Category Archives: Student Trip Reports (archived)

Two Worlds Within a Country

By: Hannah Hegwood and Morgan Lendway

Hannah:

Upon arrival in the first village of Kalasin, I quickly noticed the simplicity of everything. The road was barely paved, packs of dogs roamed and open pastures lead up to a magnificent mountain range. The simplistic way of life stemmed from the home: which was a one level, not vey ornamental, mostly one room humble abode. It served its purpose as a shelter and a comforting place, somewhere I could easily call home. Everyone here had hardened hands and works hard to maintain their lifestyles. The people here were obviously slightly influenced by our annual visits and some seem to be adopting some of our western ideas. We were greeted warmly with hugs and some girls even wore tank tops, not customary in the Thai culture. Some English was spoken, although harsh and broken, which created many communication challenges. It was interesting learning how to effectively communicate and realizing that the language of love, anger and other emotions are universal. I could tell when my homestay mother was being affectionate towards me when she touched my hair and smiled; I could also tell she was upset when I forgot to take my shoes off in the house.

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The place I will be comparing Kalasin to is the beautiful beach island of Ko Samet. We stepped off a speedboat into the warm blue/green water and saw resorts for as far as the eye could see. People walked with a relaxed step, lounged on the beach in barely any clothing and splashed around in the sea; the resort although simple had a clean and expensive appeal. A sandy road lead to a paved one that lead to what appeared to be main street, which had two seven-elevens (the groups favorite pit stop). Many shops lined the streets selling over priced souvenirs. Many other streets traveled along the coast and were heavily marked by hoping clubs.  The native Thai people living on this island that we interacted with were heavily influenced by the tourism they are surrounded by. Many of them spoke decent English and appeared well manicured. Many of the Thai people vacationing here didn’t look callused or had dark complexions, which in the Thai culture could be symbolic of wealth.Image

What I am trying to get across with my two previous paragraphs is the stark differences between living in a rural village and a tourist beach area. Never to say the western influences are bad, but that they create noticeable and life altering differences.

Morgan:

Thailand.  It is a place where you never know what to expect. I was lucky enough to experience this country in all the ways that it could possibly offer. With the first village, in Kalasin I could see a place, which was hard at work to get what they had, a place that didn’t receive things easily, they worked for their living. In past years, this village has had interactions with Westerners and I could only imagine what their lives had been like before ever interacting with people from the US. The villagers had simple occupations such as farmers, weavers, and fishermen. They lived a life of simplicity and were non-materialistic; they would only by what was absolutely necessary for them. Many of them didn’t even have the luxury of having a owning any means of transportation. They didn’t have the best means of health care when it came to caring for the wellbeing of some of the locals there. Another thing that really made this experience unique were the difficulties that came with trying to communicate with the people of Kalasin. Their Engilsh was broken and we had to go down to their level to speak with them in order for them to understand. Simple things live emotions of anger or happiness were an easy way to communicate because you could easily express it back.

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Now, the village in Kalasin to the island Koh Samet is absolutely mind altering. I went from a place of simplicity to a place greatly influenced by western culture.  On Koh Samet, the locals are exposed to other cultures and tourist attitude every day. They are so adapted that their English is so developed and able communicate at a much more sophisticated level; which is a lot to say in comparison to Phu Por. There are tourists everywhere, with such a large amount of western influence. The natives on Koh Samet seemed much more materialistic. I believe that is due to the fact that they were interacting with tourists every day they had to try and be as seen as figures of wealth and seen knowledge able. If you were to ask any local had come from, a majority would say that they come from a little village back on the main land. Which just shows that with this world change they have learned to be more like they people they were making their living off of.

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In the end, the differences between the villages and that of the island, one that stands would out like a sore thumb.  The western influence has taken its toll on people, who were once living in a village to living in a place where they are forced to interact every day. I don’t think having to adapt is necessary a bad thing, I just find it interesting how much of a difference in makes in the local citizens of Thailand who were born and raised in a village to that of people who have branched out of their village in seek of a new and better life.

Community Assessment for the Ban Mai School in Ban Mae Tuen

Community Assessment for the Ban Mai School in Ban Mae Tuen

Kendall Brannen

We left Chiang Mai, Thailand on the 10th day of our trip to strike out on a new journey to find the Ban Mai School located in the small village of Ban Mae Tuen, south of Chiang Mai. Professors Ingle and Kim had not visited the school yet so we did not have much information for what the school needs really were. Having had stories about the disrepair and rundown condition the last village was in when our professors first visited it 5 years ago this May. I had envisioned Ban Mai to be in similar condition. However, I was very surprised upon our arrival to see large, painted and colorful buildings, signage and a small town with shops, a restaurant and other businesses.  The school, which is home to more than 300 students from kindergarten through 6th grade during the Thai school year, was in better condition than I initially had expected but still largely lacking in regular maintenance.

