Imagine that you are 6 years old. Every Thursday, your mother traditionally takes you to your favorite park down the street to play. This place feels like home, and not only do you always see all your friends there, but you get to slide down the bright red fireman’s pole, like a real fireman.
However, today is special – because your mom is taking you to a new playground.
In the car, you can only imagine if the structures will be as tall as castles, if the slide will swirl like an ice cream cone or be straight as a pencil, or if the swings swing so high that they might launch you into space. And although the intoxicating smell of tanbark seems to already fill your nostrils, you can only imagine the possibilities with giddy excitement. However, whether today you will be fending off Captain Jack’s army of pirates from atop the play structure, or swinging on the monkey bars over a dangerous ravine, one thing is for certain: It will be an adventure.
I am making an effort to approach new experiences as I would as a child; extremely observant, curious and full of imagination. I find that I am able to enjoy the variable events and interactions if I wear a lens that embodies a “play” type of attitude.
So I begin this journey wearing my adolescent goggles in the playground that is Thailand.
Ultimately, I am hoping to learn more about myself — and humanity as a whole — by becoming immersed in Thai culture. By immersed, I mean living as one of the locals there. I do not wish to resemble a tourist, observing their culture as I would a science experiment, and seeking out relatable experiences that coddle me with familiarity. My intention is to find out what makes this community tick.
Thailand is a piece of the greater puzzle of humanity, and to understand what gives the Thai people meaning will further my own quest to understand what life is all about. For example, Thailand’s core values stem from spirituality, and this mindset dictates their lifestyle in both the political and social sphere. American culture on the other hand, emphasizes materialistic goals and the pursuit of wealth to achieve happiness. And while spirituality exists in America, it does not set unanimous societal norms.
Buddhism also fascinates me, and I believe that it is unique from other religions in the way that it puts a tangible focus on increasing connectedness in this life, while others emphasize this life as a means to achieving the next. I have the hypothesis that while Thailand may be the materially poorer country, it is perhaps further advanced.
Lastly, I am interested to observe how I will react to a new environment with new people. I find that I act differently depending on the group that I surround myself with, and therefore form an alternate identity that reflects the values that the group embodies. Maintaining my authentic self in the face of the emotional need for acceptance in a new community will be a challenge.
Again, I turn to my childhood spectacles for guidance, as I find it much easier to be genuine in youth.
Can’t wait to arrive at the new park! Whoo!
Isaac Christian is an information systems senior. He is studying in Bangkok, Thailand over winter break.