Semester Abroad (SA): CIEE Khon Kaen: Development and Globalization, Thailand
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I did a really unique study abroad program that most Penn students don't do. We took five classes in a rural region of Thailand, where there are no tourists and very few English speakers. Our classes alternated weekly between taking in person lectures at a local University and staying with host families in rural regions to learn about organic farming and human rights. We talked to local activists about protest movements against mining, slums, the Thai sugarcane industry, and dictatorship. Half of our classes were outside the classroom doing self-guided interviews with community members.
My Experience Abroad:
As an urban studies major at Penn, I spend a lot of my time thinking about how students and community members can organize to create positive change in their cities. In Thailand, I wanted to learn about folks doing this work outside of the US context. I also wanted to explore a non-western culture that was a huge contrast to my experience in Washington DC, and Philly back home.
We visited a farming village called Na Nong Bong in Northeast Thailand who villagers were getting sick and dying from a gold mine that had been built without community consent right nearby on the mountain. The community, led by a group called the Radical Grandma Collective, successfully protested and fought against the mine for over a decade. We walked through the decaying mining factory and literally looked down on vats of arsenic that the company had abandoned when the villagers won their lawsuit.
We took a song taew (an open backed truck) up into the mountains near Chiang Mai, to the Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls. The calcium composites all over the waterfall make the rocks trounded, rough, and "sticky." Unlike a normal waterfall you can walk up this sheer face of rock as the water comes gushing on top of you.
Before study abroad started I took a solo backpacking trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. One night, I was walking down one of the busiest streets in the market district and sat down to drink a smoothie. I started up a conversation with this Vietnamese couple. We got hungry and they suggested we go to "best local food cart." We sat in this side alleyway on the sidewalk, chatting for hours, removed from the bustling city. Every ten minutes the street cart owners would bring a new dish of snails for us to try. It was the most delicious meal of my life.
I went to my Thai roomate's cousin's wedding! We sat around and ate tradition Isaan (Northeast) Thai food and watched the ceremony. We participated in the traditional string tying ceremony that marks a Thai wedding. Afterwards, we explored her hometown on a motorbike.