Study Abroad in India & Thailand

Greetings, we arrived last night in Kolkata and immediately descended into its madness with the exhilarating taxi ride from the airport. Imagine a city the geographic size of Bellingham with 15 million people, no traffic lanes and seemingly no traffic rules. One student said it was one of the most intense and memorable experiences of his life.

Before flying to Inida, the last three weeks in Thailand were a blur of excitement, exploration and learning. After our time on the rural farm in Phra Tat, we headed back to Bangkok and then boarded an overnight train 15 hours north to Chiang Mai, Thailand's second largest city. Chiang Mai is the former capital of the Lanna Kingdom that ruled northern Thailand for centuries. It is a mch more manageable city than Bangkok with many universities and a rich intellectual tradition. In Chiang Mai the group split up, with some going to home stays in an agricultural village called Ban Mae Jo, while the others remained in Chiang Mai to follow up on field research for their projects.

The group rejoined in the northern town of Chiang Dao to visit the remote, little-visited, and wondrous, Luang Poosim's Monastery. The monastery is tucked into a steep ravine on the side of Thailand's third tallest mountain. It's a bit over a kilometer from our forest bungalows outside Chiang Dao. At first light we arrive at the entrance and climb the 510 steps between jagged limestone boulders that loom like guardians over the stairs. At the top the monastery emerges suddenly from the dense foliage. The temple's golden spires rise from the hillside. Carved stone dragons with colored inlaid glass form the railings of the last flight of stairs, leading to the cave which the great spiritual teacher used as his seasonal meditation retreat. Now the floor of the cave is marble. At its back are gold and translucent green jadeite statues of Buddha and Luang Poosim. The elegant art, like the monastery itself, was created by gifts from his devotees, who included many of Thailand's most wealthy and powerful. It's a stunning combination of refined civilization and natural beauty.

After Chiang Dao, the group headed southwest to the border town of Mae Sot and then to our first service project two hours north in Noh Bo, a Karen village just across the river from Burma. In the village we worked with our local partners, Border Green Energy Team (BGET), to help bring electricity to a site where they are going to build a local learning center. The center will train local Karen students in vocational skills, such as farming, earth building and eventually renewable energy. Many of the Karen in the area are not able to access Thailand's formal education after primary school and the goal of the center will be to provide them with additional educational opportunities.

In the village, we had the pleasure of working and becoming friends with Karen refugees from the nearby refugee camp. The Karen are an ethnic group indigenous to both Thailand and Burma. Since WWII they have been heavily persecuted by the junta in Burma and many have fled to Thailand for safety. Thailand was not comfortable with the high influx of Karen coming and retained them in refugee camps along the border. For the refugees we had the opportunity to meet and work with, it was the first time the government of Thailand had allowed them outside of the camp. Their stories were both emotional and unjust, but their capacity for hope and optimism was an inspiration to our group . Many students were transformed from their time with them and hopefully developed friendships they will keep intact back in the US.

Whew...that's all for now. I will send another update along the path in India. Hope all is well back home.

Charlie