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    Posted March 16, 2014 by
    SarahVella
    Location
    Thailand
    Assignment
    Assignment
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Why study abroad? Ask Michelle Obama

    Question for First Lady Obama

     

    My Alice in Wonderland experience

     

    “Down the Rabbit Hole”
    I am from the University of California-San Diego majoring in International Studies-Political Science at the Bachelors level. I am currently on a one year exchange program (2013-2014) at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand. I am a Boren, Gilman and EAP scholarship recipient. So far I have lived in Bangkok for eight months and I still feel like I discover something new about the city every day. When I first moved here, I experienced a case of culture shock like I have never experienced anywhere before. Being an older student, I have had the opportunity to travel to countries in Europe, Central America and the Caribbean, but these places could not top the culture shock that I experienced in Thailand. Being I live in a neighborhood where foreigners are a rare minority, even the most simplest things we normally take for granted seemed challenging. For example, finding a restaurant where I could read the menu, or being able to explain to a taxi driver where I wanted to go. After I acquired some basic Thai and learned my way around the city, my life got a lot easier.

     

    “The Queen of Hearts Army”
    Academically my experience has been extremely rich. Being I specialize in political science, there seems to be no better place to learn about politics than a country that is currently experiencing a political crisis. My classroom is both inside and outside the University. The professors are not scared to express their opinions on the situation despite the lack of free speech. Thammasat University is well known for its political activism and it is surrounded by government buildings which are targets for the protestors. Just yesterday a mob of protestors wearing paramilitary clothing and ski masks brought in concrete blocks to block the entrance of the government building that is right next to my school. We saw the entire incident from our classroom window which looked down on the building they were blocking, and heard their political rhetoric on the loud speaker that they brought with them. After they placed the blocks they went away, and so far no one has removed the blocks. Strange incidences like these seem to happen often in Thailand. There is never a dull day!

     

    “A Mad Tea Party”
    While living here I have also had the opportunity to partake in an academic internship. I am currently interning at an NGO called EMPOWER which helps sex workers in Bangkok's red light districts. Here I teach sex workers English and Western culture. The time I spend with these women while teaching serves as a bridge to be able to learn about them and hence write about what I learn in my honors thesis for my bachelors degree. Working at EMPOWER has been a very educational and rewarding experience. I learn so much from my students.

     

    “Off with her head!”
    On a personal level, my study abroad experience has changed my views on certain things and has allowed me to grow into a more open minded person. When you experience a completely different culture to your own, you realize that the world is made up of shades of gray, and things are not always as they seem. I have definitely grown to appreciate certain aspects of U.S. culture more, such as equality for all and the right to free speech. One tends to appreciate them more if they are denied them! I have also learned about the dangers of nationalism and the suppression of others due to hierarchical structures by witnessing them first hand. Reading about other cultures and concepts in textbooks is not the same as experiencing them for yourself in real life.

     

    “Drink me!”
    Not only do I think it is important for students to study abroad, but I also recommend that they go somewhere that allows them to experience a completely different culture than what they are used to. To grow as a person, I think one must step out of their comfort zone and challenge their perceptions. I feel so fortunate to have this study abroad experience. It has enriched me academically and professionally, but most of all it has enriched me personally. I will never forget this amazing experience living in Thailand.

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