Sawat-dii-khrap from Thailand!

We arrived at the Chiang Mai airport on January 9th and our lives took a turn for the unexpected.  Stepping off the plane was one of those “one small step for man” experiences, but that step got turned into a toe stub (for me at least) when I was sent to the back of the passport line because I had slept through the previous flight and hadn’t received the required paperwork for arrival and departure.  I sheepishly filled out the paperwork and arrived at the baggage claim about ten minutes behind the rest of the group.

Once we had retrieved our luggage from the baggage claim (or filed “lost luggage” complaints as in the case of yours truly) we stepped outside and found ourselves staring at the back of three identical, red trucks. These, we found out, were (and are) taxi/bus hybrids driven and owned by locals.  They are named “rot-dengs,” and can be flagged (palm-downwards) during any day or evening in the streets of Chiang Mai.  As we soon found out, traffic in Chang Mai is a hairy institution.  Imagine a swarming ant hill, and then take away the ants’ sense of order, neatness, and concern for each other’s safety, and you have some idea of what it appears to be from the back of a “rot-deng.”

After spending the night at the Sinthana Resort Hotel, we visited an authentic Thai buffet, the world’s largest jewelry store, a silk factory and silk store, an umbrella painter’s market, and a lacquerware factory and store.  In the jewelry story, we learned about the history and processes of producing authentic and extravagant jewelry and explored and shopped among some of the world’s most jewelry displays. The silk store was also wonderful.  Besides getting to see how silk is made (no common opportunity) we shopped among some of the finest silk in the world.  The umbrella painter’s market and lacquerware factory offered similar learning and shopping opportunities.  For example, several students and Ajarn Mike had unique pictures and phrases painted on practically anything (besides skin) that would absorb ink, including camera cases, shoes, and a traditional form of Thai apparel called “elephant pants.”

The next morning, we rode elephants.  After driving up into the mountains above Chiang Mai, we visited a village that trains elephants to do everything from carry humans to kick soccer balls or paint pictures.  We lurched along on the backs of elephants through a river and the village itself before finally returning to the camp.  It was a wonderful experience, except for the few of us who are prone to motion sickness.  Those few got several “experiences” for the price of one.  Afterwards, we observed a wonderful elephant performance, featuring afore-mentioned painting and soccer-playing elephants, among other things, and rounded off the experience by rafting down the river and then eating at the buffet in the village.

Monday was our orientation day at Chiang Mai University.  We spent the morning taking care of logistics for our separate schools and learning about Thai culture.  The afternoon was lighter, allowing us to continue recovering from the massive jet lag (about half of us were consistently waking up at three in the morning and twiddling our thumbs till dawn).  Tuesday and Wednesday, however, were busier, with 3 ½ straight hours of introduction to the Thai language each morning and introduction to possible internships during the afternoon.  There are four possible internships for SST students to choose this year. The Buddhist University and San Sri School allow SST students to assist professors and teachers as native English speakers and assistants.  RICD is an diagnostic center that works with disabled persons. SST students will mostly be working with a drama therapy program at RICD. An internship at San Sai hospital gives students the opportunity to experience the medical profession in a unique hands-on manner.

On Wednesday evening, we dressed in traditional Thai clothing and attended a Khantok dinner, which is a traditional Thai meal and party.  This particular dinner featured traditional Thai food (of course) set at long tables sunk low into the ground, so that the diners could comfortably sit on cushions at the floor level with their feet in the trench underneath the table.  During the meal, traditional Thai dancers and musicians performed for us.  These dances included representatives from different tribes in Thai culture who dressed in tribe specific colors and costumes.  At the end of the performances, we were given the opportunity to learn a traditional Thai dance.  Several students seized this opportunity by the horns and performed beautifully.  I also seized the opportunity by something, but given the questionable aesthetics of the result, I’m not sure what.  Moving on.

