To say I was under-prepared for this journey would be an understatement. I wasn’t under-prepared in the sense that I didn’t know how to navigate airports by myself or travel in another country alone. As cheesy as it sounds, I was under prepared for the amount joy and pure fun that would happen on this program.
My first impression of Thailand was that it is more industrial than I imagined. A lot of the movies and pictures you see of Thailand are of the gorgeous beaches and thick jungles. Which is true — there are many beautiful beaches and being in the jungle here feels like you’re either on a movie set or on another planet.
“A lot of our discussions have been based around our self perception, inner thoughts, how we view others and learning about forgiveness and love. Needless to say there have been a lot of tears.”
But there also is a lot of city life and that is where a majority of the population lives. We are currently staying in Chiang Mai, which falls under the city category, but something that is so great about Chiang Mai is that I can walk down the street for a one-hour foot massage and some tom yum soup for only $12 U.S., total.
Another thing I was completely unprepared for was the class that we are taking. Mindfulness is something that I’ve never really looked into before. While I know this course is specific to this trip, it honestly feels like a group therapy session in addition to learning about intercultural communications and Thailand. Each class we begin with a three minute breathing exercise to set the mood for our course. A lot of our discussions have been based around our self perception, inner thoughts, how we view others and learning about forgiveness and love.
Needless to say there have been a lot of tears.
The most special aspect of the trip so far — and what has made this the most amazing experience — is the group of people I’m studying abroad with. Every individual brings their own unique life story to the table and everyone is so welcoming and kind and excited to be here. Having a smaller group — there are only 16 people on the trip — has really allowed us to become a family and be close and honest together.
I’m the youngest student on the trip and I still feel welcomed by everyone, which really has made a huge impact on me. I was worried at first about not knowing anyone on the trip, not even knowing the professor well, but the results have been better than I could’ve ever imagined. We have a group chat and people always message stuff like “we’re going to dinner if anyone is down to join meet us in the lobby in 15 mins:)” and “Hey we’re going to the night market if anyone wants come with.”
This kindness and welcoming environment has also helped me adjust to being in Thailand more quickly. Thailand is definitely very different from living in the United States. The way the cars drive, the locations of stores and the weather are all so different from what I’m used to.
One of the most unexpected but fun challenges I have had while in Thailand is adjusting to the weather. Currently Thailand is experiencing its stormy season; One minute it’s sunny and humid and 60 seconds later it is total downpour with lightning. A positive aspect to the constant rain and shine combination is that the rain is nice to cool you off even though it is still warm outside when it’s raining.
Some of the activities that we have done so far have completely changed my life. We’ve toured multiple temples, taken a cooking class, climbed up sticky waterfalls and —my personal favorite — visited an elephant sanctuary.
Many of the elephants in Thailand are used for tourism and riding but this sanctuary is a place of rehabilitation for elephants and it allows them to live in the jungle and be free. At the sanctuary we first learned about elephants, then fed them, made elephant “medicine” snack and fed it to them too and finally bathed the elephants. It was a magical experience to be so close to such gentle giants. During our stay at the sanctuary we watched as some elephants decided to climb the hills in the jungle; It was very impressive to watch such a big creature climb through the jungle like it’s no problem.
In addition to all of these excursions we do actually have class sessions. The classroom is usually set up in a conference room inside the hotel where we can all see each other and discuss freely. This is my first communications class so some of the concepts are a little new but we talk about a lot of cultural differences between Thailand and the United States. We even had a guest speaker from Chiang Mai University to come and discuss Thai cultural norms and current news in Thailand.
A current project that our class is working on is observing Thai culture and using some communication philosophies to compare and contrast Thailand to the United States. My group is writing about the concept of proximity and high context/low context cultures. I’m excited to observe more and learn about the cultures.
One vital part of the study abroad program that has also helped me adjust to all the differences is finding some time alone. I have a roommate, who is awesome. Her name is Elia and it is kind of a crazy coincidence but her birthday is a day before mine and we are both celebrating on the trip (hers is June 3 and mine is June). Even though I love having her as a roommate, I still try to find some time alone so I can relax and process all of the differences and conversations that have been happening.
Traveling abroad is an amazing chance to learn more about other cultures and ways of life.Through this new knowledge you are able to re examine your own life and ways of thinking.
It’s powerful. It’s new. And I can’t wait to share more with y’all as the journey continues!
Sofia Bert is a second year journalism/public relations major. She is traveling to Chiang Mai and Bangkok, Thailand on the College of Extended Studies program Intercultural Communication in Thailand.