Friday, November 29, 2013

Selected Moments From My First Full Day in Huay Tong Ko

Well, I’m back from another expedition.  Actually, I've been back a week. I haven't posted though because it has been so hard to find the words all that was Forests course. I had a decent grip on Agro, its themes and its lessons, but Forests has me filled with so many words and simultaneously at a loss, but I’ll try.

For Forests, we went to Mae Hong Sone (MHS) province, north-west of Chiang Mai province.  The bus-ride to MHS is long and steep and contains 1864 curves. We spent the majority of the course backpacking through Mae Surin National Park staying at six Karen villages. 

Our first village stay was in a village named Huay Tong Ko. It is the furthest away (3 hours) from Mae Hong Sone Town. Here are some selected thoughts from my first full day in Huay Tong Ko.


It’s 5am. I’m freezing cold and the damn roosters are performing their own version of Carol of the Bells. My family just woke up and I can hear them working, but I’m determined to sleep a bit longer.

I'm wearing four layers of shirts, my warm hat, my Buff pulled over my nose, pants, and socks. Desperate to warm up, I sit next to the kitchen fire while my Paw-ti scurries around cooking in shorts and a t-shirt.  My 90 year old grandfather sits nearby and lifts his feet closer to the fire. Thai etiquette matters less when your toes are cold.

What I wore to sleep at night in Huai Tong Ko

The view of our pig outside m y window 
To my great disbelief, I am handed toast and Schmuckers jam for a pre-breakfast snack.

Sarah, my house-mate, and I head to the rice field with our dad to help harvest rice. Our mother has already been there half an hour. To get to work, I cross two rivers and nearly lose my shoe to ankle-deep mud when I misstep. My body finally warms up on the way over.

Paw-ti is very patient in showing Sarah and I the proper way to harvest and bundle the rice. We screw up a lot, but we eventually get the hang of it. We chat and sing while we work.

Sarah walking in the rice paddy
It's a constant game of "Whose on First" going on in my brain. Some sentences have Thai, English, and Karen words in them and it gets confusing. For example, tee: in Thai it is a preposition word, in  English, its a hot beverage made by steeping leaves, and in Karen it means drinking water.

Walking the balance beam ridge that surrounds the rice-paddy, I slip and fall into the rice and can't stop laughing.

After eating lunch, we ask Paw-ti if we will return to the rice field. Sarah and I want to help more. He tells us that he will return, but not us. When I ask why, he says, "because  nack-sick-sa [students] are tired."

Sarah and I make plans to return to the field anyway.

I open my eyes to find my face stuck to the pages of my course reader, lying not on, but next to the bed. Our family appears to have left for the field. I did everything to stay awake,  talked with Sarah, took a stroll around the village, but I feel victim to T. Forsyth and his essay on Upland Peoples.

The shower.  I am struggling because my body instinctively flinches away from wherever my arm dumps the water. When I finally dump the ice-cold water over my head I lose my breath for a second.

I walk outside and find Paw-ti sharpening machetes with his wet-stone outback. He is one of five people in the village that black-smiths. Right before my eyes, tarnished blades glisten in the sun. We don't speak and my mind drifts. I feel frustated that I took such a long nap after lunch and didn't "do more" with my family. It's then that I realize that sometimes its just about being present, together, not about "doing something." I remember all the times in my family at home with my mom knitting, my dad playing guitar, and me reading, doing nothing, together and realize that family life is just about being together in the quiet moments.

Family portrait

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thai-English Dictionary

Understand it or not, Thai is a regular part of my vernacular now. ISDSI students have become fluent in a language we have dubbed, Thai-lish and when I get back to the states, I won't be able to give up on a few of my favorite Thai words. Here are a few words and phrases to learn and love:

Sah-wat-dee: Hello!

ex: Sah-wat-dee ka Aaron. How was Madrid?

Mae/Paw: Mom/Dad

ex: I am going home over Spring to see my Mae and Paw

sabai sabai: relaxing, chill chill,

ex: Instead of going to the party, I stayed home, drank tea, and watched a movie. Sabai Sabai

mai-pen-rai: It's all good, it doesn't mater, no big deal, hakunah matata

ex: Aww man! The ice cream store is out of rocky road. Mai-pen-rai, I'll get mint chocolate chip." 

mai-ru (jak): I don't know

ex: "Hey, Wendy, do you know when The Hobbit is coming out?" "Mai-ru" 

sue-sue: Fight on! Victory! You can do it! Stay the course! This phrase is usually followed by a peace sign (aka a V for victory)

ex: "ugggh! I don't want to write this paper." "You can do it! Sue-Sue!" 

nit-noi: a little bit, slightly, always put at the end of sentences

ex: I'm hungry nit noi . The test was hard nit noi

cheem: taste/sample

ex: ooh! Your snack looks good. Can I cheem it? 

kanom: snack/desert

ex: ooh your kanom looks good. Can I cheem it? 

pang (mahk): (very) expensive

ex: I went to the tourist-y area of town and it was pang mahk! 

farang: Westerner/white person

ex: I went to the farang area of town and it was pang mahk! 

I reserve the right to add more words to this list at any time. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Field Course Themes Pt 2: The People

This is a post about people. A description of Agro course is really incomplete without stories from the people I met and the places I stayed. ISDSI really stresses the idea of cross-cultural exchange.  Even though I had stayed with host families in Chiang Mai,  I really began to understand when I got into the field.  As simple as it sounds, at the start of Agro course I hadn't fully recognized that cross-cultural exchanges are in fact two-way exchanges--that as much as we love meeting new people and learning about their culture, the Thai people love having students and learning about our culture. One woman even said she loves looking at our faces because they are so different!

These exchanges really happen in every interaction here, but were greatly facilitated by two major components of ISDSI courses: home-stays and community meetings.

The host family stays have been a true gift. These families really take us in as their own with love and utmost concern for our comfort, well-being, and our stomachs. They are patient with our broken Thai and share their recipes, stories, and traditions with us. Some of the host families didn't speak Central Thai either and learning to communicate was a challenge and an exercise in patience and level-headedness for everyone involved, but the families managed to keep a smile through all of it. 

The community meetings were also very cool. At nearly every place we visited we had an hour meeting with community members and leaders to discuss significant cultural traditions, problems faced by villagers, and ask questions about any topic we wanted to know about. Some meetings had specific topics and others were more of a free for all. After we had asked all our questions, we let community members ask us a few questions of their own.

The cultural-exchanges were a really beautiful experience. The people we visited shared their knowledge with us and the experiences felt beneficial to so many people in wonderful, story-worthy ways. I can't go over every meeting or activity or moment we had--we had a lot!--but here are some highlights from Agro course.

The first 5 days or so spent at UHDP we were in a cabin. My favorite part at UHDP was jumping in to help with food clean up even though the mothers said they would do it. Here in Thailand, the older generation always says they will take care of things, but you really have to insist or just sit down and wait for them to give you something to help with. It's kinda like everyone is a Jewish grandma who will say she doesn't need help, but really you know better. There, I learned that Thai style of rubber banding things which is different from the US and SOO COOL! Probably the #1 most useful/cool piece of knowledge I've gotten so far and I'm damn proud of it.  Also,  I got that info/experience by just jumping in, not waiting for instructions or directions. That's the way it is with experiential learning, you just have to be there and ready. I couldn't tie it right the first 5 times, but Mae was patient with me and helped me until I got it.

From UHDP we traveled to Bahn Dang Nauk. Bahn Dang Nauk is a Dara-Ang village. The Dara-Ang are a group of people from Northern China that migrated down into Burma and then into Thailand during the wars that have wracked Burma. They are Thailand's most recent immigrant group and similar to the US, the newest immigrants are the ones that are currently being most oppressed by both the people and the government. Bang Dang Nauk was the poorest village that ISDSI takes its students to visit. No one in the village has full citizenship and they face a lot of issues of access to food, land, and other basic rights/necessities. 