Thursday and Friday had the same basic schedule as Monday through Wednesday.  We sat in Thai language classes in the morning and interned during the afternoon.  On Saturday, however, we hiked up a mountain above Chiang Mai to visit a famous Buddhist temple, Doi Suthep.  The hike was fairly steep, yet we traveled through and beside beautiful scenery and stopped half-way up the mountain to rest and learn at a smaller, quieter, and less touristy temple that is primarily used for meditation.   At Doi Suthep, Ajarn Add taught us the history of the Buddha and we explored and shopped in the surrounding market.  Later on that day, we experienced our first (for many of us) thai massage.  I don’t remember much of it.  I was asleep.  I do remember that the masseuse had hands from heaven and kept waking me up so that I would turn over.  I’m not exactly Thai size.  (Yes, I say that proudly.  It’s the first time in my life I’ve been a big person.  So just let me have this one, ‘kay?)  That evening, we finished up the day by celebrating Ajarn Mike’s 21st birthday!  Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blixen were all in attendance.  Rudolph, however, was off somewhere trying to discover Namaste with Frosty.   Regardless, we have all embraced Ajarn Mike’s teaching to “Risk for the butterfly;” to leave our comfort zones and step out into the unknown to find and experience things that most people can only dream of and become all that we can be.

This week’s blog post was written by Kyle Benson, pictured above, senior Sociology major at Covenant College in Chatanooga, TN. To view more pictures from our first week in Thailand please click on the following link: Sa-wat-dii-khrap from Thailand!

TEFL & Songkran

The past couple of weeks have been filled with teaching, goodbyes and a whole lot of water.  After returning from the Lahu village, 17 of us ventured into the last chapter of our time in Thailand, TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language).  The TEFL program is located at the Language Institute at Chiang Mai University and taught by four British men who are wonderful and very invested in our success throughout the program.  We usually begin class at 10:30am with an hour and a half session, a lunch break and then another hour and a half session until 2:30pm. The TEFL program requires students to observe other teachers at the Language Institute as well as teaching a class ourselves.

All seventeen of us are split into four groups and placed with a trainer and a class to teach.  On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, we head to their various classrooms and teach.  In the beginning, we would “team-teach” and teach for a half an hour.  Now, we have upgraded to teaching for one hour by ourselves.  We have the same trainer and class for two weeks, and then switch trainers and classes for the last two weeks.  The past two weeks, my group has been traveling to a business in Chiang Mai to teach English to the employees.  At first, teaching adults intimidated me because I felt like I would not be taken seriously because I am quite younger than all of my students.  However, I ended up really enjoying my class.  They were energetic, eager to learn and knew a lot more English then I had expected.

While the TEFL program is an intensive program, we have had a five-day weekend because of Songkran, the Thai New Year.  To many, Songkran has now become known as a three-day water battle throughout the country of Thailand.  The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people.  They would capture the water after it had been poured over the Buddha for cleansing and then use the blessed water to give good fortune to elders and family members by pouring the water over their shoulders.  To prepare for the festivities, our group purchased buckets, water guns and plastic bags to protect our valuables before heading to the street.  The streets were lined with people throwing water at one another as well as trucks driving down the middle of the street with people throwing water (usually ice-water) from the truck beds.  There really is no way to stay dry during this festival unless you stay indoors all day.  Even riding through the city in a rot-dang (red trucks that are similar to taxis) resulted in people opening the windows or running to the back of the truck to douse us in water.  Playing Songkran the past few days has been a wonderful way to experience Thai culture and also have great fun.

At the beginning of the TEFL program, we had to say goodbye to friends we had made over the past three months.  Some were headed home, some were headed to Laos and others were headed to various parts of Thailand to work on other projects.  In two weeks, we will have to do the same as the majority of us head home to the United States.  Speaking for myself, these past four months have flown by and I cannot imagine having spent this semester anywhere else.  The friendships I have formed, experiences I have had and memories that I have made will forever make an imprint on my life.  See you soon USA!

This blog post was written by Lauren Pelaia (pictured above, middle), junior social work major from Messiah College located in Grantham, PA.

Ban Ba Lah

For our final week as SST, we went to the Lahu Village to help plant a desired 2000 banana trees.  We went with the goal to help the villagers see the possibilities of sustainable agriculture in their community and to help achieve a man named Witoon’s vision of his village. Witoon grew up in this village, and for a while he was working on his vison with only support from his father. His mother and even his wife had no faith in his dream coming true. Now, not only his wife and mother, but other villagers are starting to believe in his vision. We were able to see all that God has been doing for them in the village, and how Witoon’s dream is becoming more real each day. Our experience at the Lahu village was not like anything we have experienced in our program, and it was a good way to end our program as a whole.

