Monday, August 12, 2013

Ending Blog!

How have you changed personally?

I think I'm a lot more laidback and less likely to panic over things like I used to.  It's a lot easier making phone calls and ordering food at restaurants now.  Which may seem kind of silly, but it's really frustrating having to peptalk yourself just to make a phone call instead of just picking up the phone, dialing, and going for it.

How has your professional/academic goals changed?

They haven't really.  I still want to write books and try to get published and Thailand has helped me see another culture and another country. :)

What self-discovery surprised you?

I don't know.  I think how easily I adjusted to the new surroundings and new food.

How did you navigate through your fears and apprehensions that you had prior to studying abroad?

By winging it, really.  I let myself worry less and, with food, I did a lot of pointing and shrugging.  I ate a lot of things that I had no clue what they were called, which was kind of fun.  I was able to ask for help in stores when I needed it and I even tried haggling because I know Thai people are very friendly and helpful and they won't get frustrated or angry.

How has studying abroad impacted your view of the world?

I actually think it's helped me see the similarities more than differences.  But I really liked seeing all the differences.  I don't think it has impacted my views too much, because I have tried to live open-mindedly.  I think mostly it's helped me to evaluate my home country with more accuracy.

Single greatest benefit of studying abroad?

You get more chances of doing things you don't get to do in the United States and you get to really see what you are capable of doing. :)

What was your favorite experience and why?

Going up to Doi Inthanon with three friends.  I got to really see the nature of Thailand and I got to bond with new friends.  It was really cool being up on the highest mountain in Thailand where there were clouds and rain and mist.  It was a great time despite ripping my pants and recovering from a cold.

What advice would you give to future participants?

Don't let fears and anxieties get in the way.  Even language barriers aren't that bad, truthfully.  Go out to restaurants, visit famous sites, visit not so famous sites.

Would you study abroad again?  Where?  Why?

YES.  I like being immersed and going to school gives me some direction.  I think I would like to go to Europe, but going to Japan or South Korea would also be hugely different than Thailand.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


I think my favorite site in Chiang Mai was Wat Srisuphan, the silver temple.  It was a really unique temple and often it feels like most of the Buddhist temples in Thailand look the same, but the silver temple was so beautiful.  Despite not being able to go inside due to being a girl, I loved the outside and the silver trees surrounding it.

We also visited the Golden Triangle, which was really awesome.  Even though I haven’t gone to Laos or Burma, I saw them and that’s more than I could say about being in America.  I’ve never seen Canada or Mexico, but I can say I’ve seen countries bordering Thailand.  It was really cool to see the different rivers merging into one.  One was redder in color than the other and you could clearly see the difference.
 We went a lot of places during our program.  We visited a lot of temples and a couple museums, which were pretty cool.  I liked learning about the history of Thailand and the northern region of the Lanna Kingdom before it merged with Siam to create Thailand.

For Thai Civilization we went on a few field trips, one including the visit to the silver temple and a Hindu temple as well.  We also visited a preschool in Mae Rim and got to see what their schools were like.

We also visited Doi Suthep, a mountain close to Chiang Mai.  We visited the temple and the royal winter palace.  We weren't allowed in the actual palace, but we visited the gardens, which were really beautiful.

I made a couple of personal trips - a group of us went to Doi Inthanon, which is the highest mountain in Thailand.  We saw a shrine to King Inthanon, two waterfalls, and beautiful plants.  It was amazing being up in the clouds.  We actually got went and it rained a lot - so we were soaked after a short period of time.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Eating Abroad

Food is an interesting subject!  I have been posting a lot of the more interesting meals on Facebook regularly!

Meal times tend to be similar to American meal times, though lunch typically begins at 11 o'clock in Thailand.  That's about as specific as I've got.  Thai people tend to share much more than Americans, so sometimes you will order a dish and it will come with a fork for the other person as well.  So far this has happened at the Roti place we go to.  Roti (or Rotee) is delicious, by the way.  If you go to Thailand, GET SOME.  It's kind of like a fried crepe with various fillings and toppings - sweet or savory.  Portion sizes are similar as well, though I would say smaller than American dishes more often.  I got a tiny bowl of spaghetti at the roti place, though.  Etiquette isn't much different, either, to be honest.  The main difference is that Thai people use spoons.  They mostly just use forks to push the food onto the spoon.  Just be prepared to ask for your check or catch the waiter more often here than in America.

