at the Rajanagarindra Child Development Foundation (RICD). Our our students Carly and Will were also a part of this performance because they are interning at RICD. It was a very fun night filled with skits, storytelling, songs, and dances that were used to express how we show love to one another. Most of the actors had a disability of some kind, so it was very touching to see their love for entertaining others regardless of any mental or physical impairments. It was definitely a perfect way to spend Valentine’s Day and a great way to end our fifth week here in Thailand!
This week’s blog post was written by Sierra Williams (pictured above), junior Sociology major from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA. To view the photos from this week click the following link: Buddhist University, Temple Tour, & The Love Show!

RICD & the Flower Festival

We are now just about one month into our time in Thailand and it has been a challenge and a blast settling into a new culture and surrounding ourselves with new people, foods, places and lifestyles. Throughout this adjustment, we’ve been learning so much, and as Ajarn Mike says, “everywhere is class” from our interacting at our home stays, to playing sports at the university, to grocery shopping.

One of the exciting places I am getting to learn this semester is in my internship. I am doing my internship along with one other student, Will, at a place called the Rajanagarinda Child Development Foundation (RICD), which is an incredible world-renowned facility that provides many different types of therapy and care for children with disabilities from all over Thailand. We are specifically working with an organization from Minnesota called Interact, who have come to Thailand for a little over a month to help put on a play with some of the kids from the RICD program.

I am so impressed by Interact and am very thankful to get to learn about their organization as an intern. The mission of Interact is “to create art that challenges perceptions of disability” and they have been bringing that mission here to Thailand for five years now as they direct plays alongside the RICD staff. This year we are producing a show called “The Love Show” which will premier on Valentines Day. They are also seeking sustainability with Interact in Thailand by working on training the staff at RICD to continue this program once they leave. It has been great to see their philosophy in action, which is “driven by a vision of radical inclusion. [They] collaborate with artists with and without disabilities, from mainstream and marginalized communities, whose stories and life experiences are the grist for our original, ensemble-generated theatrical work, and inspire the spectrum of media that are created” (Interact website).

In our internship, Will and I have really enjoyed getting to know the kids, being present – even when we really have no clue what is going on, watching the process, and jumping in wherever we are needed. Personally, I chose this internship because I have always had a love for children with disabilities and in the future I am hoping to go into Occupational Therapy. I have worked with kids with disabilities a fair amount back home, but working with them here, in a culture so different from mine, with a language I do not understand, and in acting, which I have never been very good at, has been very different then I had expected and I am thankful for how much I am learning through those differences.

Here are a few highlights and things we’ve seen so far during our time at Interact: First we have learned patience as we watch how the staff works with the actors, having high expectations of them and treating them as professionals while encouraging them every step of the way and drawing out their strengths. We have also observed and learned from many cultural differences as we see the way that the employees from RICD work in comparison to the Interact leaders from the US and see the mixing of cultures and styles in order to produce a high-quality show. We have also learned how while the language barrier may be frustrating, it does not have to be debilitating. Especially in working with people from this population, we have realized that merely smiling, making faces, holding hands and laughing can be bridges to form relationship. Finally, we have just had a great time seeing the personalities and strengths come out in each of the actors.

Every day I look forward to acting as a mega-person-alien-monster with Mina- one of the most wiggly, adorable little girls I have ever met, to laughing at Om-Seem as he steals the show playing Mr. Valentine, to being utterly impressed by Pii Pii and Fluke’s singing abilities in their solos, and to holding hands and sitting with Pii Chow as we watch and wait for the next scene we’re involved in.

Like most experiences in Thailand so far, this one has been very unique and has certainly pulled me out of my comfort zone, but I am loving the process of it and learning a lot along the way.

In addition to our daily schedule of classes and internships and doing life with our host families, we have also gotten to do some fun new things this past week. First, we had a wonderful art class on Friday afternoon where we learned how to draw and paint traditional Thai-style Lotus flowers and dragon-fish. It was a very fun and refreshing thing to do and definitely different from the style of any of the drawing and painting classes I have taken back at home. That evening four of our students, Youa, Mandy, Kori and Sophie, joined in a Thai Beauty contest which was a part of the opening ceremony in the Chiang Mai Annual Flower Festival. Those of us who were not participating went out to the event to watch the pageant and all around it was a very unique experience. The Thai people don’t seem to do anything half way and the pageant was yet another example of that, they had fireworks, live music and even TV coverage of the event creating a very energetic and exciting environment. Our girls did a great job wearing their traditional thai outfits beautifully and making great impressions with their thai language skills and boldness to preform songs and dances. Sophie even won the Miss Favorite of Tourist, which was certainly well deserved! The weekend continued to be exciting and full of different fun activities for each of us from fish-foot spas, to riding buffalo, to going on a night safari, Thailand has not stopped bringing new and fun experiences for us!

This week’s blog post was written by Carly Richardson, pictured above, left. Carly is a junior Kinesiology major from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA. To view photos from this week, click the following link: RICD, Art Class, & Flower Festival.