Monday, July 29, 2013

Three Weeks Out: Another Post About Fears

I'm about three weeks out from departure and it is beginning to feel like crunch time. Even though I still have the full three weeks, I no longer have the whole summer spread out before me. I still have things to buy and to arrange and the clock ticks closer every day. Any procrastination will easily lead to last-minute panic.

I'm really trying to avoid last minute panic.

Just to show you how close I really am, here is this awesome countdown:

Stress and a bit of nerves began to kick in this week. I experienced some cold feet, but there is no backing out now. Writing this blog has actually helped me a lot in terms of getting my thoughts and fears out as well as affirming my decision. While we were both still in disbelief,  my mom gave me many options to back out, repeatedly asking, "Are you *SURE* you want to do this?" I had to explain to her that I was completely unsure, but i it was what I wanted to do and I needed her to back me up on it when I inevitably got scared. Mom, the time has come. Hugs are needed.

 The thing that keeps bringing me back to earth lately is something I was told in a high school assembly. Who knew those would EVER be useful or relevant?

 My German class went to a speaker who was promoting high school exchange programs. She explained that many people justify not traveling because they fear what they will miss out on events at home. She then went on to say that those who stayed at home had only gossip to discuss while their friends who traveled had amazing adventures and stories to relay.

 While there are some wonderful things I could be doing in Denver this fall--like starting my physics sequence and jumpstarting my work with Ameri-corp, Never Again, and AIPAC-- these things will be there in the Winter when I return. I know that my decision to travel is the right one for me. While my fears will certainly not be erased after my first step in Chiang Mai, I know that my anxieties are worth conquering.

 My sense of adventure has always been tempered with a healthy dose of fear and I have always preferred but-scooting down the hill screaming (in fear) over running head-first down the hill screaming (with joy); but four years ago, I learned everything I needed to know about fear while on a trampoline. I kept failing to land a back flip, flailing as I repeatedly landed askew. Frustrated and covered in sweat, I realized that fear and nothing else was keeping me from my flip. It is too easy to fall victim to fear. If you let it, fear will keep you from achieving your greatest goals and dreams.

Four years ago I made the commitment to be fearless in my approach to life. It has led me to so many amazing things including donating blood, weight lifting, rock climbing, auditions, and travel. It has led me here, as my junior year study abroad program looms approaches. Stepping off the plane in August will only be the first step of an incredible journey that I am anxiously excitedly waiting to begin.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Itching to Leave

A Word From Your Sponsor

I want to thank my Dad for being my copy and content editor for this blog and for most of my writing. It is thanks to his help that I am able to turn out quality work for y'all to enjoy. Without further ado: here's the post. 

Itching to Leave, Leaving to Itch

As part of preparation for departure, it is important to identify things that concern the participant. I did a nice long write up about culture shock and a few of my concerns about my upcoming experience that you can read about by clicking here (The link redirects you to another part of my blog).  More than anything, I'm nervous about adjusting to a new culture; however there was one unfortunate aspect of the program that only recently dawned on me. 

I like to consider myself a dynamic and multifaceted young woman, but when mosquitos look at me all they see is a blood mobile. The sound of my approach rings through the air like the instantly recognizable carnivalesque music of the ice cream truck and all the neighborhood mosquito-kids run after me. 

I'm considering tatooing 'line forms here to my ankles' and charging premium prices for a taste of what I've got to serve. Seriously, if Dracula bit me, he couldn't get more blood then those damn mosquitos. It's like I'm a giant piece of chocolate cake.  [And while the objectification of women is a serious issue I'd normally take on, this is not that post.] 

The point is, I hate mosquitos and they love me.  I always get covered in bites during the spring and summer months. I am uncomfortably itchy and can usually be found reapplying a thick coat of calamine to my legs every 3 hours or so. 

But I still counted down to summer every year. 

Hints that summer was on the horizon began as the days got longer and the weather got nicer. I knew summer was close when I received my letter in the mail from camp, advising me what to pack, a list I religiously read every year, even though it never changed. And summer had to be closing in as my mom and I would spend an hour each year carefully writing "W.LOW" on every article of clothing I owned. Still, the true start to summer and all of its adventures began the moment I retrieved my bottle of bug spray from the cabinet. 

For nearly 17 years bug spray was not only a guarantee of summer, but of new adventures, more fun, and care free late nights.  