The passion with which the people at Bahn Dang Nauk spoke was unforgettable. From my westerner's perspective it was so hard to understand why these people were targeted when they seemed no different from "officially Thai" people living down the road. Learning about citizenship issues in Thailand gives some perspective to issues in the US.

After the meeting, a few of the women brought out goods to sell to us. There was one hysterical grandma who kept changing the price on her goods for all of the students and we talked with her a bit as best as we could. 

We stayed that night with host families Bahn Dang Nai who spoke some Central Thai, but mostly Northern Thai which has a lot of differences.  In contrast to BD Nauk, this village had been established longer. While the people living there at BD Nai many issues with landownership, water access, and citizenship, the area and community is more established. At home, we sat and made slow small chat, and then our Mae pointed out to her belts that all the women of the older generation were wearing. BD Nai was also a Dara-Ang village and they have traditional dress which includes dyed belts made of Rattan that are beautiful. 

That night, I sat down to do homework in the living room, but I heard chatter from outside. I realized that my reading was important, but I only had so much time to speak with the people here so I ran outside to find a group of women chopping pumpkin and bamboo for our breakfast the next morning and again just sat and listened and watched until they started talking with me and eventually let me help. EVERYONE uses machetes here. They wouldn't let me cut because it was too dangerous, but I did get to break up bamboo shoots and felt just a small bit part of the sisterhood that these women had with each other. 

This very flattering picture my Mae and me at Bahn Dang Nai

Next we went to Bahn Huay Pong, a village that has both Dara-Ang and Red Lahu people living together. Our meeting in the evening was with several men from the Dara-Ang community and somehow the evening turned turned to love-stories. Someone asked about getting married in this village and that led us to asking about the differences between flirting now-awadays vs when the men we were speaking to were courting wives which led to a full demonstration of Dara Ang flirting! The men must travel at night to the house of the woman he wishes to court and just walk straight into the house of the sleeping family and start playing music, either on a traditional guitar or flute. He must play until the woman wakes up and talks to him. If the man loves her, he must offer her a tea bag and if she accepts, they get married. [I may have over-simplified that a bit.] Oh! And the man must do this all with his face covered by a towel or covering of some sort! Well, after asking dozens of questions the man decided just to get up and show us, he grabbed a flute, put a towel on his head and showed us how it's done! 

During our stay, we also toured a very successful agro-forest plot owned by Jawa-Jalo, a resident of the Red Lahu community at Bahn Huay Pong.  Afterwards we got to speak with him about his plot and he told us that since he switched to agro-foresty from monoculture, he puts 10% of his income into direct savings. 

Jawa-Jalo showing us the money he has been able to save since switching to Agro-forestry from monoculture. 

At Bahn Mae Mae,  I didn't understand my Mae AT ALL, but that didn't keep her from talking with me. That day, we got to bathe in the river. It was freezing but so beautiful and invigorating. All the girls put on our pasin (sarongs) and got in with our Dr. Bronners soap to clean up.

Our sleeping arrangments at Bahn Mae Mae
Our last home-stay was in the Mae Ta villages. Mae Ta is a sub-district (tahm-bone) with seven villages. It is a tradtional community founded more than 300 years ago by people fleeing war. For a number of years Mae Ta faced issues with forest management, but now has one of the most successful models of community-based natural resource and forest management. We stayed in one of the villages of Mae Ta and learned more about the benefits of sustainable and organic farming. Mae Ta was by far one of the most sabai-sabai places and I had an amazing time talking with my host family.

It was there I made the some-tam pictured in my last blog post and heard some amazing stories from my Mae, Pi Chai, and Pi Sau (host brother and sister) about the beginning of organic farming, house our house was built, and issues facing farmers today.

At Mae Ta, I biked every day from home to the community gathering place where we had all of our meetings. There isn't a more romantic idea of studying abroad then riding your bike to school through a small Thai village looking out over the rice fields and mountains as you go. It was perfect and I felt like a kid again in those times riding my bike through town.

 Also, the house of our family was extremely beautiful as well and I don't think my pictures even begin to capture it.

Sleeping Quarters at Mae-Ta

The bottom story of the house at Mae Ta

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Field Course Themes Pt. 1: Food


Hello friends! I'm [temporarily] back online, and I must admit its been a stressful return to the city. It's loud and smelly and I had a lot of emails to attend to. I sit here having completed my first of three 3-week long field course expeditions  with so many thoughts and stories and pictures. Instead of listing all of the activities we did, I'm going to try to focus on two themes: food and culture.

[Author's note: This post turned out way long, so I have split it into two parts. Also, there is some talk of pig guts, not graphic though.]

Just so everyone has some context, here is a brief itinerary of my field course:

10/7-10/13: Live and Learn at the Upland Holistic Development Project (UHDP), an NGO that runs and agroecology demonstration and resource farm and works with local communities for capacity building.
10/13: Travel to Chiang Dao, a subdistrict of Maerim. Stop at Bahn Dang Nauk for a community meeting and then hike to Bahn Dang Nai where we will live and learn for two days.
10/15: Hike BD Nai to Bahn Huay Pong
10/16: Hike Ban Huay Pond to a temple, drive to Chiang Dao and take Song Tows to Bahn Mae Meh
10/17: Midcourse seminar at Fair Earth Farm, the farm of our teacher Ajan Jeff
10/18: Travel by van to Mae Ta, live and learn with people there.

I know there are a lot of confusing terms in there. Essentially Thailand city-planning goes, Jamwhat, Tahmbohne, Amphur, Moobahn, or Province, District, Subdistrict, Village. Anywhere you see Bahn, it means a village (though village can also mean neighborhood or area). All of our studies this course were in the Chiang Mai Province. Additionally, all of our stays were home-stays except at Bahn Huay Pong where we stayed in a long house.


Though we read many relevant articles throughout field course (and carried them all in a giant textbook through the whole course), the Omnivore's Dillema, written by Michael Pollan, was the bulk of our reading on this course. Having no other leisure books, I immeidately began reading and quickly became immersed in Pollan's writing and ideas. On the bus ride up to UHDP, I counted how many products on the ingredients list of my snickers came from corn, something Pollan discusses in Chapter 1. From Day 1, my emerging question for this course was, "Where does my food come from?"  

This is not the first time this question has entered my brain. Summer of 2010, I read Jonathon Safron Foer's book Eating Animals in in 2013 I heard a presentation by Dr. Melanie Joy, author of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pig, and Wear Cows. Each experience led me to a brief stint as a retail vegetarian, but I always inevitably returned to meat, letting the voices of disgust and protest fade away to a partitioned area of my mind. 

To know the truth of our chemically sprayed vegetables and factory farmed animals is uncomfortable and unappetizing. Eating meat, but even eating in an industrialized food system, requires "an almost heroic act of not knowing, or now, forgetting" (Pollan, 84). It requires significant cognitive dissoancnce. In the past, I'd always managed to keep that black veil between my knowledge and my eating habits so I could continue enjoying my meat. I went into the agroecology course with the goal of removing that veil and the cognitive dissonance. 

UHDP was a great place to start my food journey. After introductions and activities about the agroforest and organic farming (including making compost and natural bug repellants) on Monday and Tuesday; Wednesday, we took part in a pig slaughter.

Wednesday morning we woke up, ate breakfast then went to clean and feed some of the many pigs UHDP raises. By 8:30 in the morning we were standing in front of our pig. 

My friends saying hello to our pig. 

