Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ending Blog Questions Part 2 of 2 - Final Thoughts

How have you changed personally?

I'm not as scared. For me, that's kind of a big thing - I don't like facing people. I never have. But it's a bit difficult to be scared of someone you have the words to explain yourself to, after spending so long in a place where you didn't have words to explain yourself at all. The slower pace there got me to relax some, too. I was reminded that taking things slowly isn't a bad thing, and that things aren't as big a deal as I think they are - and accepting these things has really helped me to be more calm and happy in general.

How has your professional/academic goals changed?

They really haven't - not because the experience wasn't life-changing, but because the trip itself was partly focused on the goals I already had. I went to see other people, different systems. I went to broaden my understanding of the world, because the more I see and learn, the more I have to work from as a writer.

What self-discovery surprised you?

That I can have a lot of fun when I stop worrying about the world around me.

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

I didn't go alone. Really, that was all I needed. I knew I'd have a line home at basically all times, and since roommate and I were going together, there was never a time I'd be completely lost or disconnected. Even if we did get a bit lost - and there were many momentary incidents of "oh geez, which way did we go, is this the street we're supposed to be on?" - we'd get lost together, and that would make it fine.

How has studying abroad impacted your view of the world?

There are different ways to live. We expect everyone to be basically the same in the U.S. - to have the same core, to follow the big general patterns of life that we're used to living and seeing lived out around us - but not everywhere is like that. Not everyone lives or thinks even remotely alike, much less the same. Going somewhere things are completely different will really get that across.

Single greatest benefit of studying abroad?

See above. You learn that the world is bigger than you know - bigger than you think you know, even - and there are more things in it than you can imagine.

What was your favorite experience and why?

I honestly don't have an answer for this. It was one big, crazy conglomerated experience for me, and every moment of it was basically wonderful. I was really and truly happy the whole time, and I will always be glad to have known that feeling.

What advice would you give to future participants?

Do it. Order the unfamiliar food. Take the field trip. Start the conversation. Shrug and bumble your way through it, and if you can, laugh too. Just do it - even if you end up less than happy, you'll be home soon enough, and you'll be able to say you did.

Would you study abroad again?  Where?  Why?

Definitely! Anywhere would be awesome, really, but I would probably go somewhere with a language that'd be easier to learn... Why I would go should be obvious from everything I've said here. As for why I'd go somewhere with an easier-to-learn language... it'd have been nice to communicate at least a little. Our class schedules stopped us from taking the basic Thai language course, and Thai is not a language that's learnable by solo study. I'm still not sure that we were saying our hellos, thank-yous, and I'm-sorrys correctly - in fact, we probably weren't. All the same, I'd go again. Same place, different place, doesn't matter - if I could, I would. The world is pretty darn cool.

Ending Blog Questions Part 1 of 2 - Food and Excursions


Compare meals abroad to meals in the U.S.  (meal times, structure, etiquette, portion size, etc). 

There weren't many scheduled group meals to hold us to a local time - for the most part, Gabe and I ate at the same times we were used to, and food was available pretty much whenever we wanted it. As for etiquette, the program director did warn us that tipping was standard, but at a much lower rate than in the U.S. Sharing is more common, something I noticed especially with desserts and lighter dishes, which, even though we never asked for it, would often come with a second utensil for whichever of us - Gabe or me - hadn't ordered it. I didn't note anything too different about portion sizes, which really just seemed to depend on the type of dish and mostly fit within the range I was used to.

Where do you eat most of your meals?

There was a cafe in the hostel where we ate for most of the first couple weeks, since it was right downstairs and we were still getting settled in. After we got used to our surroundings some, though, we turned to the long, long line of restaurants just a street away, and went to several of them. Between and before classes on campus, there were two cafeterias for us to choose from - one in the social sciences department and one in the biology department, if I remember correctly? - and several littler cafes, two of which were right next to the humanities building that we had our classes in.

Describe the most interesting or delicious local food you have tried thus far.