I first came to Colorado in the Fall of 2011, it wasn't until after eight months living in Denver that one spring evening I looked up and realized that were no mosquitos in Denver. The lack of mosquitos is fact #393 on my list of 'Reasons Why I Love Denver.' 

 In St. Louis, adventures outdoors to catch lighting bugs were always cut short when the mosquitos became unbearable. I spent countless weeks at camp debating whether I'd rather  suffer the itch of the bites, or the sting of the alcoholic "anti itch" chemicals.  In Denver, I never had these issues, but my endless itch free nights ended when I returned to Michigan and her lakes. 

My legs are once again a red dotted mess, but the weather is too nice to stay inside.

Last week, while sitting in the grass flicking bug after bug off my skin, I was torn from my daydream when I realized exactly where exactly I'll be heading *this* Fall, not to a mosquito-free Denver, but into the tropical humid mosquito infested country of Thailand.  Into the midst of everything I had escaped in Denver. Over all the other fears and realizations that have struck me as I prepare for the trip, this one hit me with the most fear and horror.

Still, I am over come with nostalgia for the camp years of my life. I have to smile as I imagine every morning in Thailand, waking up and heading outside to cover myself in the pungent, chemically smell of excitement, adventure, and new friends. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Let The Fun Begin

Now, since the introductory posts are done, we can have some fun. (Keep reading, this post has pictures!)

"Brevity is the soul of wit."

My father strongly believed that Shakespeare and Hemingway had it right. The only correct way to write is clear, concise and simple. 
cut all the fluff  - All The Things
Older readers may not catch this reference.

While I subscribe to this motto in theory, I also happen to love stream of conscious writing. Sit me down in front of a computer and I'll write 2000 words in 15 minutes, no problem. Consider this my apology in advance for what will--at least, initially-- be wordy posts. Since I expect only dear friends and family to ever lay eyes on this small piece of the internet, I don't anticipate any disgruntled readers. (Though maybe I should expect more). 

Summer Preparations

Included in the acceptance letter to my program is an *EIGHT* page gear list. Because much of the program and the courses take place outdoors, it is imperative that participants have the right gear. The first week of the program a gear check takes place and if you don't have the right stuff you can be kicked off the program. 

This meant a lot of summer shopping. 

What used to be a fun, stress-free afternoon activity, has become a test of my fortitude, thriftiness, credit-limit, and my mother's patience. 

I have been to every outdoor store across the state of Michigan and tried on every shirt, pant, and shoe in the place *twice.* 

While my mother insists that I have an hourglass, model-body to make other women jealous, I am all too often reminded of the frustrating genetics of the Solomon/Kuenstler women. Accompanying my small waist are large hips, large calves, and what my sister and I have lovingly deemed "thunder thighs." 

These features have led to a number of embarrassing moments in dressing rooms--like the time the Express worker insisted the zip boots would fit over my calves, despite my protests, and vainly pulled the zipper only to walk away in defeat, everyone embarrassed. On another occasion I had to give up on a cute dress because though it would fit on my waist, I couldn't get it over my shoulders or hips to try it on. 

Take my body talk in jest though. I do appreciate everything my body is capable of doing. The only time in my life I had the skinny calves I dreamed of was after 6 weeks in a cast when the muscle had atrophied and I was unable to walk. 

Still, buying gear for the program has been a challenge. I was forced to endure many ill fitting pants with awkward seams that cut straight across my thighs. In desperation, I tried the pants in the men's department. I was on the verge of defeat before I finally found several pants that were synthetic, quick drying, UPF protected, and actually fit my body. 

It has been fun though and I've gotten some amazing stuff. Of course, after each purchase of something cool, I've worn it around the house for about an hour fantasizing about all the awesome stuff I'll be doing with it. I'm nearly done collecting the items on the list and the big challenge looming is packing it all up. Definitely the coolest I've gotten so far is my Visa. I couldn't stop staring at it when it arrived in the mail and I'm excited to show it to you! :) 

My visa is pretty much the coolest looking thing ever. 
Armed with my visa, and a headlamp, I'm ready to tackle anything! 

The deliberation room:
 where my mother, father, and I carefully review the purchases
to determine what we're keeping and what's getting returned. 

More gear, safely stored in the closet until packing time. 