The whole process is rather simple. First, the pig is hit with a bat and knocked out, next his throat is slit and blood drained into a silver bowl. The pig is then carried to a metal sheet where hot water is dumped on him to ease hair and top-layer-of-skin removal. The butchering begins and the pig slowly transforms from animal to meat. 

Students could take part in a number of ways, but the UHDP staff took care of the more technical parts of the day so that the pig would be killed as humanely and quickly as possible. 

I could go into more details, but for this moment, I won't. By Wednesday afternoon students and community members were working together to prepare a delicious meal and the smell of BBQ wafted through the air. Throughout the day, I had concerns about my ability to eat dinner, but any concerns I had disappeared with the first cheem (taste) of meat. 

Thursday, it hit me. The day started off with a really cool activity, "Food from the Forest." Along with UHDP staff, we went into the UHDP agroforest to gather edible food for making lunch. My group's job was to gather bamboo. The bamboo can be cut and used to cook rice in as well as cut thinly and used for twist ties. Bamboo is the coolest. We also had to gather banana leaves for a variety of uses in preparing the meal, mostly as containers for lop, a Thai minced meat dish that we cooked in the banana leaves over the fire. 
Banana leaf!

The rice goes inside the bamboo with water.
The banana leaf acts as a plug and the rice gets steamed. 
I was hanging out by the fire waiting for the food to cook when a Mae came up to  the table with a giant metal pot of pork rinds. 

Wanting to help, I grabbed a spoon and started to help stir the congealed mass of skin and fat, but the smell and sight were too much and I walked away feeling queazy.  I started to flash to the killing and butchering and bloody parts of Wednesday and feeling queazier and queazier. By the time lunch was done, a feast of pork, pork rinds, frogs, catfish and rice--all gathered by us from UHDP--I couldn't bring myself to eat any of it. I couldn't even eat the rice, the physical act of chewing disgusted me. I excused myself and slowly walked to our cabin. As soon as my head hit the pillow, tears came. 

Rationally, I understood. Killing a pig serves multiple families meat for several days, especially since people who kill the pigs use every part of the animal, even parts people in the US would usually throw away. This pig had been realised for food. It had lived a good pig-ife at UHDP and we killed him humanely, giving him dignity even in death. Despite knowing all this rationally, I was upset and felt like vomiting. 

Michael Pollan also kills a pig and feels delayed remore and disgust. Disgust, "the fear of incorporating offending substances into ones body" is an emotional response due to evolution. It is meant to keep omnivores from eating food that would make us sick. Pollan accounts his disgust to the sights and smells of pig guts, something humans shouldn't eat, but then he goes farther; quoting Paul Rozin, Pollan  writes that eating animals, "confronts us with the reality of our own animal nature." 

I think this is where my disgust came from. The killing process is messy, bloody, violent, and even barbarics as we club the pig over the head and throw our machetes full force onto chopping blocks. All of the UHDP staff readily admitted that they disliked the killing, and only 1 of the 3 staff we worked with had ever even actually done the clubbing and killing part. 

I went into the course wanting to remove my veil and once I did, I was't sure I made the right choice allowing myself to be so vulnerable. 

Quoting Peter Singer, Pollan writes that we can either "stop eating animals, or look away." Here in Thailand, I am trapped between these two choices, unable to commit to either, but maybe there is another option.

In Bahn Huay Pong, we happened to be there on a day of celebration. We watched as several families took part in a pig slaughter. Watching the families doing everything so skillfully, it seemed so normal. In Mae Ta, my family had been given meat from their family that had recently killed a pig and all of our meat from the week there was from that pig. In Thailand, where I can neither look away, nor stop eating meat, maybe I can look closer. Maybe I can understand where my food is coming from and see the value in knowing and thus enjoy the meal even more. 

This is the conclusion Pollan ends up reaching in his book saying that meals based on nearly perfect knowledge of the food could be the perfect meals. For now, this is my conclusion as well and I have been so thankful for The Omnivore's Dillemma for helping me through my food journey. 

Agro course has been about far more than meat though. I've learned about native species of Thailand and growing forests to collect non-timber products like medicine, food, and household goods. I've eaten locally rasied and harvested, fish, milk, rattan, bamboo, chili peppers, passion fruit, palmello, longan, lamyai, banana, black sugar palm shoot, black sugar palm fruit, fishtail palm, pumpkin, beans, cassava (yucca), sugar cane, tea rice, papaya, butterfly flowers (fried!) and many other cooking spices. And those are just the ones that come to mind immediately! 

I've picked my own fruit and I can tell you where exactly nearly everything on my plates the past few weeks is from and what the plant it comes from looks like. For some things, I even know the market value, what season its grown in, and how to save the seeds for future growing seasons. I've also been inspired to garden in the future and maybe even have a few egg laying hens. 

I also learned a bit about cooking along the way and how to get out of or into any situation with bamboo and chili peppers. They are seriously the macgyvers of plants. 

Agro has been super cool in so many respects. Also, I encourage anyone who hasn't read Pollan yet to pick up his book and read it, take a few things to heart, and hit up your local farmer's markets. I know I will certainly be eating more local and organic food in the states because of this course. 

Eating Rattan shoots with Nam Cheem (chili condiment).

See all the smaller bushes on the hill, that's tea!

My friend Hannah with freshly picked palmello in one hand and papaya in the other. 

Eating Dinner in Mae Mae

My host sister in Mae Ta, she did most of the cooking, but I helped a bit. 

The most delicious Some Tam ever, I will be making it all the time at home.
It is the most amazingly flavorful dish, sweet, sour, and spicy! 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Quick Update

Hello friends and family,
        It's been two weeks since I've written and it will be another three before I write again. Monday morning I leave for my first Experiential Field Course (EFC). This past week we have been learning about agroecology, an ideology that applies principles of ecology to agrarian settings. As part of the course we are learning about the history of agriculture in the world focusing in on the US and Thailand. We are also reading Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dillema. 

To give you a bit of context: most everyone would agree that we are in a bit of a crisis with agro-businesses and are current agricultural practices developed over the last 100 years, but especially post-1950s with the widespread use of chemical fertilizers as the military industrial complex converted to the agro-industrial complex. There are two large movements suggesting solutions to the current food crisis.  Either we (1) turn to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or (2) turn to agroecology based farming. The stuff we are learning seems particularly pertinent as there is debate in the US right now over whether GMOs need to be labeled or not. As part of the course we visited our Ajan's organic farm as well as a CP (Charoen-Pokphand) animal feed processing factory. If you don't know what CP is, you should, they are the largest animal feed producers in the world, a huge vertically integrated agro-business, and have investments in about every field you can imagine. The two field trips manifested wildly different emotions surrounding agriculture.

Monday, our group splits in to 2 smaller groups. I will head up to Mae Ai, the northernmost district of Chiang Mai,  and spend the week at Upland Holistic Development Project (UHDP) working in farms and preparing food from the ground up. On Wednesday, we will be killing and eating a pig. For real, for real. After a week with UHDP I will head to Chiang Dao and live in a home-stay with local villagers who have worked with UHDP to cultivate an extensive agro-forest.

In short, life is about to get way cool.

As for the past two weeks, they have been good. Last Thursday we had a farewell party and said goodbye to our host families. We all wore traditional Lanna (the historic Kingdom of northern Thailand) clothing. Saturday, we moved into apartments closer to the city. Saying goodbye to my host family was very difficult and I already miss them all very much. We grew pretty close and had a lot of fun together. I am going to see them at least once more before I leave the country.  Life in the apartments is a completely different feel and to call it an apartment is a bit of an overstatement. It's more like a hotel room without a kitchen, so we eat all our meals out. It's chill, but I'm excited to head out to the field.

Just to clarify, I will have not have access to computer/phone/communications devices of any sorts. ISDSI has its students unplug for the field courses.