Throughout our three day stay at the Ban Mai School we performed health assessments for each student which included height and weight checks as well as oral, lice and lesion checks with corresponding care given to help treat it. We also worked to repair a concrete step that was in disrepair by removing the old concrete and framing, mixing and pouring new concrete. The new step was a project that will provide a more safe entrance into the cafeteria/eating hall. Lastly, for our service work at Ban Mai we also spend a class period with the children in their classrooms teaching them games that would help work on their English skills and would also encourage class participation. In my group we taught the kids a song that was reinforced with actions so the kids could sing in English as well as act out the words they were singing.

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Bird Lice Check

Teaching Group

Kendall Teaching

Painting 

While working on these service projects we were reminded to keep an open mind about various school needs that we come across and to critically think about creative solutions to those needs. I particularly found myself identifying many needs that could benefit the school and more importantly the school children but it became even harder to sift through the ideas and simplify it down to a few good ideas that were not only sustainable but impactful for years to come.  I did not want to focus on small items that the community could do themselves but rather help on the larger issues that they might not have the capacity to do on their own. The criteria that I used to help me prioritize the list of needs I created was

  1. Is it sustainable for years to come?, Does it help free up time to focus on other projects?
  2. Does it help the largest amount of people?
  3. Is it affordable and can we execute it within the next 3-5 years or less?

Using this criteria of prioritization I was able to narrow down the scope of potential projects that we, as a May term trip, could execute within the timeframe of 3 to 5 years. It also helps to keep our focus on the larger goals that can help the school in areas that may not have otherwise had the capacity to do. One approach to helping a community such as this one is to help with large projects that will in turn free up resources such as labor. This transition from daily needs to more long term project planning will help with community development and can rollover the additional resources into future projects. This type of bootstrapping is a social entrepreneurship solution to small scale community development. If our May Term Thailand group can help with some of the larger projects to help free up their time from all the daily worries then the Ban Mai School can begin to shift focus to more mid and long term planning.

Here is a non-prioritized list of ideas that we brainstormed in a debriefing meeting after we left the Ban Mai School. These are student’s preliminary high level ideas and are not confirmed projects yet.

  • Address clean water storage and collection for year round use
    -Rain water collection system
  • Hygiene and dental care- not just brushing teeth but also keeping cuts clean and taking care of sores
    Annual care packages for incoming students
  • Improving the dorms- better bedding, more beds, better conditions for all (esp the Hmong), and more clothes, shoes
    Clothes washing system for all students to use
  • Mechai’s Pattana School model for gardening
    Teaches planning and teamwork
    Incorporate social entrepreneurship through the program
  • More/better materials for the classrooms- more English texts, more variety than just the workbooks, some basic technology stuff
    After school programs with non-classroom learning focus
    Career exploration, job shadowing, skills training programs, etc
  • Community involvement for future projects
    After school programs/classes where kids get to learn in a more creative way
    Addressing other building maintenance items beyond the cafeteria- lights, roofs, etc.

The next step for this process I think would be to thoroughly vet out the ideas with supporting cost benefit analysis and structure a timeline for implementation of each item. A supporting document such as a strategic plan would be beneficial as a deliverable to the Ban Mai School included with a letter of intent. In the future many of these projects are dependent on the level of student engagement and support for the fundraising that makes the May Term Thailand Service Learning class such a success. As fundraiser dinner coordinator I worked very hard to make this year’s fundraising activities a success, especially with the fundraiser dinner but, not without the help of great students. However, each year a new group of students are in charge of assuming this fundraising role and cannot be expected that every year will be as successful.  In order to keep this class a success and to continue the work we are planning we need to be sure there are successful fundraising for the years to come. I see this as one of the largest weaknesses of the program.

I hope to somehow stay engaged in more work like what we have begun in Ban Mae Tuen, Ban Mai School. I see a lot of future need with social entrepreneurship and business education within the community to help maximize the community’s potential and resources. I think through community education and town hall meetings businesses can really thrive once informed and empowered.  And with social entrepreneurship properly implemented beneficiaries such the community can really thrive from better education of the Ban Mai School education the next generation of business savvy social entrepreneurs.

