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By Taylor Garland

This past week was recess week for us, so my friends and I went to do a bit of traveling around Southeast Asia. Our trip to both Bangkok and Bali felt too long and too short. The bustle of Bangkok made me miss me time in Shanghai, but there was a distinctive difference – no one was looking at us.

In Shanghai, I had a diverse group of friends, many of them tall, and all very much foreign-looking to local Chinese people. In Thailand, however, in the group of six, there was only one non-asian person, but her “sun-kissed” skin and dark, thick hair made her appear to belong to the region. I felt right at home in Bangkok, acclimating to the weather (rainy) and the metro (crowded) quickly. We walked the streets like we lived there, despite the obvious chatter in English that very often gave us away.

One thing I sought out to do was find spicy food and BOY let me tell you. Singaporean food seems to be relatively tame, so coming to Thailand was like the clouds parting and a single chili that is also on fire falling on my tongue. Everything I ate there was spicy, much to the shock of those traveling with me.... everything. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were all flaked with red and I loved it.

Bali was very different in tone and experience. For one, it didn’t rain, which I appreciated greatly. It was also a dryer heat, which was so nice, to not be sweating as soon as we stepped out. And two, it was an island, and the culture was certainly reflective of it. No structure stood more than one story, and there was no highway – while there were a few paved roads, not many with any traffic direction – so transportation by scooter was preferred. There was an air of nonchalance and relaxation – though that might have been through the insane amount of foreigners coming to their surf n’ sun mecca.

A note for both of these places, and any place you travel to – everything you do is what you make of it. There are so many ways to experience the same place, so many ways you can go to a beach and come away happy with your time or mad about your sunburn. Also, always know where your phone is.

By ldanielowski18

Right now, I am getting cozy in a Moscow airport for my last layover before returning home. I have officially joined the flocks of sunburnt tourists sporting t-shirts and sandals, wincing at the biting chill of the airplane’s AC in preparation for the winter awaiting us at home. My final blog post seems as good a place as any to reflect on just some of what I’ve learned about traveling/generally being in the world.

Before going abroad, I often found myself hesitant to ask questions for fear of coming off as uninformed. However, living in India and traveling independently, you have no other choice but to admit that you do not know a lot of things (and believe me I did not and still do not know A LOT of things about living abroad) and ask the people around you about how you interact with new spaces (i.e. how/why spaces may be gendered, or even simply the unspoken etiquette for things like crossing the street or eating).

Over the course of this semester and my post program travel I have learned to be more comfortable asking questions and engaging with more people. This is a skill I would also like to translate over when participating in discussions surrounding socially relevant and significant topics such as inequalities/injustices and cultural differences.

...continue reading "Going Home (see: WHAT??)"

By ldanielowski18

Being abroad has been different from any other travel experience I’ve had; I am a student, and a tourist, and a traveler, and those multiple identities play a huge role in shaping your experience interacting with new people, cultures, and topographies. In Madurai, I very much felt like a student: I had a routine, was practicing the local language, and was not a part of the hoards of French tourists that I occasionally saw bopping around the Meenakshi Temple.

However, I was by no means an integrated part of the local community. Not being a tourist does not erase positionality or your status as an outsider, but it does mean that you might have the chance to get even a fraction closer to the heart of a community through occupying local spaces, engaging in dialogues you may not have as a tourist, and incorporating community routines into your own life.

In Sri Lanka, the first leg of my post-program travels, there was some feeling of familiarity. Signs had some Tamil writing, autos (or tuk tuks) were the same albeit a variety of colors, and the cuisine was not unfamiliar territory. While my friends and I participated in a number of explicitly tourist activities, I did not yet feel like a tourist. In Malaysia, the number of tourists we were surrounded by definitely increased, but I did not yet feel any particularly striking distance between the community of tourists and residents of Malaysia; there was in many ways a coexistence that I felt made my experience there ultimately more meaningful and educational in understanding and learning about a culture and community I had never even thought of before.