Pretty much everything was absolutely delicious, even the spicy things I ended up trying - and anyone who knows me will tell you that I don't do spicy at all. As for a favorite, though, I have to go with roti (or rotee, or however one decides to transliterate it). We had it both from vendors at the walking streets and from one of the restaurants near the hostel, and every different iteration of it was amazing. I can't put enough stress on amazing by just italicizing it, because if I tried it would become a flat line. It was a very thin sort of fried dough, either rolled up (from one of the walking street vendors) or cut into small squares for eating, and there were a whole host of toppings available. At the restaurant, there were even more variations - caramel, ham and cheese, egg... all sorts of things. Every single one we tried was just... yes.


Describe your favorite museum or landmark in your city and explain why it’s your favorite place.

Wat Srisuphan, the silver temple, was definitely my favorite place. I've always had a personal preference for silver over gold, so the concept itself was interesting enough to me - most everything of that sort is made of gold, of course, since it's more precious. I didn't expect to actually get to see the works shaping silver pieces in their open work area off to the side, so that was a really neat surprise. The temple was even more intricate than a lot of the others, and the ordination hall was entirely covered in carvings and embellishments made of silver. The landscaping around it was done in detail, too, and there were trees with thin gold and silver leaves - these were available for purchase, for one to press one's name and a wish into, and were to be melted down and incorporated into the temple as it's built up further.

Tell us about any class field trips or excursions you’ve experienced.

We went to a lot of temples. A lot of temples. Our first week, the program directors took us to a temple. Then, for our Thai Civilization class, we visited three other temples. Some time after that, we went to the temple at Doi Suthep. Then, when the group trip to Chiang Rai came around, we visited two more temples there. It is nearly impossible to over-exaggerate the number of temple trips that happened. The architecture was grand, the details were staggering, and it was all very, very beautiful... but wow, did we visit a lot of temples.

As such, the trips that didn't involve temples ended up being more memorable. Thai Civilization class also took us to a primary school, where we visited the children during some of their lessons and passed out snacks to them. In the oldest class, we were pulled into a set of games that involved motions and introducing ourselves in Thai, and the kids got a good laugh out of seeing us bumble in trying to follow them.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Answering Lots of Questions (or, Carrie Plays Catch-Up)

My apologies. Between general distraction, general confusion, the emergence of actual homework, a visit to my Aunt and Uncle, glitches in body chemistry, and a handful of particularly irritable bug bites, I have been lax in contacting home. I've got three sets of questions from the global office waiting, and I figure the answers to those should provide ample material for an extra-long entry while I reorient myself.

First impressions and observations, go!

Surprisingly calm. I was expecting a massive shock, but instead I got a startling silence. Here in Chiang Mai, at least, the natural pace seems to be very slow. As terrifying as it is to cross the road, even the vehicles don't seem to be actually rushing. People in general seem to be very calm, just going about their business. My incompetence hasn't brought any frustration down on me, which I appreciate more than I can properly express. When I can’t get something across or don’t know quite what I’m supposed to do, I don’t feel like I’m holding anyone up or being pressured to move along - I can take the time to watch other people for cues. Pretty much all the pressure I’ve felt has come solely from inside myself. It's been a great help.

Description of the program's orientation, go!

To be honest, orientation was not what I expected. I'd figured that things would fall into place there - that we would be told what to expect and what to avoid and what we were supposed to be doing. I expected to be walked through things. Instead, I was turned in the right direction and nudged lightly.

In the morning, there was a meeting in which we signed the last of our documents, got our schedules, were briefed on a few points of basic etiquette, and met a few of the professors. Some of the students from the earlier session came in to chat, too, having been around for a few weeks already. We were given maps and assured that there were lots of great places to eat. Mostly, the message was to relax, be friendly, and figure things out naturally. (Also, not to ride a scooter here. At all. Ever. Because you don't have the necessary skill for that and you will die.)

The afternoon was the bulk of the orientation, and I can't say it was madness, but it certainly felt like madness at the time. We were whisked off in red trucks to the bank to exchange currency, then to a market stall just off campus where we could buy uniforms, then to the nearest mall so we could buy necessities, then back to the hostel where we were left to our own devices. That's how most of the group events have been conducted, really - we're transported off to wherever we're meant to be, told to be back at the pickup spot at a particular time, and... released into the wild. Now that I've gotten the hang of it, it's great, because Gabe and I have been encouraged plenty to go off and do our own thing, see things for ourselves and such, even though it was a bit alarming at first.

Description of the living situation, go!