Soon after we got to the village, all of the students went to get settled into their homestays. Each house had two students living there and most beds for the students were located in the family room of the house. Being back at a village also meant using the squatty potties. Most bathrooms were located outside and not attached to the house. There were roosters and chickens outside the homes and they loved to wake everyone up between four and six each morning. After we settled in we got to experience something sad for us, but traditional for the village. We got to experience the slaughtering of a pig as a way of welcoming us to their village. After the killing, they shaved it, and prepared all the desired meat for them to use for our meals the next several days. As sad as it was, it was so interesting to see the children interested in the process and desire to learn and watch their fathers prepare the pig.

On our first Saturday in the village, we went to visit a Chinese student hostel about forty-five minutes from where we stayed. The children were excited to see us all and were ready to play. There were about ten children there since it was summer break and many children went back home. We had face painting, soccer, and volleyball for our morning. After a fun morning with the children, they served a delicious lunch and we returned back to the center for a relaxing afternoon at the village. On Sunday we experienced church at our village. We sang some worship songs, including “How Great Thou Art.” It was so cool to hear the song played in the Lahu language, and we sang it in English as well. We had two students, Amber Adams and Mack Ellis, prepare a devotional for the sermon. They did a great job sharing a wonderful message to the students and the villagers. After church we got to visit one of the greatest temples in Thailand, the White Temple in Chiang Rai. This temple is extremely creative, and is still being worked on. It was absolutely beautiful. Ajarn Mike set it up that we could meet the artist of this temple. We went to a zoo afterwards and got to hear some pretty cool Thai speaking birds. It was a good weekend to prepare us for five days of banana planting.

Monday morning came along quickly which meant it was time to start planting banana trees. We were ready to work knowing we would be planting a lot of trees each day. The first day we planted about four hundred and fifty trees with the help of some of the farmers in the village. Each day the farmers would say how they never would have imagined something so great happening to their fields. Each day we planted, God was showing himself to the villagers and to us students by giving each of us such strength to plants hundreds of trees for six days. We planted from about eight-thirty to about noon each day. We got a good system of moving these trees by making an assembly line and tossing the trees, if light enough, up the hills to the holes to be planted. By the second day, we were able to plant about one hundred and twenty trees in forty-five minutes. We were unstoppable and easily going to reach our goal of two thousand banana trees. At the end of Tuesday we planted almost one thousand trees.

Tuesday night SST began to encounter a bit of a set back to our planting. Me and a couple of students started feeling a little bit off, but did not think much of it. By the end of the night one of the helpers at the village, Nate, and I went to the hospital to get checked out because we were not feeling well at all. Witoon said, “At least it is only a couple of students and not everyone.” With that being said, by Wednesday, more than half of the group was down for the count and ill with the same sickness as Nate and I. The villagers, Witoon, and his wife were so caring and did whatever they could to take care of us and help us get better. Luckily, we are all generally feeling better from this unknown illness.

Even though we were dealing with what we call “The Ban Ba Lah Disease” we still had the healthy students go and plant banana trees. Even the sickness could not keep us from reaching our goal. By the end of the week our group planted a total of two-thousand two-hundred banana trees throughout the village. The villagers were amazed to see the amount planted. At one point I remember Witoon saying that he saw other villagers are starting to plant more banana trees in their fields because they see what we have been doing around the village. We were also able to discuss and come up with some outside ideas for Witoon to help his fields improve and help his dream come true. Pii Mollie came up with some great ideas that will probably be used in the near future to benefit the Lahu Village.


Our final night there we had a fun night dancing and seeing some fireworks. The villagers came dressed in their traditional outfits and we all gave thank you gifts to our homestay families. Ajarn Mike also surprised us at the end of the night with lanterns to send into the sky. It was truly a great way to end our time in the village. Now we are back in Chiang Mai, and officially done with the Spring Semester in Thailand program. Seventeen of us are staying here to do the TEFL program. TEFL stands for “Teaching English as a Foreign Language.” After this program we will be certified to teach English anywhere around the world. Two of the students are traveling, three are staying for some voluntary work, and the rest are going back to America. Thank you again Ajarn Mike, Ajarn Ann, the Pii’s, and all of people who helped make all that we experienced possible.  This program has been life changing and an experience we will never forget.

This week’s blog post was written by Hannah Hartman (pictured above, right), sophomore Human Development and Family Sciences major at Messiah College, located in Grantham, PA.

