Experiential Learning in Thailand
Sawaddee ka! This is Anna, from Thailand! I am having such a wonderful time here and cannot wait to tell you all about it.
But first, to introduce my blog!
With this blog, I hope to write about sustainability. However, we have not learned that much about sustainability yet, because we are still taking an introductory course to Thai culture as well as intensive Thai language classes. Therefore, for this post, I am going to share what it is like to attend an experiential learning program. ISDSI, the program I am attending, is a lot different from other study abroad programs. Instead of enrolling in a large university or large study abroad school with multiple program offerings, I enrolled in a small study abroad school that is only based in Thailand and only offers four block courses and a language course.
The first course, which I am taking now, is about Thai history and culture. We have had a few lecture-based classes, but for the most part, we are learning from the community about the topics we are learning about. We have had one guest speaker talk about gender, sexuality, and identity in Thailand, another about Lisu and Hill Tribe heritage, and another about child victims of sexual abuse, online sexual exploitation, and human trafficking. We have also gone on a lot of field trips! For the last two days, we are learning about religion, so we visited a Sikh Temple, a Mosque, a Church, and three Buddhist Temples! My favorite location was the last Buddhist Temple where a Monk guided us through a meditation and another one blessed us by spraying us with some water and tying some white string around our wrists, which is a common thing to receive at temples.
I am so glad that I picked a program with experiential learning because it is a new way of learning that I only really glimpsed at Amherst. Because it is so new, we are given an experiential learning workbook that provides prompts for us to reflect upon. For example, we went with our Ajaan (Professor) to a morning market and had to answer many questions in the workbook. What kind of people are at the market? Where are the vendors from (ask them!)? What food is being sold? I loved that activity because I noticed that the market had many Muslim and Chinese vendors. I was able to connect this observation to what I have been learning, which is that many Muslim vendors are here because the market was in a large Muslim neighborhood centered around the Mosque next door. Many Chinese vendors are here because there are a lot of Chinese communities in Northern Thailand, and Chinese merchants have been in Thailand for a long time. One Chinese vendor spoke to me in Thai and Chinese and I understood both!
Now that I have been in Thailand for 2 weeks, I am starting to reflect on my expectations while abroad. I am realizing that the rewards of studying abroad is only half academic. The other half is about personal growth, which of course will only enrich my ability to be an academic. So far, I have really enjoyed being in Asia because I am connecting to my Asian identity. This is my first time in Asia since being very young (and my first time being in Southeast Asia!) and I am really learning a lot about the culture, customs, foreign relations, and languages.
I am also becoming more resilient when it comes to tough interactions. Coming to a country where I did not know the language, I have had a lot of misunderstandings. Once, I tried to get the rest of my dinner packaged up to take home, but the owner of the food stand thought I actually wanted another order of the dish! It is important to not get too stressed out about the awkward interaction and simply remember that it was a learning opportunity.
Secondly, jet lag brought about a pleasant surprise. I am now waking up at 7am and going to bed at 10pm! This never happened voluntarily at Amherst but it was easy to do here because I was always so tired in the evenings so I would go to bed early.
When my days are filled with so many exciting experiences, I am also learning how to allow myself to get excited about things. I feel like since the start of the pandemic, I have reduced my expectations of what I would be experiencing in the next few years in order to not get disappointed. This was a period for me to settle down and develop a routine while focusing on what I have control over. However, while in Thailand, we have done so many emotionally thrilling things that I just couldn’t help but burst out smiling. My favorite moment was standing under a large waterfall after a very sweaty hike and doing a little dance. It was so refreshing to the soul.
While I am allowing myself to feel emotionally excited over fun experiences, I am also learning how to stay in the present moment. The Monk taught us that we can practice this in order to not develop greedy desires. I hope to not think too much about all that is planned for me for the next three months because, as we have all learned with Covid, plans can change. Anyways, why should I be thinking about future plans when each day is so stimulating and new?
Well, now I am off to a Thai cooking class. Thank you for reading, and I am looking forward to writing my next blog post in a few weeks!
– แอนนา (Anna)