That's about it for now. Talk to you in 3 weeks. :)

Friday, September 20, 2013


Chatting/coordinating with friends in other countries is really amusing because we have massively different schedules and daily lives. Talking with everyone at ISDSI, we all wake up around 6 and get to sleep between 20:00 and 23:00. I try to sleep no later than 21:30 every night, though it often gets pushed to 22:00. It just is funny when I start to remember that everyone else stays up much later, but most people don't have school from 8-17:00, 5 days a week. I'm just on a really different type of study abroad program, as today's activities exemplified.

Today, we went to the fish farm.  It was amazing! It actually might be my favorite of the field trips we have taken so far. Also, I have 0 pictures from today, BUT my friend Kira just posted some on FB and has graciously allowed me to share them here with you.

We went to the Chiang Mai Development Farm in the Maetang sub-district of Chiang Mai Province. It was a nice cool day for which we were all very happy. First, we were able to talk to talk to one of the women that runs the fish farm and ask questions about the organization. Our Pis act as translators for us, so conversations go from English to Thai and then back from Thai to English. This is how most of our learning is done and it can sometimes be confusing and frustrating when things are lost in the translation process.

After the introduction, we put on our rash guards and NRS water shoes and headed out to the tilapia ponds.
We all felt a bit bizzare because we were wearing baggy hiking pants with super tight rash-guards on top.

First, we saw some very baby fish. The fish are divided into 5 stages, with 1 being the youngest and 5 being the oldest. The babies are kept in small trays that have a swirling water current though them. Each little tray has 250g of eggs originally that become tiny fish, smaller than the tip of my pinky. We learned that the water swirls because momma fish keep the babies in her mouth and the swirling current imitates the motion in her mouth. Next, we headed to the outdoor ponds for our morning activity.

The morning activity was to drag a net across a large tilapia pond to catch the tilapia and move them to smaller pond. I. I actually didn't even think to ask why we were moving them, but we were.

The big pond was probably 30x30 meters big, if not larger. The water went up past our knees and the mud was deep. Walking was a serious challenge and dragging the net just added another level of difficulty since we had to keep it close to the bottom. We were all getting foot cramps. We all had to move together as one line to drag the net, but some times part of the line got ahead or behind. As we moved, fish would jump in and out of the net as well as hit our thighs. Some of the fish were huge, 18 inches and larger. After getting to the other side, we'd get all the fish into smaller baskets and transfer them to a new pond.

In total,we did three net drags--twice in one pond and once in another.  The second time we dragged the net I was on the edge and my legs sunk down till I was knee deep in the mud and could not get my balance.  I fell over THREE times into the muddy water and almost pulled down two other girls with me so I just had to drop my section of net and focus on getting to the other side.

After dragging the net and transferring fish, it was time for a delicious lunch of rice and fried fish!

Our afternoon task was to go to the smaller, (but deeper) fish ponds and catch momma fish to collect their eggs. The fish in these ponds are kept in smaller pens. The workers pulled a tarp from the bottom of the pen to the top of the lake and basically created a pool cover type thing to corner all the fish into a small section. In the pen were both male and female fish so we learned to identify the men from the women. Next, we were taught how to use the nets to capture the fish, hold the fish properly in our (gloved) hands, open their mouth to look for babies, and extract the babies. Once the babies were found or the fish was determined not to have any, you throw the fish to the other side. Throwing the fish was probably my favorite part.

My first several attempts with the net were comical and there was a lot of shrieking as I tried to grab the fish, freaked out, then tried again. The fish also doesn't lie there in the net peacefully, it thrashes its tail around and you get sprayed in the face with water. After several unsuccessful attempts, I did it! My first several fish had no babies though. Eventually, many of us ditched the nets in favor of just sticking our hands in the pond and grabbing the fish with our hands. Again, it took several tries before I could get over being freaked out by touching fish, but I caught 4 fish with just my hands and I just got really into it. My friends even commented that it seemed I had gotten over my fish freak outs.

I was determined to find me some babies since I hadn't yet. I wasn't the only one, my friend Emily at one point yelled at the fish, "WHERE ARE YOUR BABIES," which just made all of us laugh.  Finally, after searching 20 or so fish my friend Indie (short for Indigo) and I found 4 fish with babies!  To get the babies out, you hold open the mouth, tip the fish mouth down into the net and gently shake it so the babies fall out. Then the workers put the babies in a container sorted by age and you go back to catch some more fish. Emily also found some fish babies, so there was a happy ending for everyone.

We had 4 ponds to do, but we ran out of time and only got to do 3. I was legitimately sad, catching the fish and hanging out in the water was so much fun. Catching the fish started to become a bit addicting and it was just cool to grab all these huge fish hoping to find gold (stage 3 babies are gold looking eggs). Writing this blog, it seems that I actually learned quite a bit about black tilapia, which is kinda the point of experiential learning. Going back to classroom learning in the states is going to be quite the challenge.

The trays with all the baby fish

One of the many fish farms, this is where we caught the fish to get the babies, the blue squares are the pens. The net drag ponds don't have pens. 

Some of my friends catching fish

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Weeks 3 and 4

So the traveler's diarrhea lasted about 9 days in total and finally stopped to my great relief. It was a real pain the but (literally), but I'm doing better now--physically and mentally. Per usual its been a whirlwind of a week. (Has it been one or two since I last wrote?) We picked up the pace in Thai class and spoke faster and learned more words and phrases with less practice. We started to dig in to the material in Foundations class and this week we learned about social organization of Thai society, citizenship rights and issues, sustainability, types of NGOs and land rights/issues. We've had two guest speakers from different NGOs talk about environmental and social justice issues and sustainable development and it's been really interesting. Thai society has a lot of superficial similarities to the US, but when you dig a bit deeper things are very different. For example, on the surface it seems that Thai people wear the same clothing as in the US, but there are different meanings for different clothing. Clothing in the US is for self-expression, but in Thailand clothing is a means of signaling one's position in the world and is a matter of respect for others.

I can give many other examples of this. A really easy one is pizza. In Thailand, pizza has hotdogs stuffed with cheese in the crust and some toppings we don't have in the US. Definitely not the same.

This past weekend (Friday, Sept 13th) we also went on our ISDSI retreat to Mok Fa Waterfall in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. The retreat was an opportunity to test out gear, team-build, relax and do some more orientation as our first EFC (experiential field course) is coming up in two weeks. During free time we also got to go to the 60m BEAUTIFUL waterfall and swim around in the chest deep water. It was the first time since coming to Thailand that I actually felt cold.

Me playing at the base of the fall

My friends in front of the waterfall, you can't even see the whole thing in this pic. 

We also had PB&Js and that was super exciting.

On our way to the park we stopped at a lake area for our swimming assessment. We had to swim 300m without taking grabbing on to anything to rest and then tread water for 15 minutes. Then, we ate lunch on these amazing grass hut buildings right on the water.

During lunch one of the Pis (instructors) came around with a small container. Inside the container was basil, onions, peppers and very small jumping shrimp. Apparently, its a traditional northern Thailand food. A quick google search brings you to this blog which does a decent job explaining what jumping shrimp are. Essentially, they are tiny translucent shrimp and you eat them, live. Yes, live. I wasn't peer pressured into eating one, but I certainly wouldn't have considered trying one had all of my friends not been passing around the dish. I closed my eyes, held my nose, opened my mouth and asked my friend Sophie to throw it in my mouth. It ACTUALLY was pretty tasty, the only flavors were the peppers and basil. One was enough though. Food is definitely a mental thing for me, that's an entirely other blog post though.