To view photos from the Lahu Village, please click the following link:

Spring Break in Paradise

After an amazing tour across Thailand, it was finally spring break! Most of us traveled by van to the coast and then on a ferry to the island Koh Chang. Some students also went to Koh Larn and Krabi.

A normal day began with an American breakfast at the hotel with a relaxing swim at the pool. At the beach we enjoyed the soft white sand in-between our toes and the palm trees for cool shade. Hunting for sand dollars on the ocean floor and cooling off on the beach with mango smoothies – nothing could be better; vendors selling handmade jewelry and summer dresses on the beach. We used the Thai we learned at CMU to bargain for the best deals.

After exploring the marketplaces and sunbathing, we started the evenings with an authentic Thai meal at an outdoor restaurant and ended the night with a swim at the hotel pool. Our hotel was unexpected, as it is a place filled with foreigners from all over the world. Guests were families on vacation from China, France, and Russia trying to adapt to Thai culture, just like us. We also met a British woman traveling on her own who quickly became our friend.


Highly anticipating the 18th of March, the day finally came for snorkeling with the SST group on our very own private boat! Twenty-two of us seriously chilled out on a gorgeous boat from Koh Chang to four small islands. We geared up with goggles and snorkel breathing tubes and dove into the ocean. Underwater we observed stunning rainbow-colored parrotfish, giant coral reefs, tiny squids, and so much more! Some SST students were brave enough to jump off the upper level of boat and to canon ball into the water. During the boat ride, we even saw flying fish leap across the ocean surface. The sea presented a gradient of all the shades of blue you can ever think of.

The final stop was a surprise and amazing end to the boat trip– we came up to an island full of monkeys! Visiting boats threw rice and bread to the moneys hanging out at the rocks on the side of the island, and yes, the monkeys fought over every single piece!

Sadly, the next day it was time to pack our bags and prepare for the journey back to Chiang Mai. We rode the ferry once more across the sea to the mainland of Thailand. Then we loaded into big vans taking us to the city of Ayutthaya. From there, we jumped onto an overnight train to Chiang Mai.

Spring break for us meant that friendships were strengthened and also new relationships were formed. It was a chance to escape from hectic daily routines and learn more about our SST classmates with no classes, no work, and no stress. I feel much closer to these people than I was before and I am so lucky to have had my first real vacation with good friends from SST.


Spiritually God has been with us throughout this program. On the island He welcomed us with the warmth of His love. Sitting on the beach, watching the sunset in the pink sky and the waves crashing quietly against the shore, we did not just see it as an island, we saw God revealing himself to us. We see how mighty God really is that He is able to create such beauty on Earth.  When we see something as beautiful as this, we see only a glimpse into the beauty of God and mastery of His wondrous creation.

This blog post was written by Becky Corisha, Michelle Xiong, and Vicky Yang. Becky is a junior Psychology major from Gordon College in Wenham, MA. Becky is pictured in the second to last photo with her host family, second from the left. Michelle is a senior Biology major, Biblical Studies minor at the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, MN. Last byt not least, Vicky Yang is a junior Biology major, Biblical Studies minor also at the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, MN. Vicky and Michelle are pictured above in the last photo with their host family. Vicky is at the top left and Michelle is at the top right.

To view the completely uploaded photos of our Farewell Dinner please click the following link:

To view the completely uploaded photos of our Historical Tour Field Trip and Snorkeling please click the following link: Please note that our group was scattered for vacation, and so we only have these snorkeling photos from our spring break. Thank you!

A Legendary Historic Expedition!

These past two weeks for SST 2014 were full of many tears, laughs, and bus rides! To start we will tell you all about the farewell dinner we had so that we could thank our host families, professors, drivers, and anyone else who helped make this program possible. On the 7th of March all of the SST students and their host families came together to have a farewell party! It was a fun time of being all together in a single room. Every family was personally thanked for their great contributions to this program in hosting each student. The various internships were represented and were thanked for their addition to our experiences in Thailand. Our Thai Buddies also performed a dance for entertainment and 6 of our students performed their “Fish Spa” skit for everyone to see (Ben Trapp, Gretchen Plander, Mackenzie Ellis, Katie Wright, Megan Barnes, and Lauren Pelaia).