Check out dem sexy legs and socks!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Introduction Part 3: Facts About Thailand

I've spent a while just reading up on Thailand from my required reading, travel blogs, and Wikipedia. I'm probably going to copy-paste several paragraphs from the Wiki pages. At the bottom check out some of my favorite pieces of information about Thai culture. I also had to write over a dozen essays on the topic, so I'm sure I'll be quoting from them in this blog as well. 

The Word Thai

Some 50 million people live in Thailand. Almost all of these are 'Thai' in the sense that they are citizens of the country, speak Thai, and regard Thailand as their home. However, not all are ethnic Thai; the culture and language of the home of some 12 percent of the population are different to those of the ethnic Thai. The largest minority group is Chinese, about six million, most of whom in  in the towns. More than one million Malays live in the southernmost provinces adjoining Malaysia and an estimated half million hill-tribesmen live in the mountains in the north. (Culture Shock, Cooper)


Thailand is largely tropical, so it's hot and humid all year around with temperatures in the range of 82-95°F, a degree of relief provided only in the mountains in the far north of Thailand. (Wiki)


Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, with the king as a very highly respected and revered Head of State. The Thai parliament is bicameral, consisting of a Senate, of which about half are directly elected with each province electing one member, and the other half being appointed by a committee, as well as a lower house which is directly elected by the people. The Prime Minister is the Head of Government, and is usually the leader of the party with the most seats in the lower house. 
In practice, the king's role is largely ceremonial, with the Prime Minister holding the most authority in government. However, the king and the royal family are still protected by strict lèse majesté laws, which stipulate long jail terms for anybody convicted of insulting the king or any other members of the royal family. (Wiki)


There is no official state religion in the Thai constitution, which guarantees religious freedom for all Thai citizens, though the king is required by law to be Buddhist. According to the last census (2000) 94.6% of Thais are Buddhists of the Theravada tradition. Muslims are the second largest religious group in Thailand at 4.6%.[1][2] Thailand's southernmost provinces - Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and part of Songkhla Chumphon have dominant Muslim populations, consisting of both ethnic Thai and Malay. The southern tip of Thailand is mostly ethnic Malays. Christians, mainly Catholics, represent 0.7% of the population. A small but influential community of Sikhs in Thailand and some Hindus also live in the country's cities, and are heavily engaged in retail commerce. There is also a small Jewish community in Thailand, dating back to the 17th century. (Wikipedia)
When talking to the Rabbi Yossi, the Chabad Rabbi at DU, I found out there *is* a Chabad in Chiang Mai. He apparently knows the Rabbi there well, so I'm expected to visit there at least once. Apparently, if I mention Rabbi Yossi's name, I'll get the royal treatment. 


The Thai language uses a phonemic alphabet of 44 consonants and fifteen basic vowel graphemes. Thai is a tonal language. The use of tones in Thai is lexical, meaning that each word has a certain pitch characteristic with which it must be spoken to be properly understood. The Thai language uses five tones: mid, low, high, rising and falling.

I'm a bit terrified of going to a country where I don't speak the language, so I've been trying to learn a bit on my own. I've been using this  This language learning website to learn the alphabet and The Lonely Planet Thai Phrasebook to learn a bit of grammar. It's been interesting as I begin to study the language. I can already say a few basic phrases. 

Introduction Part 2: FAQS

When do I leave?

I will be leaving for Thailand at the end of August  and will return to the states at the end of December. 

How do I contact you/ will you have internet?

I'm really uncertain. I'm not bringing my phone or computer with me to Thailand. All of our homework assignments are handwritten. The first 5 weeks I'll be in the city, but after that most of my time will be spent in the fields. The ISDSI program does offer a computer lab specifically for its students, so I'm sure I'll be able to get online from there. 

After the first 5 weeks I may not have internet access often so blog updates might be fewer. I am bringing a journal with me to write, so if I miss a chance to post, rest assured it will get typed and posted when I return to the city. 

Of note: The ISDSI program also hosts a blog to keep up with students in the program. To learn more about the program and visit their blog, visit

Thailand? Why Thailand?