Abstract concrete

By Toby Koch

Finally. I was there. After months of anticipation and weeks of traveling I was where I wanted to be; at the Ban Mae Tuen village. I had imagined my time here would be spent searching for water sources that could only be reached by bushwhacking through jungles that Bear Grylls himself would shiver at, drawing out architecturally flawless blueprints for future projects, and conducting in depth community based health assessments with advanced techniques unknown to the common man.

Okay, maybe not quite that drastic, but a man’s mind can be prone to wander. Instead, I found myself hacking away in fascination (and no small amount of frustration) at a giant puddle of gelatinous cement soup, trying to keep it in some kind of pile, accompanied by a few members of our group and an entourage of Thai men hacking away along side me. I, being the all-knowing American, thought to myself, “this is ridiculous, there are ratios and procedures and other fancy stuff that needs to be followed in order to make cement set properly. This pile is random, there are still clumps of dirt in this cement and every bucket of it that we pour unto this porch is different.”

As we continued to add a few more rocks here, some sand there, and buckets of water everywhere; I had an epiphany. “Building this porch doesn’t mean diddly squat. In the end, its just a porch to a cafeteria. It will more than likely hold just fine.We didn’t fly half way around the world to build a porch. We came to build relationships with this village and this school. To show them that we care about the world and the people in it, and that their culture, class and ethnicity shouldn’t be seen as a hindrance, but an opportunity to expand the way we see the world. We are here to show that we don’t know best, that we are equals and that they have as much to give us as we them (if not more).”

I couldn’t help but laugh. Despite my past service experience around the world, I still knew nothing. Perhaps I never will know, but suddenly that pile of gelatinous cement soup suddenly meant a lot more.

Thai Massage

Thai Massage

By Erica Houck and Libby O’ Reilly

“A system of massage and assisted stretching developed in Thailand and influenced by the traditional medicine systems of India, China and Southeast Asia.”

Thai massage is referred to in Thai as: nuat phaen thai (Thai style massage), nuat phaen borane (ancient-style massage) or simply nuat Thai (Thai massage.)

The Thai massage originated in India under the direct guidance of Jivaka Khumar Bhacca, a yogi, physician and caretaker of Buddha more than 2,500 years ago. His teachings and methods migrated to Thailand with all of Buddhism. The core methods of Thai massage involves static and rhythmic pressures in yoga-like positions leaving the body energized and rejuvenated. A typical Thai massage lasts two hours at minimum, but we have been opting for anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour and a half; anytime we can find a break in our hectic schedule. No matter what the duration of the massage, the body is left feeling rejuvenated and refreshed.

Massage is one of the branches of Thai traditional medicine used throughout the country as well as in other Buddhist cultures. It relates to the medical and healing industries as well as the tourism industry as many tourists make Thai massages essential on their visits to the country. Thai massage is a deep muscle and full body treatment that typically starts at the feet and ends at the head.  This type of massage is thought to restore and synced the energy of the human body through deep stretches, meditation and deep muscle pressure. There are three different forms:

Physical- detoxify, boosts the immune system, increases flexibility, improves posture and balance, increases blood flow, decreases blood pressure, tones body, strengthens joints and helps fight chronic disease.

Mental– builds emotional balance, motivates creativity, clears mind, and restores mental clarity.

Physiological-  relieves stress, boosts inner energy levels, and increases stamina.

Getting Thai massages became an instant staple on this trip the minute we landed in Bangkok. Ever since then, we can often be spotted at outdoor massage parlors around Chiangmai’s Night Bazaar, interior massage parlors throughout Bangkok’s malls and even taking advantage of in room massages in Sukothai and Kamphaeng Phet.

Before our first Thai massages, many of us did not know what we were getting ourselves into. Unlike massages at home, Thai massages are not for the sole purpose of kneading knots out of tired shoulders, but more of an assisted stretch.

Libby and I both got Thai massages on multiple occasions. We found them to be be extremely relaxing and rejuvenating. I got my second Thai massage on the beach at the Saikaew Resort. My experience was even better on the beach than it was the first time. I wasnt the only one getting another massage on the beach. Peter made sure to get as many Thai massages in while at the resort, and I dont blame him for doing so. Overall, I would recommend getting a Thai massage in Thailand. They are definitely worth every baht!