Tomorrow, is the next field trip of Foundations. We are going to a fish farm, to wade chest deep in tilapia ponds setting up hatchery nets and handling live tilapia with the Chiang Mai Development Farm, a local NGO. When I read about this part of the trip months ago, I was super excited, but last week I remembered that fish freak me out. Every time I go swimming in a lake I always move around and kick a lot so the fish don't come near me. They are just slimy and weird. So that's gonna be interesting. I'm still really excited though and I think it's gonna be really cool once I get over myself. Similar to the new foods, its all mental and its about adjustment to new ways. Also, we eat fish for lunch there which will be DELICIOUS. :)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sh*t Happens: Reflections Post Traveler's Sickness

I don't think this is as polished as I would like, but its so hard to find time to write/post that sometimes you just gotta click publish. Hope you enjoy!

This week has been a rough one both physically and mentally.

I write this as the thunderous collisions fade into the distance. While it has been raining monumental amounts all week, its not the rain clouds I'm talking about, but my stomach. Saturday night I woke up at midnight to horrible stomach pains and proceeded to wake up every hour on the hour to run to the bathroom. I was on one couch or another for the entirety on Sunday.

I knew it would take some adjustment to the local foods, but I had not realized that traveler's diarrhea would consist of 3-5 days of debilitating stomach cramps (lie on the floor whimpering type cramps) and liquid only elimination. I don't think my Mae considered the implications of this particular situation either when she agreed to take in an American student. To both her and Paw's credit they have been taking wonderful care of me through the illness, letting me rest, doing my chores, and feeding me rice and water.

In discussing cultural adjustments and the culture shock curve there is usually a specific incident that causes the happy visitor to take a sharp downtown in emotional well-being, often feeling homesick, isolated, and /or inescapably "other." For me, it's been illness from my cold last week to the stomach problems this week. When you are physically ill, it is impossible to keep a good attitude and you yearn for family and all of the comforts of *your* home. 

When I feel good, I love it here and wonder if four months could possibly be enough. When I felt ill, I wanted to come and wondered what exactly I had enrolled myself in here. Some students become ill multiple times, and the culture shock curve oscillates so this is not a battle yet won; however, I am in a critical period for responding to culture shock.

Culture Shock describes the process from initial shock to the visitor striking back in some way. They write:

Seeking to defend his senses against the shock-waves of an alien world, , s/he searches for... a culture shock absorber. In order to retain some sanity, the visitor responds to culture shock in one or all of the following four ways: escape, confrontation, encapsulation, or integration" (184). 
The goal to strive for is to remove social barriers in order to integrate and feel at ease in Thai society, but the path to integration is not straight and narrow. 

Two interesting events occurred on Monday night: (1)I ate an apple, (2) I watched American television.

(1) I had heard that fruit was good if you needed food, but couldn't handle much so I was asking Mae Nuan what fruit we had in the house. When she mentioned apples, I lit up and asked her to please give it to me. 
The apple was the greatest apple I had ever tasted because it was food from home. I never liked apples that much in the states, but here this apple was a much needed American oasis. 

(2) After dinner, I settled down on the couch to watch some TV and found some American programs on FX including Mad Men (which I had never seen before, and now really need to watch).

On reflection, the apple was a health way to cope and feel a bit more at home. The jury is out on English television though, it has some serious disadvantages. Watching TV is one of the greatest escapes we have especially when you can tunnel vision into the show with familiar troupes, settings, and language. For a while it is great to watch and zone out, but when the TV turned off, I felt very disoriented. It was similar to the feeling of waking from a dream and not knowing where you are. While I'm certain TV provides an escape for visitors, I think watching too often would actually hinder one's integration because when the TV turns off the fantasy ends. You are not surrounded by a familiar world or language and you have to make a whiplash fast adjustment back to the foreign world. 

Ultimately, there is nothing you can do for traveler's diarrhea, but to stay hydrated. You need to let everything flow so your body can get rid of whatever toxin it ingested. There is no over under below or around it, just deep breaths, whispered encouraging mantras (I prefer, "just keep swimming!), acceptance and slow progress forward. It is the same with the challenges of travel. I have no option to quit or escape, I must persevere and I will be made better for it.

I'd like to end with a quote from Becoming World Wise:

"Cultural quakes happen. Our foundations suddenly shift and nothing--not family, not friends, not language, not customs--seems fixed any more.... although the path of transformation rarely follows a predictable and linear course, it requires that we keep walking" (156).

A Few More Pictures From Week 2

Tomorrow will officially make it 3 weeks in Thailand. It's a bizarre feeling. Week 2 was filled with many terrors and triumphs. I got sick with a cold from Wednesday-Friday, had an AMAZING Saturday, and then Saturday night got a bad case of Traveler's Diarrhea that I am still feeling the effects from. This week we(students): went to Wat Suan Dok and learned about Buddhism from a local monk, bought food and then cooked our own Thai lunches, hiked up to Wat Phra Doi Suthep, taught English at a local Chiang Mai school to 7-12th graders, and learned a ton of Thai language.

Saturday, after the cold ended and before the diarrhea started I had an amazing day with my host mom and pop and my friends Hannah and Emily. Hannah and Emily are just two of the amazing people I've met while studying at ISDSI. They live nearby and we take the song tow to school together every day and I nearly fall over from laughing every time we hang out. Mae Nuan planned a super awesome day for us. First we went to Mae Sa Elephant camp. Mae Sa was started in the 60's and has over 85 elephants today. The elephants there are painters and create some amazing artwork. The elephants there have also broken a Guiness World Record for Most Expensive Elephant Painting. Then, we went to Queen Sirikit's Botanical Gardens, then lunch, a cool mountain temple and home for nap time. To end the day, Mae Nuan taught us how to cook green curry and we ate dinner on the terrace! Amazing day.

Here are a few random pics:
Hanging with baby elephants. Soinlove

We were giddy! 

Elephant Painting

Mae Nuan jumping in for a photo

She told us to give a thumbs up. So we did

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Being Farang


I am so thankful for lazy Sundays, the week is so long and tiring and its nice to relax on the weekend. As always there is so much to write and only so much space time. I've had my first week of Thai language classes and orientation and tomorrow we start Thai Foundations class. I even had homework this weekend reading about Thai culture and practicing writing my Thai alphabet. This week also included a scavenger hunt around the city and rock climbing/rappelling at Crazy Horse Buttress as part of the school day. I'll try to do a picture post soon. Yesterday, Dew and I went to a new museum in Chiang Mai called Art in Paradise: Illusion Art Museum. The museum opened about 2 months ago and is awesome. You can see pictures from the museum in the blog post below.

Being Farang

To write about this topic already seems pre-mature, as do most of my "judgments" thus far on life in Thailand. I've learned so much in a week about Thai culture and myself that I am certain this post will get an update before I leave Thailand. Also, the title is totally a joke on the BBC show Being Human.

Farang is the generic non-derogatory Thai word for a Westerner, or a white skinned foreigner. Being farang comes with a host of benefits and a few disadvantages. One of the perks is that the Thai people generally regard farang with [slightly detached] amusement. The Thai are patient and kind-hearted and often excuse Farang from behaviors that would otherwise be deemed culturally offensive. We get extra leeway in our every action because it is assumed we don't know better. We are especially treated well when people see us with our Thai families, speaking Thai, or wearing our uniforms because it shows that we are making local connections to the country and culture.

Just the other day, I came across a monk standing on the road waiting for a rot deng. Racing through my cultural knowledge bank, I knew it was not necessary to wai every monk everywhere, but I was walking right past him on the road so I was debating the appropriate action in my head. I'm walking closer, he's talking on the cell phone, I get closer, still debating, he chats on the phone and at the last second I decide to go for it and Wai, BUT I LEAVE MY HEAD UP MAKING EYE CONTACT AS I BOW, essentially ruining any intent of showing respect with the Wai. Embarrassed, I try to lower my head, panic and quickly walk away. The monk smiles, laughs at me and then gets on his Rot Deng. The car then drives very slowly past me and the monk and driver laugh at me again as they drive off. Their laughter is an expression of the Thai value/idiom mai pen rai, the "no worries" attitude that Thais take to many different situations. Meanwhile, I bang my head against my fist and laugh at myself muttering, "silly, stupid farang," and silently thanking whoever will listen that I *am* a farang  and given leeway.