We eat most of our meals in the restaurant located in our hostel called Lemon Tree, as well as getting food on campus at cafes.  Though recently, we have been venturing out to different restaurants and cafes on Nimmanhaemin Road.

One thing I have learned in Thailand is be prepared for spicy food.  It may not be labeled spicy, but it could potentially be, not just spicy, but Thai spicy - which is a whole different level and taste of spicy.  If it says spicy on the menu there is no doubt it will be Thai spicy.  Mouth burning and overwhelming - but something to experience if you can handle it.  The first time going out by ourselves, I made this mistake.  I ordered spicy ramen.  It was the spiciest dish I have ever had in my life.  Though now I feel like I could face the highest level of hot wings at Quaker Steak and Lube.

I would have to say that out of all the dishes, Lad na is a favorite, which is kale, noodles, and possibly meat, in a gravy.  The gravy isn't like our gravy - it's kind of sweet.  A lot of food here is sweet, actually, but it's not too odd once you get used to it.  Pad See Ew, which is soy sauce based instead of gravy, is also really good.  Recently, I had chicken in coconut soup - this is how I found out that things that aren't indicated as spicy on menus are spicy.  It wasn't as powerful as the ramen, but it was still spicy.  I liked it a lot.  In general, there's a lot of food to try here and most of it is pretty great.

I've had so many different drinks here, as well.  I've had some interesting herbal teas, but I can definitely say that the smoothies in Thailand are the best smoothies.  Sweets in general taste exactly what they are made out of or supposed to be flavored as, it's really amazing.  Snack foods come in way different flavors.  We had salmon and cream cheese flavored potato chips in the first couple weeks that were delicious.

Overall, I love Thai food and I will be sad to return to the states and not have this food regularly.

(Also the ketchup here rivals Heinz.  I am serious.  Also McDonald's tastes different, but really good!  Burger King tastes pretty much the same.)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


How did you purchase your textbooks?  Compare the cost to the cost of textbooks you purchase at Carlow.

My classes did not have required textbooks.  Ajarn Sura, my Thai Civilization teacher gives us handouts and Ajarn Chris has documents uploaded on a website for us for Buddhist Philosophy.

Tell us about your first few weeks of classes.  What are the major differences between your classes abroad and classes at Carlow that you notice so far (class etiquette, teaching style, class size, etc?

Truthfully, there aren’t many differences between the teaching styles.  They both use Powerpoint presentations and we are given writing assignments, though I would say that the assignments so far are more casual than courses at Carlow and we tend to take more field trips.  Neither of them follows the usual Thai way of barring drinks and food from the classroom, but we were informed that that is the norm.  We are allowed to be tardy a lot more here than back at Carlow.  Classes, again, are structured very casually.  We refer to our teachers by their first names, as well, which is a huge difference.  Our Thai Civilization course only has 5 people in it, which is really small, even in relation to Carlow.  Buddhist Philosophy holds about 15, which is closer to Carlow.

Like I said, we take field trips as well.  For Thai Civilization, Ajarn Sura took us to three temples – one being Hindu, the other two Buddhist.  We also have a chance to go meditate for Buddhist Philosophy.  We had a monk visit to talk to the class so we could understand Theravada Buddhism better, as our teacher is a Zen Buddhist.  So far the classes have been informative and rather relaxing.  It’s interesting to learn about the philosophy of Buddhism (especially from a Zen Buddhist) at the same time we are learning about how Buddhism, Hinduism, and Animism melded together and are implemented within the culture itself, as well as how it has influenced historical events and the ways of life. 

