Sunday, August 9, 2015
As Richard Slimbach states in his article The Transcultural Journey, “the classroom…does not stimulate cultural conditions in real space and time.” This could not be more accurate. There is really no way to prepare students for a study abroad experience-ESPECIALLY when that experience is across the world in Thailand. No matter how many times you mention squat toilets and spicy foods and really nice people, until you get there and experience it, there is no way to understand it.
I love to travel. It’s something I truly have a passion for and I feel like my life would be empty without it. There is so much knowledge to gain from travel. I’ve lived an extremely privileged life and to see that not everyone gets to live like I do is, and forever will be, one of the most humbling aspects of my life. All of my traveling abroad has included the best of the best in the countries I’ve visited. This trip to Thailand has been the first time that I’ve actually been able to experience the “real” culture. That’s not to say that I didn’t learn from my other travel experiences because I absolutely have. Every time I’ve come home from being abroad I feel like a different person. I feel more well-rounded as a person, and even though I’ve stayed in really nice hotels and did all of the touristy things, I still feel like I learned about the cultures and can appreciate things in a new light. However, this time is different. Slimbach stated, “the test of transculturalism is to think outside the box of one’s motherland” and “allowing for a chameleon sense of self.” Being from the US and coming to Thailand means you have to do just that. On our first day on our own, a group of us decided to venture out and go find some food. That turned into about a 4-hour event that included multiple bus rides, getting very lost, eating for about 20 minutes, and then finding a way back home. It was a disaster in the moment, but looking back, it was a huge learning experience. We all had to work together and think outside the box to figure out a way to get home. We are living in an area that is not full of tourists. English is not readily available. It is very “Thai.” It was a really great experience for us to have early on because it forced us to get over the fact that we didn’t speak the language and had no idea where we were because getting upset about it wouldn’t solve anything. Embrace the culture and just go! As Slimbach says, “It’s a ‘conversion’ of sorts – the process of being delivered from self-absorption and being opened to a bigger, more complex understanding of the world, and thereby ourselves.”
Being in a new culture, in my opinion, is all about embracing the ambiguities and going with the flow. And sometimes you hit a wall. The first wall I hit was when we had had an extremely long day of traveling and exploring and the only bathroom in the vicinity was a squat toilet with no toilet paper and a little spray thing for your hinny. I’m sorry, what? I JUST WANT TO SIT FOR 5 SECONDS IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK? That was my first thought and tears started to well up in my eyes. But then I took a deep breath and just went with it. Who cares? The Thai have a phrase, Mai Pen Rai, meaning no worries. As I soon would realize, squat toilets actually have health benefits! To read more on the benefits of squat toilets, click the link (http://www.naturesplatform.com/health_benefits.html). It may sound silly, but it’s very interesting. I’m here and I’m embracing the culture. This whole trip has been all about that. The life lessons I’ve gained from being here are invaluable. As cheesy as it is to say, this culture has changed me. I have such a new perspective on life and I couldn’t be more grateful. Click here to read more on The Transcultural Journey (http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ891470.pdf).