From the busy, bustling life as students in Oakville, Canada, to the more purposeful, intentional interactions as observers and learners of Thai culture, over these past 8 days I have observed a great shift in perspective, not only for the students but also for myself. Our first few days in Bangkok showed an attempt from students to simply transplant their North American way of life across the globe; this is perhaps understandable as the bustle of city life, the sounds of traffic and the masses of people drew many similarities to the comforts of home and it did not initially come naturally for students to really challenge their perspectives or expectations. The depth of their reflections were centered around their observations of the busy city and their culinary experiences, which have been so amazingly delicious! From the incredible flavours and spices, to the family-style tradition of sharing food, to the variety of dishes to scintillate their palates, their experiences with tasting authentic Thai food was the first opening of their minds.
Leaving Bangkok and arriving in Chiang Mai brought with it a completely different feel. While it is still a city, the less chaotic surroundings and more quaint feel of the Old City brought a sense of calmness to the group. The students’ minds began to move away from a sense of “me” to a more open sense of curiosity to learn about others. They have been learning about respect for elders within a family and community. They have also learned about indigenous groups, migration and some of the reasons behind why someone would migrate. Whether migration is willingly chosen or whether it be out of necessity, we gained perspective of the circumstances of others, vastly different from our own. The students showed empathy and shared their frustrations over how difficult it could be for someone to get an education, gain employment, have suitable housing and have their human rights met. We met some wonderful, selfless people who dedicate their lives to helping refugees make a life for themselves in Thailand. Students shared that they felt inspired and in awe of these people’s generosity and giving spirit.
Saturday was a great day of reflection as we learned about human ecology. As trip leaders, we were impressed with the level of insight shown as students pondered and formulated their thoughts on life and death, the concept of time and human interaction. These moments of deep thought carried through to Sunday as we discussed the origins and main concepts of Buddhism; students showed sincere curiosity about the Buddhist monks they have seen throughout this trip, asking many questions about their lives and practices. As we went on our hike, we tried to tap into our use of meta-cognition as we became more aware of our own thought processes, the small space that each of us takes up in this vast world, taking in the sights and sounds and appreciating the beauty of all creation. We ate our lunch in silence, giving thanks to the food which nourished our bodies, giving thanks to our bodies for allowing us to nourish our minds and be a part of this amazing experience.
As we enter our homestay experience, I am hopeful that students will continue to practice mindfulness as they navigate new, sometimes uncomfortable experiences. The students have shown a lot of growth over these first 8 days; it is our hope that becoming more familiar with the unknown will open their minds and their hearts even further and their perception and view of the world shall continue to grow. In our homestay village, which students may initially feel is remote is, as Wade Davis pointed out in his TED talk which we watced together as a group, actually not remote at all. These ‘remote’ areas are homelands of somebody and we are excited to meet these amazing people and authentically learn and experience their way of life.