We're in a hostel called Uniserv that is somehow affiliated with campus, situated about ten minutes' walk from what I believe is the campus's south gate. Gabe and I have been sharing a double room here. There are two beds, two chairs, a mini-fridge, and a television we haven't played with. There is also a long desk built into the wall, meant to accommodate two, with a set of shelves mounted above it. The wall to the outside is one big window, but we got the room with the other building's wall right across from it - we can still use the window to watch the lizards running about, at least. An air conditioner is mounted above the shelving. We have our own bathroom. Once a week, on Thursday, someone comes in and cleans while we're out for class. The floor is swept, the towels and bedsheets are changed, the soap in the bathroom is replaced, and we're given a roll of toilet paper. It's nice and simple, and for the most part we're left to our own devices when we retreat to our room.

There is a restaurant on the ground floor (an actual restaurant, I mean, not a cafeteria or some such) where we can buy meals, and we're right down the road from a lot of different shops and other restaurants. Shuttles are available at certain times early in the morning to take us to campus, but mostly, Gabe and I have been walking to class - a long but nice walk of 45-minutes or so - and then catching the ride back.

Description of the group situation, go!

It's been easy enough to meet them, but I'm not the most forward of people, so I haven't jumped to join in their activities. They've got different interests, anyway - checking out the bars and looking for parties to go to, a lot of nights, which isn't something I'm willing to get involved in at home, much less abroad. We've chatted with several of them at the restaurant on the ground floor of the hostel, since all the tables have four or more seats and we tend to sit with each other when we find other people from the group there. The overwhelming majority are staying here in the hostel. As a whole, we seem to be divided between the third and fourth floors - I think maybe some are on the fifth. It's not hard to find them, and we do tend to all run into each other coming out of classes.

Description of the textbook situation, go!

Textbooks? What textbooks?

Really, though, Gabe and I somehow managed to pick the two classes without them. Our Buddhist Philosophy professor posts .pdf files online and doesn't obligate us to read them anyway, while our Thai Civilization and Culture professor hands us printed packets of paper because he's drawing from several books for each of the different subjects we're covering.

So, yeah. We didn't get textbooks. Whoops.

Description of the classes, go!

Well, we'll be visiting a school outside the city for Thai Civilization and Culture soon, and I may be better able to elaborate then, but until that I can only speak from the two classes we're in. They both seem to be about as laid-back in atmosphere as a class can be. Our Buddhist Philosophy professor is from America, though he's spent much of his life traveling and has settled in Thailand pretty much for good, and although our Thai Civilization and Culture professor is Thai, he did a lot of studying abroad and is familiar with what we're used to from classes. They've both been very friendly and very helpful - coming from a western background, our Buddhist Philosophy professor has been able to point out some of the differences we've been running into and help us make sense of them, while our Thai Civilization and Culture professor has been able to explain a lot of small details and general cultural attitudes.

The classes themselves are specific to the program we're in, so it's just us study abroad students in them, which I admit is a bit of a shame. The Thai Civilization class is just four people (two of them being me and Gabe), with an occasional fifth student who has another class at the same time and switches between the two. The Buddhist Philosophy course is larger - somewhere around fifteen students, I think. Again, it's all been very casual, mostly just discussion, asking questions and seeing where they lead. Thai Civilization has more structure, and the topics are already planned out, while Buddhist Philosophy basically consists of the professor talking his way through whatever tangents our discussion leads to.

Monday, July 1, 2013

On the Subject of Getting to Point B (or, Foot Traffic is Still Traffic)

We went to the walking street market last night. A large part of the old city was closed off to vehicles and turned into a massive marketplace, with vendors lining both sides of the roads and performers everywhere. There were a lot of tourists there, but plenty of locals, too. It was a pretty reasonable crowd when we arrived. By the time we left, though, it was... well... We were almost late for our ride back to the hostel because we just couldn't get through.

That's probably the biggest problem I've had getting around - just knowing when to go, crossing streets and getting past people and so on. Traffic laws are a little different, I think, and it's sometimes hard to tell which light goes to which lane and what direction is moving when. The fact that there are so many scooters zipping around makes it kind of overwhelming to try and keep track of. They scare me more than the cars, really, when I'm trying to cross the road... Which is silly, but still true.