...continue reading "Adventures in Thailand: Being a Tourist"

By kelseymagill13

Sawadeeka from Thailand for the last time!

The last four months have absolutely flown by and somehow, we're down to the final ten days of our program here in Khon Kaen. In the last few weeks, things have really picked up as we've completed the pivotal component of the public health coursework - our data collection and intervention.

After looking at all of the information that we'd received from our initial community stays, my group decided that we wanted to focus on the waste management problem that became in our third community, Mittraphap. As we conducted health surveys and interviews, our group noticed a significant accumulation of trash along nearby railroad tracks and under the stilt houses that were situated towards the back of the community. Many of the community members we spoke with expressed a concern about the health implications of the waste and a desire to live in a clearer, safer community. With that information in mind, we headed back to the community armed with 50 surveys and questions for some of the community leaders. Our primary goal was to figure out where all of the trash was coming from and what, if any, disposal system existed in the community. In survey responses, nearly everyone said that they disposed of trash in individual household trash bins before emptying those into a larger municipal dumpster.

...continue reading "This is it!"

By kelseymagill13

Sawasdeeka again from the beautiful (and for once, somewhat dry - get outta here rainy season!) country of Thailand!

Though I've been spending the last few days trying to figure out how in the world my program is halfway over and I'm less than 50 days away from my return to the states, the last few weeks have been filled with research and community engagement driven homestays. As I've mentioned in previous posts, we're getting into the meat of our course, where we take all of the research and data collection tools that we've acquired thus far and actually get to put them to use in the field! Over the last three weeks, we spent two days and two nights each in a rural, semi-urban, and urban slum community in Khon Kaen Province.

...continue reading "Finally, the good stuff!"

By kelseymagill13

Greetings from Vietnam!

I just wrapped up a week-long comparative study trip where we compared health care systems and village life in Vietnam with what we’ve already learned and experienced in Thailand. Although I’m currently enjoying a much needed vacation on the beautiful Cat Ba Island, I’ll be headed back to Khon Kaen soon enough! After a few days of personal travel, we’ll be jumping back into classes and preparing for our second community visit – this time in a rural community – on October 12th.

...continue reading "Getting Sidetracked in Vietnam"

By practiceyogadistrict

I leave Khon Kaen tomorrow. I cannot believe how quickly these four months have sped by.

I have been blessed with the joys of lots of adventure and new experiences along with tough growing pains as I have been away from my community in DC. I have gotten to live in villages in the north of Thailand with the Karen people, in central Thailand in a fishing village on an island, then several in the Northeast, an organic farming village and a silk weaving village most recently. Beyond those phenomenal experiences witnessing little blimps of authentic life here in Thailand, I have had a few excursions of my own. I have had quite a few bus mishaps, getting stuck on the side of the road with a few travel companions, getting stuck in multiple storms, and even getting stuck on a broken down bus. All these were in pursuit of finding remarkable hikes in the jungles of Laos or national parks in Thailand. I have also made some pretty great friends along the way, and am able to carry on a conversation in Thai! Learning the language has been really fun.

I will miss the phenomenal Thai food. I will miss discovering fun coffee shops in Khon Kaen. I will miss sharing food. I will miss the moobans (villages). I will miss night markets. I will miss the sweet Thai friends I have made along the way. And most of all I will miss the joy of discovery.

By LizGoodwin04

I can’t believe that it is officially the beginning of my last month here in Thailand! This past week, I finished all of my classes, handed in all of my finals, and shifted all of my attention to my final research project, which I will be working on until I leave.

For our final project of the semester, students are expected to choose a topic that we have studied this semester that has interested them and revisit the issue. The research topics students are looking at are varied - some students are looking at maternal health, others are looking at poverty strategies, and some are researching traditional Thai dance.