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Welcoming Ceremony

By Ellie Reich

In both Kalasin and Bon Mai the villages prepared a traditional welcoming ceremony for our group. The purpose of these ceremonies are to accept travelers into the community by performing rituals that create a welcoming and friendly spirit between the village and travelers. One of our groups favorite parts of this ceremony was the string tying ritual. We all sat in a circle on mats around an ornamental tree made from banana leaves and flowers that had cut pieces of string hanging from the leaves. A long string was passed around the group and each person held the string between their thumbs with their hands pressed together in prayer position. The purpose of everyone holding the same string was to spiritually connect us as a group. The village elder or shaman sat in the middle of the circle and opened the ceremony with a chant to welcome the group into the community. Once he finished the long piece of string was gathered again and the villagers retrieved the small cut pieces of string from the ornamental tree. They then proceed to individually tie the string around each of the travelers wrists beginning with the leaders of the group (in our case our professors Han and Peter). The purpose of tying the string around the wrist is to create a sense of everyone being bound by friendship and hospitality. It was a beautiful ceremony and a really interesting way to be accepted into the community.

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Authentic Thai fishing by Alyssa Hill and Natalie Bliss

 

While staying in the village in Kalasin, Thailand we had the opportunity to participate in an authentic Thai fishing experience. It began by sinking our feet into knee deep mud with murky water and fish surrounding us. A local villager provided us with a large fishing net that our amateur hands placed on the pond floor. We then pushed the net down in hopes of catching our dinner. Our hesitant hands spanned  the net searching for the breathtaking feeling of grasping a hopelessly captured fish. The slippery and floppy characteristics of the freedom seeking fish made it difficult to pull them out without slipping through our fingers. The inability to see what we were grasping strikes an acute fear making the task at hand seemingly impossible. Once the impossible was proven wrong and the first fish was caught, our nerves began to dwindle and our anxious movements became more fluid. One after another we caught a multitude of fish and filled two buckets to the rim to later be used as our dinner. This experience is very essential to Thai village culture and we were extremely fortunate to be immersed in this aspect of their culture. 

The Rocket Festival Parade

By Heather Stuart and Erin Ward

The Rocket Festival is a tradition in North East Thailand to welcome the rainy season. It is a two day event event which consists of a parade and a rocket launching contest. Westminster has participated in this event since we have been coming to Thailand, and now they schedule the parade around our arrival. We get to participate in two different aspects of the parade: some of us get to be rice farmers, while others get to dress up as royalty and ride on floats. Heather will explain her experience from the farmer perspective while Erin explains it from the royalty perspective. Being a rice farmer was a great form of cultural immersion and allowed us to interact with many of the locals. We wore traditional rice farmer clothing . It was a denim out fit with baggy capri length pants and a colorful sash that we wore around our waste. We learned a little dance and a lot of the local women would come and correct me on my dancing skills. Although it was super hot outside, it wasn’t to bad walking in the parade because there were also some women walking around and splashing cold water on us. I’ve been a part of 6 different Fourth of July parades but none of them have ever been quite that fun and exciting. It was amazing how involved all the locals were and how much fun we all had. My favorite part of the parade was all the people. All sorts of people turned up at the parade: young and old, and some people who were really enjoying their drink. People would come off the streets to dance and take pictures with me and I just loved how welcomed I felt. It wasn’t hard to tell how important the parade was to some of the people and I am so thankful that I was able to be a part of their tradition.

Being a princess in the rocket festival parade was a wonderful experience. The festival requested two queens, two kings, five princesses, and a mahout driver (which means elephant driver). Brooke and Ellie were our queens, Toby and Kendall were our kings, Meagan, Elise, Morgan, Libby, and I were the princesses, and Han was our elephant driver. We were in hair and makeup for the whole morning and the greater part of the afternoon. We got the full treatment: blush, foundation, hair spray, bright lipstick, and fake eyelashes. Even the guys got a makeover, which was very entertaining for everyone involved. Next came costumes and jewelry. Everyone got to wear an elaborate crown, which made us appreciate the full meaning of “heavy is the head that wears the crown”. They did make us have great posture, however, and appreciate how low the door clearance is in Thailand. After we were all made up we got to board our floats. One set of kings and queens rode an elephant (with Han), one set rode a horse, and the princesses rode their own float. We smiled and waved at all of the people, while they took pictures and reached up to touch our hands. It was touching to know how important this festival is to the people here, and that they let us be such a big part of their celebration. We got front row seats at the performance after the parade, and took even MORE pictures with all the locals. Overall, it was a wonderful experience for both the royalty as well as the farmers. The welcome that we received was amazing and unlike anything i have ever encountered in the United States. It is not hard to realize that being in the parade was a once in a lifetime opportunity for all of us here with Westminster College. We all now have our rice farmer  had

Bangkok to Phanom Rung

After being introduced to the Thai nursing students, we added a fourth van to our caravan of Toyota commuters and headed northeast from Bangkok.  Our destination for the day was Phanom Rung temple ruins.  Where exactly that is, we are not sure.  However the six-hour ride there was quite luxurious.  Tricked out vans with reclining seats, surround sounds, and a movie screen.  Disco lights optional.  We started with Jackie Chan’s Tuxedo and finished with Aviator. 