Speaking of being unnecessarily alarmed, Gabe and I just got back from sending our clothes for washing. We've both been doing our own laundry since middle school. This whole... leaving them for someone else to wash idea is strange and unsettling to me.

But, I suppose I'll just have to get over it.

Having a surprising amount of success at smothering anxiety,
Carrie, Writer in Training

- Summary Days 7-8 -
Discovered Walking Street
Items Obtained
- Assorted Gifts
- Adorable Miniature Lined Notebook
- Adorable Miniature Unlined Notebook
- Laundry Slip
Suffered headache (-1 Intelligence)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Don't Eat the Chocolate? (or, How to Settle in Slowly)

So, I spoke too soon. My body isn't agreeing with all the food, not quite. Somehow, out of everything we've had so far, it was the chocolate pastry that got me. All is well now, but I had to laugh. (And, it was still delicious.)

I can finally say that I know my way to the humanities department that hosts our classes. The dead millipede in the title of my last post wasn't there yesterday morning, but the scary bridge was. So were the overfull trash can and the massive field of scooters. Why I can't use the actual buildings as landmarks like a normal person, I don't know - I fixate on details. Fortunately, there are plenty of interesting ones. As I have to focus less on finding my way, I'm noticing more.

There was a group trip this morning to visit a museum and a temple in the old city section of Chiang Mai. Some of the history we've started learning in our Thai Civilization class was touched on in the museum tour, so that was interesting. I'm excited to learn it in more depth. The temple was beautiful - gold statues, tall columns, intricate patterns everywhere... I couldn't help but feel awkward, though, hoping that I was conducting myself properly.

Finally, can I just say how thankful I am that numbers are the same? I may not be able to read anything whatsoever, but at least I know how much I owe for lunch. That's been getting me surprisingly far.

Up past her bedtime,
Carrie, Writer in Training

- Summary, Days 5-6 -
Discovered Bakery
Items obtained
- Pale Purple Pen
- Interestingly Flavored Junk Food
Pale Purple Pen equipped

Thursday, June 27, 2013

When Your First Landmark is a Dead Millipede (or, Round Two!)

We made it to class - again! The apple tea at the little cafe in the humanities building is pretty much my new favorite thing. (The fact that it's all full of ice probably helps.)

Walking to class is tiring, but it was a good idea. We're starting to figure out by memory where everywhere we've been on campus is, and have managed to find a few more places. Gabe's still trying to determine which pair of shoes hurts her feet least. The lightweight dressy shoes I got just before we left have been perfect so far.

We meant to figure out the laundry facilities tonight, but I don't think that's happening... Gabe's asleep already, and I'm well on my way there. We both keep passing out early and missing dinner. Hopefully it'll get us up and moving with plenty of time to make it to our 8 AM class tomorrow, though!

Sleepier than she is hungry,
Carrie, Writer in Training

- Summary, Day 4 -
Discovered Market
Suffered fatigue (-1 Stamina)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bilbo Gets a Blister (or, This is a Really Big Campus)


... Sort of.

We did make it to class on time yesterday. Despite walking. And being lost. And finding out that the map of campus we were given doesn't actually have most of the buildings on it.

And then we even made it back to the hostel. Despite walking. And being lost. And finding our way to the taxi that doesn't actually turn into the right road but drops us off at the end of it.

The campus is massive, especially compared to Carlow, but there's a shuttle if we can figure out how to use it. There are a bunch of dogs, too. They seem to just... chill around, sleeping mostly. One of them walked beside us for a bit. Vegetation is pretty much everywhere - random pockets of grass, miscellaneous trees, vines hanging down around the supports of awnings and such. Both of our professors seem very easy to get along with, and the amount of work we're being told to expect doesn't look too bad. There should still be plenty of time for going out into the city between classes and homework. There's a lot of good food on campus, too. We'll just need to be leaving plenty early to find our way around.

The Thai Civilization and Culture professor is teaching us some basic vocabulary, thank goodness.

Tonight we get to figure out how to do laundry.

Somehow still on the right track,
Carrie, Writer in Training

- Summary, Day 3 -
Uniform equipped
Dog joined the party!
Dog left the party...
Discovered Faculty of Humanities
Suffered blister (-1 HP)