SST 2012 Update #2, written by Amanda Sutter, Sophomore Sociology Major from Westmont College.
Sawatdee Kha (Hello): These past few days in Chiang Mai have been both busy and full of change. While last week consisted of intense Thai language courses in the morning and exploring the city with our Thai buddies in the evening, this weekend we relaxed, learned a bit about Buddhism, moved in with our host families, and began our internships (a huge change for everyone). Saturday morning we woke up early (not 8 a.m. early, but 5 a.m. early) to get ready to hike up the mountain next to Chiang Mai. On the top is the beautiful Doi Suthep temple. It’s a tradition at CMU for all freshman to make this hike as a sort of initiation. However, CMU freshman typically walk up the road (longer, but easier), while we went up the trail. The morning started off cold and dark, but like everything in Thailand it was still beautiful. Along some places on the trail we could even look through the trees and see the city (or parts of it – the fog was pretty dense). After 30-45 minutes, we made it to our half-way point, which was a gorgeous forest temple. I didn’t even realize where we were until statues and Wats began to appear and multiply. The whole temple grounds were located on the side of the mountain and running down the middle of it all was a river/waterfall. It had to be one of the more picturesque places I’ve been to.
Unfortunately while we were at the temple, it began to rain. This meant that the trail was too slippery to continue our hike up, but we were still able to make it to the top using the rot-dɛɛŋ (sounds like “wrote-dang” and is a red pick-up truck with a covering and benches in the back). There we got a history lesson on the story of the Buddha from Ajarn Add and enjoyed views of the city, the beautiful golden pagoda, and the neighboring market.After we came down the market we had a buffet lunch at CMU followed by a 2 hour massage. With a birthday party for Ajarn Mike and myself later that evening at the Leming home with a full buffet dinner, it was all together an amazing day. The next morning we left our beloved Sinthana hotel and each of us was adopted! Personally, I was terrified. I had high hopes of being fluent in Thai by this point (Ajarn Mike always told us how easy the Thai language was) and unfortunately I wasn’t. How would I communicate with my family? Would they speak any English at all? How could I tell them about myself? Or learn about them? Or know when I did something completely offensive?
I think it’s safe to say that all of us
(including our host parents) felt the same anxiety to some degree, but after meeting our families and settling into our homes those worries subsided. I live in SanSai (about a 30 minute drive from CMU) with my host mom (Khun Mae joy) and dad (Khun Pa), her parents (both 70 years old), and her uncle. Although I don’t spend too much time at home, I’ve loved being part of their morning routine -Khun
Mae’s mother playing with the two dogs, seeing her father work in the yard, and her uncle watch Thai boxing while Khun Mae, Khun Pa and I all scramble to get ready for work and school. A few days in and I’m already feeling more at home.
On top of moving into our Thai homes, we also began our internships. Because of how things worked out, many of us have two placements. I, for example, work at the Juvenile Detention Center on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday and at San Siri (a school for underprivileged children who would not have the opportunity to get an education otherwise for a variety of reasons) on Wednesdays. Other students work two days at Interact (a traveling art and theater production that practices radical inclusion for the disabled) and two days at San Siri, or three days at the Buddhist University and one day at Interact. Five of our students are placed in hospitals. Honestly, I just feel really lucky to be working at both the Juvenile Center (called Baan Dek) and San Siri because before this week I couldn’t decide between them! I know most people wouldn’t want to spend time at a Juvenile Detention Center (Baan Dek), and honestly I wouldn’t want to either, but what really drew me to this was the fact that most of what we would be doing was relationship-building with poor women (ages 13 – 22) who have had little opportunities in life and now are able to earn their GED diploma. Baan Dek is a little different from other internships which allow you to do something (such as teach English or be a part of a show or work in a hospital alongside doctors and nurses). While we do make crafts with the girls that can later be sold to give them some extra pocket money, that doesn’t really matter. They could probably make them twice as fast and twice as well (most of the time they stop me half way through to fix what I’ve already done anyway). The only thing we’re there to do is be a friend to them and learn about them and practice each others’ languages. Honestly, I don’t even think I’ve begun to understand what my internship will look like – what I can give the girls of myself or what I can glean from them, but it’s only been two days so I’m not too worried. I’m mostly just anxious to see what’s next and how our relationships may develop. Farewell for now. Amanda Sutter
Click here to see more pictures of internships, the hike, the birthday party, and us meeting our new families!