Experiences in Thailand change students perspective

A family prays in a Buddhist temple in Chang Mae, Thailand.

The words ‘squatty potty culture-shocked me like an electric eel. The first conversation I had with my student leader in Thailand, a country 8910 miles away from home, was about the lavatory accommodation. Let’s just say, to spare gruesome details, a squatty potty is exactly what it sounds like. This conversation was the first of many I had about the abundances of cultural differences when you compare the United States to Thailand.

The bathroom talk was my initiation into the two-and-a-half-week trip that would change my perspective for the better.

I had never experienced culture shock in my life. I used to travel down to Matamoros, Mexico from South Padre Island in my grandparent’s minivan, but even then I was only a hop away from the homeland. This summer, I was riding elephants through the Thai jungles and teaching the local children English. Before I mingled with the elephants and children,  I would rise and shine from my cot on the bamboo floor. For breakfast, I would eat a fruit called mangosteen, which is not approved by the USDA in fear that the fruit would harbor Asian fruit flies, with my pancakes and coffee.

The school children had no electronics of any sorts in their classroom. For our lesson plans, we had to draw animals onto paper for the primary students. In the afternoon when my partners and I moved up to the secondary school, we wrote out extended sentences on the chalkboard. I believed the absence of technology was not a negative, but a positive. The children were allowed to have their own sense of wonder. At first, this was a strange environment for me, coming from Eanes where almost all my assignments are on my iPad, and formal essays are always typed. Being in a small Thai school and “unplugged” was an adjustment for the better.

After spending days and nights in the most rural areas of Thailand, my travel group and I went through a reverse culture immersion. For two nights, we stayed in an American-friendly hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I imagine Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, is Thailand’s own version of  Los Angeles. The amenities were abundant in this large city. Bottled water was easy to find, and McDonald’s was only a block away from the hotel.

What fascinated me, was how diverse Thailand is compared to America. One day, I was meeting 100-year-old villagers who had never been in a car, and then I’d wake up the next morning and travel to cities where citizens spoke multiple languages and drove scooters to work. In America, I have never experienced similar enviornments. I reside in a suburb, not a village.

Traveling to Thailand was one of the best adventures  I’ve ever had. While abroad, I experienced many things that simply are not present in my own world. While I will always bleed red, white and blue for my country, I can’t help but feel nostalgic looking back on my memories of Thailand.