Getting to actually see what we learn about in our civilization course is also really enlightening.  It’s nothing like simply learning in a history course – we can go to the sites and see everything.  On our walk to school, we see spirit houses and when we visited Carrie’s aunt and uncle near Bangkok, there were still tons more, showing how ingrained animism still is within Thai culture.  Another interesting note is that Thai Civilization professor is Buddhist and grew up in Thailand, so visiting the temples was a wondering experience.  Because it’s something that he has dome often.  We got to follow his lead in wai-ing to the statues (bowing).  Our Buddhist Philosophy teacher is American, but has lived in Asia for a long time, so he gives a completely different perspective, naturally.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Living Accommodations

We are staying the Uniserv Hostel not far from the campus, though the walk to the humanities building is much longer - 45 minutes. The hostel has a fountain in front of it and seems to be going under construction at the moment.  As I have written in a previous post, there is a garden in the lobby that is open to rain and sun alike.  There isn't much of a view from our third story window, but we can catch glimpses of trees and parking lot.  Mostly, we see some birds and lizards out on the walls and roofs.  Recently, I was opening the window to check the weather and a lizard made its way into our room.  I managed to capture him the next night and release him.

The room is a good size for two people and we can share a bathroom, which is nice.  Though, we did have to figure out how to work the shower.  The directions were written in Thai, so that was an adventure.  The beds are a little hard and the pillows are small, but it's still comfortable enough.  The hostel is beside Nimmanhaemin Road, which has many places to eat and go shopping.  Overall, it's very nice and the cost was included in the program fees.  The internet ended up being free, so that was a pleasant surprise.

The rooms get cleaned about once a week and we are provided with soap and toilet paper.  Though, Carrie and I have found that we need to visit the nearby 7-11 to buy extra toilet paper.  We also take our laundry to a place next to the 7-11, because we were too anxious to ask where the laundry facilities are at Uniserv, but the service is decently priced and the laundry gets delivered to the front desk at the hostel the next evening.

It's very easy to meet others from the group as we all live in the same place, many on the same floor as us.  Also, it is small and our classes are at the same times at least.  We go on all the trips together, mostly, as well.  Any difficulties are created by my own social anxiety and tendency to stay close to Carrie.  And the fact that most of the people of the group seem rather extroverted, while I am introverted.  We all get along well enough though, and I am glad to have met this group of people!  They are all very friendly.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Some More First Impressions and Our Orientation

My observations and impressions of Thailand when I arrived were, simply put, “different.”  It was night when Carrie and I landed, so there wasn’t much to see, but the heat was heavy as I expected.  The Thai people who came to pick us up at the airport were friendly, and that made me happy.  I was tired, but I felt rather at ease at that moment.  They seemed genuinely excited to meet us, and that made me happy. 

One of the most distinct differences, I think, are the smells.  Not all of them are pleasant, but walking down the street, there are a few that have stuck with me – stagnant water, exhaust from cars, and food from the street vendors and restaurants.  We walk to school, so we go through campus and cross the stream that doesn’t seem to move all that much.  But my noticing the different smells makes me wonder what America smells like to visitors outside of the country.  What does Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania smell like to someone who has never been there before?  I never thought about how desensitized I could be to my own environment.

Another huge difference between home and Thailand is the concept of time.  It is not uncommon for Thai people to be late, but they manage to expect punctuality despite their easy-going nature.  Americans rush everywhere and are impatient.  We are very emotional people, where Thai people try not to show all their feelings.  I have yet to see a Thai truly upset confused, maybe, but not angry.  I feel like I can make mistakes here and things will be okay because no one is going to yell at me or anything of the sort.  Thai people are friendly and accommodating.
Much like the people, there is a duality to the environment.  I have found myself walking along paths surrounded by nature and across the road will be brightly colored billboards.  There are concrete buildings alongside ponds and wooden bridges.  The hostel we are staying in even has an open area by the lobby that has trees that is open to the elements.  In America, things are much more segregated.  Parks may be found in the city or streets may be lined with trees or shrubs, but there’s the city, country, and the suburbs.  Chiang Mai has a nice intertwined balance that I find very interesting.
So far I have loved the food.  I usually don’t like a mixture of different tastes, but here things are often sweet and savory at the same time.  I was surprised to find that I really like this.  I don’t always know what’s in the food, but I haven’t disliked any of it so far.  I recently had ramen that was really spicy – but it had a sweet taste to it.  I’m not the biggest fan of spicy food, but I did like it.  I also like having rice or noodles with vegetables and meat.  Everything is mixed together here and it makes it easier to feel like I’m eating balanced meals.  There are also smoothies everywhere and they don’t taste like smoothies like in America.  They actually taste like the fruit they are made of, not artificial flavoring.  The watermelon one I had simply tasted like cold, crushed up, watermelon.  I feel that there is a lot more variety for food and drinks here and despite it sometimes being hard to make up my mind, I like being able to choose.  I like having more choices than water, iced tea, lemonade, and soda pop for my drinks.  It was strange though, getting dishes with shrimp or crab.  The shrimp so far haven’t been tailless and some of the crab dishes still had shell in them, making them more difficult for me to eat.