For my research, I will be working with three other students to study the effects of the Thai government’s land and forest policy on the people of Thailand. We will be visiting two villages in Thailand to conduct research. One village we are visiting is in Kalasin province and the other one is in Sakon Nakhon province. Both provinces are about 2-3 hours away from Khon Kaen province, where I’m studying.

While in these villages, my research group and I will be working with an NGO based out of Sakon Nakhon province to tell the story of 27 farmers and their families who were accused of trespassing and who had their land and homes seized by the government.

My group of four students will be working on a documentary, a journalism feature article and an academic policy paper on the issue. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I am excited to get researching and get the story out there!

By practiceyogadistrict

Drains and Justice

This past week was quite a draining one both emotionally and physically. The study program has fully launched into final project time. Since this past Sunday I have spent 4 days in a community interviewing and filming stories for a mini documentary for hours on end (I have shot over 160 GB of footage). Late nights and early mornings. That’s the physically draining bit. The emotional drain has been the content of the stories.

We were first asked to come and tell this community’s story by a local NGO. Why? Because of the injustices and suffering they have gone through since last August. In this past August, the Thai government instituted this new policy called the ‘Master Plan.’ This plan was set in order to reclaim national forest land from investors farming on it. However, investors paid off the military that was sent to drive them from the land, and the military as a result, picked on the easiest target, these poor villagers. These villagers were charged for trespassing on the land that they have been farming for generations, and now face charges and potential prison time if found guilty for trespassing or farming the land. Not only have these villagers lost their home, their livelihood, and their land, but they also are racking up debt paying for court fees.

In my four days in the community, I heard heartbreaking stories. Stories of a family in which both the parents were put in prison, though only one was charged for ‘trespassing,’ and now the three children are left without the pillars of their family. I heard stories of wives falling into serious mental health and psychiatric problems because of the stress this experience put on the family. I heard stories of a man who not only lost his land, but also his wife and children who left and got a divorce due to fear of the instability of having to fight in court. Story after story after story. Each one equally as devastating.

What is my hope in all this? Isaiah 9:2-7.

Though their stories are hard to hear, I am privileged to get to tell their story in whatever way I am able. I pray that as I tell their story, they might experience greater grace and justice in their lives and that they might have hope.

By LizGoodwin04

As I walked through the village of Chonnabot in Northeastern Thailand, I could see every step of the silk-weaving process. I saw silk worms feeding on mulberry leaves and yellow silk being extracted from the worms and spun onto giant spools. Women weaved in the shade of the open space beneath their wooden houses raised on stilts. The beautiful and rich-colored silks popped against the simple, wooden looms they were woven on.

Thailand is famous for its silk and weaving is an important part of Thai culture. On Wednesday, I visited the village of Chonnabot in Khon Kaen province, which is famous for having some of the finest mut mee silk in the country. The mut mee process is often referred to as “tie-dying.” The silk threads are tied together with a fiber before dyeing to resist the dye and create a design. When the dye is dry, the fiber is cut away and the undyed spots are painted with other colors. The more colors in a piece of mut mee silk, the more complicated the silk is to design and make.

While I was in Chonnabot, I stayed with a family who make their living from mut mee weaving. They gave me a first hand tour of the village, bringing me first to their neighbors who raised silk worms. In order to extract the silk, you have to boil the worm in the cocoon and then the thread is taken off the cocoon and threaded onto a spool. The leftover boiled worms, they eat. I, of course, had to try a boiled silkworm and they weren’t too bad! Just very chewy…

After chomping on a silkworm, we headed over to a woman who weaves using the traditional loom. She had a consistent rhythm. Step on the left peddle, thread, step on the right peddle, thread, and so on. She made the process look so easy! However, after sitting down and trying to weave a bit myself, I experienced how difficult weaving is firsthand. I was terrified of messing up the intricate pattern they had already begun!

The whole silk extraction and weaving process impressed me, but what impressed me and surprised me the most is how the loom has become in many ways the center of the village. It is how the village supports themselves and preserves their culture. Weaving, I’ve discovered, is just one of the many treasures of Isaan!