Kris Hale is currently doing a summer study abroad in Thailand, which was coordinated through the university’s International Education Center. She provides her thoughts on her trip so far:
When I made the decision to travel abroad I made two promises to myself: 1) I would have an open heart and an open mind. 2) I would leave “America” in America and accept that I was not at home and learn to appreciate, accept, and cope with the differences in culture. I feel as though those two things have made this trip amazing. I also meditated and prayed for opportunities to grow as an individual, and Thailand has provided a number of those.
Being one of very few Blacks in Thailand and fewer African Americans has been interesting. I often walk the streets, markets, and school campus feeling like an animal at the zoo, or like an exotic exhibit. Thailand is full of foreigners and backpacking travelers, but at least 90 percent are from European countries. I, in many cases, am the first Black person that some Thais have seen, and they cannot help but stare, point, comment, and, in some cases, laugh. This has been very hard to get used to. Not all of my reactions are like this, some are very curious and use their best English speaking skills to ask me “Where you from” “You name?” and I am always grateful for the chance to tell them all about me and learn more about them. Over time it has gotten easier to just smile, give wai ( a bow with joined hands), and accept the reactions as the come. I think more African Americans need to travel so that we can learn about others and we can learn about them, and we will no longer be such an anomaly. And with 90 percent of travelers being European, Americans as a whole should journey further than Hawaii or Mexico.
The adjusting to the stares has been a very small part of my overall trip, but I felt like it was a large part of my personal growth and education. The larger parts of the trip have been amazing! Chiang Mai is very laid back, people move at a slower pace, and without all the rushing and moving from place to place, there is time to enjoy all the beautiful sights that Thailand has to offer. Thailand has more than 170 Wats ( temples) beautifully decorated and full of culture, the most visited being Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep at the top of the hill. There many places to hike and waterfall hidden in the trails, and every morning I can see were the clouds and the mountains meet (I never get tired of seeing that).
I have developed a very bad massage habit! They range anywhere from 150 to 300 Bahat ( in USD the would be $4 to $9) on average for an hour-long Thai massage. Can you blame me? Thailand is a very inexpensive place to live; my life here would be less then 10 percent in cost of my life back home ( rent $100 per month and $100 for transportation, maybe an addition $150 for everything else). Thailand also has a lot of tourist attractions. Muay Thai ( kick boxing), sanctuaries for all kinds of animals (tiger, elephant, snake, butterfly, alligator, monkey) that you can visit and touch the animals.
Thailand is FULL of markets and street vendors. There is not way to fully understand the markets and street vending that Thailand has. Thailand is a very poor country and Thai people are very entrepreneurial! Imaging a huge swap meet that happens every night, full of people, crowds so thick that you are barely moving…that is the night market of Thailand — a must do along with the Saturday and Sunday markets, the morning market and all the markets in between. Something funny to me, with all the markets and vendors selling all types of stuff, it is hard to get a regular salad here. That has been the only thing I miss. There is a lot to see here and plenty to do.
My favorite things have been
- Seeing the tigers ( beyond amazing)
- Watching the monks make their morning rounds of collecting food and giving blessings (most Thai people are Buddhist and this is a very cultural thing)
- being a teachers assistant in an English class ( I get to teach college students English! I love it)