Another short story is of a girl on my program who was invited to a Buddhist ceremony. She wore a nice black skirt with a yellow and gray striped shirt. When she arrived at the ceremony, she found everyone there was dressed in white! No one gave her any trouble, because they knew she didn't know, but it isn't easy to handle. Can you imagine? Even Ajan Mark has stories of his own like this, once wearing hiking gear to a fancy wedding party! Misunderstandings happen and thankfully the Thai are nice enough to laugh at and with us for the most part.

Unfortunately, being farang also can come with a host of stereotypes. Many travelers (to Thailand, or elsewhere) do not travel with a mind towards cultural sensitivity. The stereotype worldwide is of the loud ignorant American. Many farang speak no Thai, dress in culturally offensive ways, and aren't mindful of Thai traditions. There are stories of Americans being imprisoned and/or assaulted for pushing the limits too far and disrespecting the King, Buddha, or Thai society. This takes an extra lot of ignorance to Thai culture and values so I only bring it up to show that Thai patience with farang does have a limit. 

This whole thought process really began on Thursday when all of us students came together to present our pictures from the Scavenger Hunt. One of the list items was to find "things that are interesting," whatever they may be. One of the groups took a picture of obviously American tourists, dressed in short shorts, tank tops, standing with cameras. Immediately, I was faced with extreme cognitive dissonance. Already, I look at those farang and feel somehow different, almost superior from them these "other farang". I am bothered by their behavior and seek to distance myself from it. I had the feeling others were experiencing this dissonance as well, but cannot speak for them.

ISDSI as a program seeks to help integrate its students to Thai culture as much as possible. This is the reason they pus us with host families, teach us Thai, have us do pre-trip reading and have us wear our uniforms. Many of us actively try to avoid "farang-y" behaviors, trying to integrate as best we can to Thai ways of life, even as our light-skinned American selves.

The fact of the matter though is that we *are* farang. We will never be Thai no matter how long we live here, but we can strive to become "accepted outsiders". Studying abroad is a balancing act in culture and identity. We live between two minds, and two cultures. We distance ourselves from farang to avoid sterotypes, but are thankful for the label when entering new and delicate cultural situations. We laugh at ourselves for our farang-y mishaps and use our status as farang to calm our fears of cultural missteps. Cross-cultural learning is an amazing and confusing process of removing social barriers and accepting new cultural ideas without dismissing our home cultural values. We find so many similarities in our experiences and see our lives from different perspectives. As we travel, we hope to find reflections of ourselves in people from other areas of the world. I leave you with this picture:

Dew and me at the Art in Paradise museum in Chiang Mai

Just A Few Pictures

Here are just a few photos that I could easily get uploaded. I have pictures from the scavenger hunt and rock climbing as well that I will try to get up. The first picture is at Wat Prasin, a very beautiful temple in the Old City. The other pictures are from Art In Paradise, a new museum in Chiang Mai that features interactive illusion art. Dew and I took over 500 pictures yesterday, so below are just a few.
Kuhn Paw, Dew, and me at Wat Prasin

Swimming at the Art in Paradise Exhibit

I went surfing too! 

Mini vacation to Rome!
I LOVE this picture


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Adventures to School and Misc. Musings

Hello everyone! I really want to write a long and amusing blog post right now, but its 9:00p (21:00) and I'm already starting to fade. The latest I've stayed up since arriving here is 10:15p. Yesterday, I was asleep by 8:45p! Jet lag is still hitting hard, its hot, the days our long, and living in a new culture is very mentally taxing. I am having an AMAZING time here though and loving my new way of life so far. It is really hard to believe that I have only been here 5 days. I am only on my SECOND day of school and it is still orientation! I already have been introduced to so many new words, customs, foods, fruits, and routines. Seriously, Thai fruit is incredible and I had never heard of most of it before coming here. I had my first Mangosteen (Thai, mankoot) the other day, and I loved it so much that my host mother gave me that for my Thai name! So now I introduce myself:
di chan chu Mankoot! 

I can't help but worry that I'm on the up and up of culture shock and I wish crash sometime soon, but that's the way of it. You have your ups and downs. :)


I have so much I want to write that I don't even know where to begin.

The weekend was super fun and relaxing. Dew and my parents (Mae and Paw, lit. Mother, Father) took me around Chiang Mai. We went to open air markets, a lantern festival, Wats, rice fields and to see family. I've also been to two Thai Malls which is *really* weird because they are pretty much identical to American malls, except they have a few more Tech stores. Samsung seems pretty big here and Dew and I have almost the same smart phone.

Also, I knew before coming about Thai censorship laws, but I only found out today that Thailand has one of the most extensive internet surveillance programs in the world, so I'm certain my blog has already been flagged.

Monday, school began. I wake up at 6 am, promptly make my bed and take a shower. In Thailand, cleanliness is extremely important and its common to take 2-3 showers a day. I thought it would be a drag, but I LOVE it. It is so hot here and showers feel so good, plus, its a great time to relax and recoop. I am going to write a whole post on Thai bathrooms here since they are different from the US, but one thing at a time. After getting dressed I eat a quick breakfast, a fried egg that Paw makes for me and some toast then head to school. A-roi! (delicious)

 To get to school I take a form of public transportation called the Song Tao (lit: two benches).  It is a giant truck with two benches in the back of it that about 10 people can comfortably fit in facing each other. I say comfortably 10 because people pack in to them and sometimes there are probably up to 20 people on a Song Tao and off the back of it.  My stop is about a 2 minute walk from home. WAY more entertaining then a subway or bus and you get to chatting with the people around you (or at least I would, if I could speak more Thai, but soon enough). There are tons of song taos, one goes by almost every 5 minutes, so if one is full, nbd, get on the next.  Each district has its own song tao that is a different color and that follows a specified route.I take the yellow trucks for Maerim district. The Red trucks are similar to taxis and take you anywhere. I take the truck several stops and then get off and walk about 15 minutes to school. There are 2 other girls that live nearby me and we walk home together from school and if we are lucky get on the same one on the way there too, but its not a guarantee. Oh, also. Round trip to school and back, 30 baht ($1USD) #SAY WHAT?

Thai students all wear a school uniform of a white collared shirt and black or blue skirt. Wearing the uniform has definitely impacted how people treat us. When they see us in the uniform they know that even though we are foreigners, we are students. The people on the Song Tao treat us very well and are certainly amused by us. Yesterday, Hannah, Emily and I were all nervous about getting off on the right stop. Actually, I think Emily was nervous, Hannah seemed cool as a cucumber, I was flat out panicking. Mae nuan had given me a piece of paper with my stop written in Thai to give to a fellow passenger, but I wanted to try and find my place on my own. She also sent me to school with an umbrella.  Everyone in the taxi could tell we were nervous and there were also black clouds on the horizon. Emily gets off first and the whole taxi cheers. Next stop is me, and I am not doing so well. I think I see my stop, and then the taxi stops and I realize it isn't. It starts sprinkling. I wait a bit longer, but give in to my pride and give my neighbor the piece of paper, the whole taxi is interested to see where my stop is, then one woman says, HERE! It's HERE about a second after I give the paper up. I hit the buzzer and it starts POURING RAIN. The whole taxi yells at me to open my umbrella, but I'm just trying to get out and pay and I'm laughing. So I get out of the truck and pay the guy with a huge smile on my face as the rain comes down and I've never been so happy in my life for rain and to be alive and in the right spot at the right time. So I run over to what I think is cover and its not, and struggle to open my umbrella and I can't get it open and out of the corner of my eye I see another umbrella, I look up, IT'S PAW! I was soo happy to see him, but he doesn't speak much English so all I could say was, PAW! PAW! PAW! He gave me his umbrella and opened mine up and we began the walk through 3 inch puddles of water to his car, and then to home. It rains almost every afternoon in Thailand (in this season, the rainy one) but the rain is warm.