I think I expected to feel more like a foreigner in a strange land.  I expected to feel distinctly American.  Yet, other than the language barrier and the different ways of greeting people, I don’t feel out of place or like I don’t belong.  

Our orientation involved a lot of different things.  We watched a short video about "Mai Pen Rai" and how unique the country is overall.  Through the video and being here for two weeks, it's evident that the people are very forgiving and easy going.  We also went to get school uniforms, which was a bit confusing.  The woman came over and found the sizes for us.  Because of my size it was a little more difficult, and I'm glad to have brought some uniforms with me.  Then we went to the mall, which was exciting.  The malls were very different as there were a lot more stalls and entire grocery stores and such.  It felt a lot bigger and more confusing that the malls back home.  Overall, we were kept busy, but it was nice to see the city in the daylight and experience more of the culture.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Where There is Underwear There's Bound to be Pajamas.

As we are embarking upon our second week in Thailand, I've been reflecting on the events thus far:

The first week in Thailand was...eye opening and a bit confusing to say the least.  You are forced to face situations and settings from everyday life that you never really think too hard about.  Only you must think about them because there is a language barrier (and not surprisingly) no one is going to walk you through purchasing pajamas in a Thai shopping mall.

Do I leave the clothes I don't want in the dressing room cubicle?  There's no return rack...  Maybe I should quietly return them to the racks I found them on - oh, no, there's a store attendant and we made eye contact...

That was when my attempts to gesture and stumble over my questions in English in the hope to convey to her my situation.  Her Thai responses, that I'm not sure were actual responses, gave little light to the situation.  Finally, the message that "I want this one" was understood.  I knew essentially no Thai, the woman spoke a little amount of English, but we communicated.  Somehow.

Knowing that these are potential mistakes I am allowed to make helped me manage to stay relatively calm.  No crying, on a small adrenaline rush.  After all, the Thai people (especially in Chiang Mai) are in no rush themselves and will allow you to bumble through.  They even bumble in return.  But they usually have a smile for you regardless.

I now know simple Thai phrases and am definitely more competent and friendlier.  People at cafes and in the walking street market smile when I greet them and thank them in Thai - because hey, I'm at least making an effort.

Throughout the first week, I've had to rely on very interesting morsels of knowledge and instinct to get what I need or want.  In the shopping mall, finally, I had seen what looked like a department store.  Inside I saw displays of women's underwear.  I was right in assuming the pajamas weren't far behind.  Despite only knowing a handful of phrases in Thai and being in a completely different culture, simply by observing and using rarely used knowledge, it's actually pretty easy to manage your way around Thailand.  Especially if you are friendly with others.

I've definitely been stepping out of my comfort zone.  In the walking street market I managed to at least attempt to haggle for some pants.  It's true that if you begin putting away items, they'll lower the price.  I need to remind myself to be more confident because haggling is the norm here.  It's very hard to get away from the thinking that things have a concrete price.

Also we're allowed to be a little late here????  Thai-time is definitely something to get used to.  Because of our anxiety and constant fear about being late, Carrie and I have been showing up early, which is a bit out of the norm here.  But knowing that has definitely helped my anxiety.  The only time I was close to panicking really so far was trying to get out of Walking Street.  There were too many people and we had to return to our songthaew to get back to our hostel.  It was hard not to send people angry faces because here people try not to express displeasure and I respect that.  Their phrases of "jai yen yen" and "mai pen rai" are both phrases I am very much attached to.  They convey the value of being calm and not being easily upset.  It's very relaxing that you know people aren't going to be upset with you - at least not outwardly.