 

The ruins were started in 10 AD and finished around 13 AD.  The temple is set in a mountainous region overlooking the valleys below.  There has been a little bit of restoration but overall the ruins are in good condition considering their age.  The pictures carved into the stone are still defined and the walls still stand.  When we arrived is was extremely hot and humid.  It began to rain and we were all grateful for the cool breeze and light shower.  After about an hour of exploring and picture taking we headed back to the vans.  The sun was going down and we still had a drive ahead of us to Cabbages and Condoms resort. 

Pictures to come.

Kristin Harko and Sara Gammella

First Days in Bangkok

by: Elise Reckinger

We have spent the last three days in Bangkok.  The first day we explored the mall next to the hotel. The mall had seven stories with a food market and numerous boutiques and even a water park. Bangkok is a very busy city. Everywhere there are many people moving and the streets are full of people. Everybody seems like they are on a “mission.” The  mall is crowded and the streets by the hotel are filled with markets that sell food and clothes. The prices at the mall are relatively cheap: 30baht is 1 dollar. It was been hard communicating with the Thailand people but we have learned to say:

Thank you, or Khoop-khun and hello, sa-wat-dii.

The next day we visited Wat Po and the Grand Palace. First, we visited Wat Po. Wat Po is known for their reclining Buddha. The reclining Buddha is 46m long and 15m high. It illustrates the passing of Buddha to Nirvana. On the feet of the Buddha there are mother of pearl inlay ornaments on the feet, displaying 108 different characteristics of Buddha. In the Thai culture, the feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body while the head is considered sacred. While in the temple we had to sit with our toes tucked away from the Buddha statue otherwise it would be disrespectful. We also had to wear clothes that went below our knees , no hats, no shoes and out shoulders had to be covered. After we explored the Buddhist temple, we took the took tooks to the grand palace. The took tooks are like a Taxi for going short distances. The outside is very decorated with bright colors. While on the took took ride we noticed a few things about Thailand driving culture. The roads are packed with cars and chaos. Everyone is tailgating which is normal here. Nobody honks and everyone is aggressive drivers and there are narrow lanes. We rode the took took to Grand Palace on Coronation day which is a Thailand  international holiday.  In Thailand the country is ruled by a king and queen and the current king is King Rama IX.

On the last day in Bangkok we met the Thai students that we will be traveling with for the rest of the month.  We spent the morning playing funny games that helped us learn the students names and majors. The majority of students are nursing majors and one woman we will be with is a nursing professor. By the end of the morning we already shared plenty of laughs and began learning names.

Lost in Translation

By Kirstie Savage and Lisa Swift

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“Honestly is the best policy”

“What you do that for”

“Thank you for Westminster student and Professor”

“Open the light”

“Are you delicious?”

“Shop for goal”

“Safety Food”

“Life and Learn”

“This girl rock!”

 

During this trip we have encountered several “lost in Translation” moments with the Thai people. Given the extreme differences between the Thai and English language it only makes sense that this would occur.  The slightly butchered phrases listed above are only a few of many that we have had the pleasure of hearing or seeing over the course of this trip.  This has allowed for some additional humor that has contributed to the overall trip experience.  For the sake of fairness it must also be noted that the reverse holds true in the sense that we also butcher phrases when we attempt to speak Thai.  One day I was going through a Thai and English translation book with my mom.  She would read it to me in Thai and I would repeat.  As we went through phrases my dad, close by was cracking up with laughter, which made me laugh.  Overall, this was a fun bonding moment as the humor of my inability to speak Thai brought us closer.

Another fun experience that we had resulted in certain language barriers, or the inability of the Thai people to annunciate certain sounds.  One morning Bright asked a small group of us about the difference between bitch and beach.  However, when she said “beach” and “bitch” both words sounded the exact same.  We had a hilarious time going over the pronunciation differences and definitions of bitch and beach with Bright. We hope that Bright now understands the key differences between “bitch” and “beach” .