Today's trip went much better and I hit the buzzer at the right spot with no help. :D #soproud. (and yes I'm using hashtags, because that's the mood I'm in) The other girls and I have a lot of fun together on the walks from school and today we found a small milk tea shop that we are gonna stop at every day.

Back to school. From 8-12 at school we have Thai language class. Right now, they are mixing and matching students and teachers, but tomorrow they are going to assign us classes. 12-1 is lunch and then 1-4 will be Thai culture class, also known as Foundations, but right now we are doing orientation stuff. Going over rules, learning more about culture and such. I'm super impressed with the program and the level of support the students get here. Ajan Mark (Ajan=teacher, Mark is the director of the program) has dealt with a lot of mishaps and issues over the years and has lived in Thailand 20+ years and  has connections to all sorts of people in Thailand who can help in all sorts of different situations. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we do cross fit. More on that later. I don't get home each night until about 5:30 or 6:30 and then dinner, I wash the dishes, and relax till I fall asleep.

OMG! I just looked up from the computer and my host family is watching re-runs of AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR. GOTTA GO!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Introducing My Host Family

There is so much I could write, it is a bit overwhelming. I guess the logical step is to tell you about where I am staying and my host family and a little about this past weekend. We did a lot of relaxing, but we also went out a lot as well. Expect posts to be a bit more disjointed now, I'm doing so much and don't want to put it all in one post and there is already stuff from Friday I forgot to post, like winning the ISDSI rock paper scissors "tournament" and going to a temple Friday morning.

I live in the Mae Rim district in the central part of the Chiang Mai province. Mae Rim district neighbors the Mueang Chiang Mai district, the capital district, which contains the city of Chiang Mai and my school, ISDSI. To get to school most days I will take a taxi of sorts to school. The taxi is a big truck with bench seats in the back and an open back. They red ones take you wherever you want to go, but each district also has its own with set routes. The Mae Rim ones are yellow. Our house is very nice two story and is on a big plot of land. I have my own room upstairs with air conditioning. We also have two bathrooms that have western style toilets and showers.  Across the way is my host mom's sister's house, I haven't met her yet though.

Every Friday about 10 feet from the gate of our house is a huge open-air market/carnival where they sell EVERYTHING from electronics, to fruit and produce, meat, dessert, clothes, and shoes. It is really similar to the shuk (market) in Israel.

Kuhn Paw (lit. Father) is my host father. He used to teach chemistry and now he is retired. He is very nice, but does not speak much English. He has helped me learn the names of the fruit we are eating. Kuhn Paw grows ma-mooang (mangos) and gloo-ay (bananas) in the front yard. We eat a lot of fruit here, some that I have had before, but most of it is new to me! Also, just in case anyone was worried, THEY HAVE NUTELLA HERE! :) Paw also has a beautiful garden and pagoda area in the front lawn that he works on.

Kuhn Mae (lit Mother) is my host mom. She is an English teacher for 16-18 year olds in the upper secondary school. She was on a educational school trip with teachers and administrators in the central part of Thailand when I arrived, but she got home last night and I met her this morning. She is very nice. She lived in Melbourne Australia for a while when she learned how to teach English and how to train English teachers. She also received a Fullbright scholarship to study in the states. She spent time in DC, Kentucky, and Oregon staying with host families. She has also taken educational trips in Vietnam, Laos and New Zealand. She presented her reseach in Malaysia the past two years. She's telling me her ccredentials to type now. :)

My pii sau is my host sister. Her nickname is Dew. Most people in Thailand have a longer full name and a shorter nickname that they go by. Dew is 22 and studies Geology at Chiang Mai University. She studied abroad in New York for 3 months and speaks very good English. We are facebook friends now and she has already read a bit of my blog! Dew has been taking me around Chiang Mai this weekend and to the markets and malls. She is teaching me a lot about Thai language and culture. Tonight we are going to a walking street to see the Chiang Mai Lantern Festival. So excited!

My pii shai is my host brother. His nickname is Dawn. He finished university and is a marine engineer, but he is working in Japan right now, so I haven't met him.

Culture shock is not what I would have thought it at all. I expected it to be this overwhelming feeling of doom and helplessness. In reality, culture shock is the quiet nagging feeling of "what now, what do I do?" accompanied with wonder at how similar the world really is. Things here are not so strange or "foreign" as I thought they might be, but I'm sure this has to do with my host family and being in the city.

Tomorrow I start school at ISDSI. From 8-12 we will learn Thai language and from 1-4, we learn about Thai culture. So far, a lot of what I learned from my reading has been correct, but some of it has also been incorrect. Still, I am super thankful for the reading that we had to do, because it has helped me in several practical ways so far. Mostly, I just watch Dew and Paw, and now Mae and try to imitate what they are doing.k

Friday, August 23, 2013

First Post From Thailand!

Hey all! Typing this from ISDSI campus in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I'm here. I'm safe. I'm hot! Its humid and hot here, but actually not as bad as I thought it would be. The keyboard here sticks and I don't have much time (because I'm trying to limit my time on the computer) so pardon any typos.

Plane was long but uneventful. Korean airways is super nice and posh. I watched Wall-E and Chicago on the plane flight over. I was middle seat between two korean people. I expected the Incheon International airport in Seoul to be a foreign world, but it looked exactly like any international airport with American stores too. The only major difference was that announcements were made in Korean first. Most people flew over on the same flight and we started to find each other and aggragate in Seoul, though none of us had assigned seats together.

The flight from Seoul to Chiang Mai was fine, but exhausting. I was in a window seat next to a guy from Kansas City. He had a farmer-type accent and i was wondering what he was doing there. He broke every stereotype I had about small town Kansas boys. He was traveling to meet his future father in law for the first time. He was engaged to a Thai woman. He had traveled all over Europe and South America and had been to Thailand before. He was giving me cultural tips about Thailand! Nice guy. Towards the end of the flight when I was feeling really down and exhausted, I asked him how anyone would ever travel to Thailand again after such a terribly long flight. He joked that he thought it was like women with pregancy, that there must be something in the food that makes you forget about the pain. :)

We stayed in a super nice hostel last night that had this beautiful garden area. I'll try to get pictures up at some point, but I'm not sure how easy it is to do that.

I did walk around Chiang Mai a bit after breakfast this morning with a group. Chiang Mai has an old city that is surrounded by a wall (Just like Israel!) and then a moat around the wall. The city was strange in that it lacked strangeness. There were 7/11 convenience stores everywhere and even a KUMON reading/math center. It was only weird that the signs were in Thai. Also, crossing the street is terrifying. Last thing, we walked into a grocery stores and everything is SO cheap. You can buy 4 packs of drinks and food for less than $2USD. Oh, and they had OREOS! OREOS! :)

Today we are doing some orientation at ISDSI then going with our host families. We had to learn how to eat using our hands and with sticky rice. Then, Pi Pui (Pi means elder, Pui is her name) came around with a northern Thailand snack, fried bamboo worms. They looked like meal worms. I went for it. I ate one. It was salty. Mentally it was kinda gross, but it tasted fine. I just knew that it was my first "outside my comfort zone" thing and I had to do it. Everyone at my table did. When she came back around for seconds though, I politely declined. We also ate this super cool lychee like fruit, called rambatan or something. (The english name is rambatan). Sticky rice is also delicious!