Currently we are experiencing the legendary Historic Tour! Yet with the historic tour came the necessary and tearful goodbyes to our wonderful host families. On Sunday, we all woke up early to finish our last minute packing and were driven to Chiang Mai University for the last time by our host families. Once we arrived and had said our goodbyes we were greeted with a tour bus complete with air conditioning (quite the luxury), reclining seats, and a TV! After getting all our bags on board we were off for the tour of a lifetime!


We began our expedition south by heading to Sukhothai. We had already studied a lot about this city so we were pretty excited to finally see it in person. Sunday night we stayed in Sukhothai after visiting the Si Satchanalai Historical Park where we got to see how the many styles of pottery had been made many years before. We also went to some pretty incredible temple ruins that had been destroyed by the Burmese years before but the remnants of Wat Prathat Lampang Loung in Koh Ka District still showed the history that we had already learned. We could see where the once standing Buddha of the temple grounds stood and knew that the following day in Sukhothai we would be able to see some that have not been destroyed.

Monday morning we gathered our belongings and attempted to be on the bus by 8:30. This day was a day mostly spent outside so we needed to lather up with lots of sunscreen. We arrived at a bike rental place and each got to pick out which bike we wanted to ride. After that we were off to explore the old city! It was interesting to learn about the history of the ruins and how the city has come to what it is today. We saw many ruins of the temples and enjoyed the wind in our hair as we cruised along in a caravan of thirty bicycles. Saying that it was fun is quite the understatement because it was truly a blast! After spending the morning biking around we had an opportunity to visit an older man who has been casting Buddha images in the Sukhothai style. He showed us the intricate process of creating a mold and then casting it with bronze. Shortly after stopping there we made our way to Pitsanulok for the night. We enjoyed relaxing in the pool after a long warm day out and about.

Tuesday was spent mostly on the road but before leaving Pitsanulok we had the opportunity to visit Sargent Major Thawee’s Folk Museum. He has preserved much of Thai culture through his many exhibits of traditional living. He also keeps an aquarium of various fish native to Thailand. Shortly after, we were on the road to Lopburi, which is about 260 kilometers from Pitsanulok. Once we arrived we went to see a temple that had been overrun with monkeys. The moment we arrived we could see the hundreds of monkeys around the temple waiting for us to come in and feed them. We had to remove anything that could be stolen, as the monkeys are curious. Those that wanted a monkey on them would have four or five hanging on them before they knew it, in the search for food. After we had our fill of monkeys we headed to our hotel for the night. The hotel however was quaintly decorated with very large monkey statues many standing at about one story tall. So we definitely got our share of monkeys even at the hotel although they were only statues.

On Wednesday we woke up early so that we would have time to see the monkey museum at our hotel. It was filled with everything you could possibly imagine that had a monkey on it. There were chairs shaped like monkeys, mugs, masks, and so much more. It was interesting to see such a huge collection of monkey themed objects. We were then on the road to see the King Narai Palace Museum where we were able to see the old palace where the King used to come for vacations. In the museum there were many artifacts from the Khmer style of Buddhas. It was great to see this style and spot the many differences that it possesses.


We then were off to Ayutthaya, our final stop on the tour. In Ayutthaya we were able to visit the Ayutthaya Historical Study Center, which was filled with many artifacts and exhibits where we could see what was native to this city. From there we were off to see two different temples exhibiting the styles true to Ayutthaya. It was extremely hot out but that didn’t stop us from climbing up the many Chedis at the temples! After that we were able to relax at our hotel and get ready for our party boat that evening. We arrived at the dock and saw the boat where our dinners were already prepared for us. The food was absolutely delicious and we even got to sing some classic Karaoke songs like “I Will Survive”.  It was a great night and after we got to see another temple lit up in the night, which only enhanced its beauty. Although the historical tour is coming to a close it has been a great week and we are all looking forward to some much-needed relaxation during our spring breaks.


This blog post was written by Megan Barnes (last photo above, left) and Ben Trapp (last photo above, right). Megan is a Kinesiology, Pre-Physical Therapy major and Ben is a Biochemistry major. Both are juniors at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California.

To view a few photos of the farewell dinner, please click the following link:

Because  of intermittent and very sluggish internet this week we are unable to post many photos to our Google photo albums. We will post them once we return to Chiang Mai on March 20th. Thank you for understanding! Our students are having a great time on their historical tour!