The Experiment in Thailand: Buddhist Traditions & Thai Culture

I chose Thailand because I wanted to
experience something radically different from what I’m used to. I chose to come to Thailand because I was really interested in Buddhist culture and Thai tradition. I wanted to come here because it’s a vastly different experience from anything that I’ve ever had. Right now we’re in a small village that
contains around 20 houses and a little over 100 people. The Karen people are considered a hill tribe. They’re an indigenous people of Thailand. The people here are farmers, who engage in something called rotational farming. They use a plot of land for about seven years and then they rotate their crops to let
the land breathe and re-nourish itself. Everything they do here they make enough for themselves to live and no more. They make their own food, they make their own electricity. It’s a pretty rugged environment, students are staying in rustic homes that have indoor kitchens with little indoor campfires. We’ve been
spending a lot of time walking around in the jungle, seeing the different herbs
that they use for medicine. I think that the Karen people in this village have done something really beautiful. When I look at their town, it’s very integrated into the forest. The point of the homestay is to not just be a visitor or a tourist, but to really immerse yourself in the culture and learn what daily life
is like for the people that live here. I learned a lot about what it means to be
in such a small community. The religious values there were really interesting, as
well. Buddhism still plays a big part, everyone still has small altars in their
homes and takes time to go to the temple. The really important part that sets
The Experiment apart from the others is that we’re learning real-life situations
and we’re living them. We’re going to these home stays and living with
them for a week. It doesn’t sound like much, but trust me it is.
It’s just full-on immersion, which you might not get in another program. So we went to an elephant reserve and
this park that we went to, we don’t interact at our comfort levels with the
animals, we interact at their comfort levels. Elephants are a major part of
Thailand. It’s one of the draws for this program and we had a great discussion
about animal rights and animal tourism that surrounds these kinds of activities. Elephants are domesticated and tortured into doing things that they’re not very
used to, like painting pictures and elephant writing, so we wanted to go to a
place that was more of a reserve or sanctuary for the elephants. You could visit with these huge creatures and get up close to them, give them hugs, bathe them, but you weren’t hurting them. Washing the elephants in the river was a
really beautiful experience. A lot of times you’re bathing the blind elephants, which have a little bit more trouble washing themselves. Most of them have done a lot of research about elephant tourism in Thailand, so once they came to
a place where elephants and water buffaloes and dogs were just roaming and doing their natural thing quite a few students were moved to tears, so it was
really great as a leader to see that. On our way to the second homestay, we
stopped at a school. When they saw us, they were so excited. This was one of the first times they’d ever had a group of foreigners come to teach them. Some of them drive two hours to get there and then you could just tell the ones that really just wanted to be there, wanted to learn English and it was just really inspiring. I taught a second grade class and so what we did with them was play Pictionary hangman. That was really difficult to put yourself in a situation
where you don’t speak the same language as twenty students that you’re standing
in front of. As Experimenters, we kind of had to figure out how to push the shyness aside and get them motivated and fired up to play the games and be open to making mistakes when they’re speaking English. From this Thailand trip, I really hope to
take away what I’ve learned from these small villages that we visited and how
local communities know each other so well. I hope that I take my life a little
bit slower. I think this trip has really gone much further than most people who come as tourists to Thailand. We’ve gotten to experience homestay and this
village, which is not on your typical tourist map. I hope that the students learned that they are stronger than they know, that they can push themselves farther than they think they can because when you travel that’s… you learn your
boundaries and then you have to learn how to go past them.

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