We did some team building exercises and everyone here is super nice. Most of my interactions thus far have been with Americans, so we'll see how I feel on Monday.

Gotta go for now.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Last Post From the USA: Travel Itinerary

Hey everyone! Thanks for reading thus far. I've really loved writing this blog and getting to see the map that shows what countries my readers are from. I have views coming in from around the globe. Some of them from people I know, (Shout out to Sonora, studying Music and volunteering in South Africa, Flo in Israel, Sheldon vacationing in Ecuador, Janay studying International Development in Ecuador, Jodi teaching English in Japan) and some of them I have no idea about. I have an abundance of views from Russia and no clue why. Either way, all of you are awesome! 


4:00a (EST) Wake up and shortly thereafter leave for the airport
6:00a (EST) Depart Flint for Chicago O'Hare
6:05a (CST) Arrive in Chicago O'Hare
12:45a (CST) Depart Chicago for Seoul, Korea
4:25p (KST, aka GMT + 9:00 aka 13 hours ahead of EST), August 22nd, arrive in Seoul, Korea
7:20p Depart Seoul Korea
10:50p (ICT, aka GMT +7:00 aka 11 hours ahead of EST) Arrive in Chiang Mai, Thailand 


  1. I will probably not be sleeping the night of the 20th 
  2. I will be traveling ~27 hours or so, probably a bit more
  3. I will have LOTS of free time on Wednesday Aug. 21 between 6:00a (CST) and 12:00p (CST) so PLEASE call me. I won't have my computer with me, so I'll probably just be eating bagels and feeling super jittery. Also, this is your LAST CHANCE to hear my voice for 4 months so TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT! :) 
  4. Oh, one more thing. I just added this handy-dandy page (up top) to my blog about how to send me mail. Please send me mail. Please? 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Ridiculous Things I Do As The Trip Gets Closer

  1. stay up later and later, anxious about my program
  2. have ridiculous dreams/nightmares about my trip when I finally do sleep 
  3. be in denial about the fact that I'm leaving
  4. realize all the stuff I haven't done/need to do
  5. continue not to do it
  6. make lists. a lot of lists. 
  7. ponder what I'm forgetting to pack
  8. add unnecessary things to the pile of things to pack
  9. download all the music I've been streaming on Spotify for the past 6 months 
  10. practice saying, "Hello, my name is Wendy.." in Thai over and over again

Thursday, August 15, 2013


"Pre-field preparations move us beyond discussions of packing lists and assorted "dos" and "don'ts" to consider the ultimate purposes and practical learning strategies needed for us to enter deeply into our host culture" (Becoming World Wise, 10).

This is a very important post that I have known I needed to write, but have been putting off. I can't put it off much longer seeing as I'M LEAVING IN LESS THAN A WEEK!  My expectations are extremely important to have written down because this is the post that will help me reflect when I return  from the program and will help me be in the proper mindset for departure and throughout the program.

What I'm hoping to get from this trip:

The question overwhelms me. I chose ISDSI because I wanted a structured and engaging program that would push me outside of my comfort zone. Many people chose to galavant around Europe, visit pubs, and simply attend school in a foreign county. That is an excellent way to spend a term abroad for many students, but it was not what I was hoping for in a study abroad program. When I realized the extent of my study abroad options, I realized I had to figure out what it was I wanted out of a program to help me narrow down my options:

I knew I wanted a home-stay, because I hoped I could create connections to a family, have a home base where someone expected me for dinner, and learn about culture from an inside perspective. I knew that in having a home-stay I might sacrifice some freedoms, but what I gain will be more valuable.

I knew I wanted to learn the local language. In third grade, after singing a German song in Choir class, I decided I wanted to be a linguist and learn a ton of languages. I've always loved learning language and had a knack for it if I do say so myself. Wherever I ended up, I wanted to speak the local language.

I knew I didn't care if the program fit my major, because the time in another country and studying something I loved was the important part for me. I wanted to make sure I had time to experience the country and wouldn't be overwhelmed with course work or stressed. And I knew that I wanted to find a program that dealt with social justice.

Through all my interactions with ISDSI so far, they seem so vested in all of us as students and individuals. They have goals and expectations for us on this program and thus, I have goals and expectations for myself.

I am so thankful that the instructors for ISDSI gave us Slimbach's Becoming World Wise for pre-trip reading. It has been immensely helpful in framing my study abroad experience and for the most part, I've loved reading it. The book is modern and mixes textbook facts, with social justice considerations, and a lot of hippy-dippy spiritual world loving stuff. It does, at some points, manage to get a bit *too* hippy dippy for me, and that is an accomplishment because I'm pretty damn hippy dippy.

One of my favorite more laughable "out there" parts is this:
"Grounding our global learning in a liberated imagination enables us to break through cultural illusions and ethical paralysis into a more radical ( from the Latin radix, meaning "root") understanding of what is going on. In "Redemption Song," Bob Marley sings of freedom in terms of emancipating ourselves from mental slavery. Only as our minds are set free can we see and experience the world as it truly is. At the point of our overarching purpose and underlying passion, our imagination is released from captivity to a culture of programmed self-gratification into a life committed to the common good" (Becoming World Wise, 53). 
Seriously, Slimbach? Let's get the drum circle going and somebody light up the peace pipe. amirite? All this text needed was a few choicely placed "dudes" and "mans" and it would fit perfect at any drug infested music festival.

But for its flaws, the book does manage to communicate exactly what it is I want from my experience: to travel for the good of the world and to balance my desire for self-improvement with my desire to better the world. The book challenges the traveler to be more selfless in their sojourns and seriously makes you believe that through the collective power of thousands of students studying abroad, we can start a revolution in global consciousness. How cool is that?

Being put into a new place I will experience strangeness and vulnerability, but in these periods of instability we are best able to examine ourselves, our values, and our choices, to make changes to our life's path. As a twenty year old unsure of the rest of my life, I want and need all of this for myself, selfishly. But, hopefully these changes lead me to being more vested with the fate of the world. I am very involved in the domestic social justice world, but I want to be involved in global social justice as well, in a nitty-gritty way. I will finally stop talking about the "increasingly smaller/globalized/ modern world" and be a part of it when I make connections to those in Thailand. I will be challenged to look past differences in people to find commonalities and be more connected to humanity, not just by my experiences with Thai people, but by the lifestyle choices I make during and after the program, and the issues I will be better able to shed light on. 

As I read further into the book, new issues and ideas about travel abroad are swimming through my head, but I need to get this posted for now. With much further reflecting to be done, here is a list of some of my expectations: 

I expect: 

  1. to be semi-fluent in Thai
  2. to shop in Thailand
  3. to try new foods
  4. to feel sick from trying new foods
  5. to dislike some of the field work
  6. to yearn for my computer and Netflix account
  7. to offend some Thais with my garish American ways
  8. to be offended by some Thai cultural ways 
  9. to embarrass myself often
  10. to gain better cross-cultural understanding
  11. to learn about sustainable development in a practical way
  12. to explore alternative concepts of justice
  13. to learn about global challenges from a new perspective
  14. to become more effective in global social justice pursuits 
  15. to bridge my culture with another's culture
  16. to find differences and celebrate commonalities
  17. to have better understanding of what it means to be a global citizen
  18. to leave my host community better than when I found it
  19. to question a lot, and listen even more
  20. to communicate in different ways
  21. to be stared at as a dark-haired fair skinned Westerner
  22. to make a traditional Buddhist offering in the Tai Wats (temples)
  23. to push my limits 
  24. to feel vulnerable, unstable, homesick, elated, disgusted, anxious, awkward, empowered, accomplished, tired, dirty, 
  25. to have know idea what I'm doing
  26. to figure it all out