The time period to chose a program was interesting for me. DU offers over 150 partner programs. Studying on a partner program means that I do not have to suspend enrollment at DU, my credits automatically transfer, and I have a lot more guidance through the study abroad process. DU has a building designated as the International House (I-House) right on campus. In the basement are flyers for every single program that you could possibly go on with brief descriptions of requirements. When I realized the breadth of my choices, I was pretty much paralyzed, so I did what every rational person would do. I went to the I-House and grabbed every flyer for every program that I was eligible for. Ruling out all language requirement programs, I still had well over 50 flyers in my hands and I read through every single one of them making piles on my bed of Definitely Yes, Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Definitely No. I won't bore you with all the details, but after a lot of pondering, many conversations with family and friends, and a lot of application essays, I applied and was accepted to the ISDSI program in Chiang Mai. 

I have to explain that I did not choose this program for its location. When I initially began looking at my study abroad options, I was not looking for a culture shock; however, reading through the program details my mouth began to water. 

This program was unlike any of the other programs I had looked at. The ISDSI program in Thailand combines my passion for science, social justice, and experiential learning under the umbrella of sustainable development. Fieldwork will allow me to observe the real world extension of microprocesses to the macro level in three distinct ecosystems; this will allow me to better understand applications of microbiology to sustainable development when I return to my studies at DU. Social justice work has been a life-long passion of mine. I look forward to exploring alternative concepts of justice to expand my understanding beyond American values. This program will provide me with an opportunity to familiarize myself with global challenges from the perspective of another country and culture.he ISDSI program also provides the greatest chance for my own personal growth. I’ve always been a cautious adventurer. When presented with new or challenging things, I face them with enthusiasm, but also with anxiety. I had many fears when initially choosing a study abroad program including adapting to a different culture, sticking out as a Caucasian, and how  my experience as a woman might differ from a man’s experience. Though I was scared, I knew I wanted to face my fears and take on the challenge of this once in a lifetime opportunity. 

To be frank, I knew nothing about southeast asia, its cultures, or its people. I was planning on studying in London or Israel, a more familiar territory and I still can't believe I'm crazy enough to chose this adventure over stability.  This program is also competitive and I wasn't sure I would be accepted. When I got the email, I screamed. I'm pretty sure my Mom couldn't believe it either. The first step for both of us was finding Thailand on the map. She then promptly went to search for a Jewish community in Thailand, while I started reading everything I could on Wikipedia. 

Where will I be? :

Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand. It is a cultural center, has become increasingly modern in recent years, and soon may apply for "Creative City" status with UNESCO. There is an excellent Wikipedia article on the city that I suggest as required reading for anyone reading this blog. 

Thailand on the map. 10 points if you could locate it before you saw this picture

Here it is a bit closer up. 

And there's the city I'll be in, Chiang Mai

What is Sustainable Development? (What will I study?):

Sustainable Development:

refers to a mode of human development in which resource use aims to meet human needs while ensuring the sustainability of natural systems and the environment, so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come.  
The concept of sustainable development has been broken out into four domains:  economic, ecological, political and cultural sustainability.

In short, I'll be studying people, ecology, and development. For more information on the specific courses I'll be taking, check out the course description page on this blog (see the links at the top of the page).

See the next post for more FAQS about Thailand and my program. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Introduction Part 1: Welcome!

Hello. Welcome to my blog.  

As is the trend, I will be spending the first half of my third year in college studying abroad. I have been looking forward to this for years and spent long hours considering where I would travel. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine where I would eventually chose. 

In the Fall of 2013, I will be studying in Chiang Mai, Thailand at the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute.  In August, I will travel 14+ hours (with a layover in Seoul, Korea) to Chiang Mai to take part in ISDSI’s 17 week People, Ecology, and Development program. The course emphasizes experiential learning and aims to bridge the social and natural sciences. During the first five weeks, I will stay with a Thai host family and learn Thai language and culture. Then I will take 3 courses over 3 months, one topic each month on fields, forests, and rivers/oceans. Each course has one week of classroom learning followed by three weeks of experiential learning. During the program, I will be hiking, backpacking, kayaking and staying in villages all throughout Thailand. 

As part of the course I have my first summer reading assignment since high school. For the program I am reading Culture Shock, Thailand, by Nanthapa and Robert Cooper as well as Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning by Richard Slimbach. 

Throughout this blog information and quotes will be taken from those two books, the ISDSI website and pre-departure information, as well as Wikipedia. I'm aiming to have a mix of facts and information about Thailand mixed in with personal reflections. I hope you enjoy reading!