So when deciding on a study abroad program, after doing lots of research on different programs, I decided it was important to me to go somewhere with a culture as different as my own as I possibly could. This led me to the program that I did in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I partially choose this program because of the course that I would be studying which ended up being an excellent course. I studied Southeast Asian politics and my professors were top notch and I learned a significant amount in that class. I also took an Intro to Thai Language course which very usefully equipped me with some basic Thai phrases to be able to order food, ask someone about their day, etc… which I believe is only respectful when entering someone else’s home nation.
Thailand itself was quite different then what I was used to back in Chattanooga. Thailand is an almost exclusively Buddhist nation and in the same way that there is a church on every corner in Hamilton County, there is a temple on every corner of Chiang Mai. All of the temples were gorgeous and ornate and you were required to cover your knees and shoulders as well as remove your shoes before entering in respect to the Buddha. There are even some temples women are not allowed to enter because they menstruate which is believed to make them unclean.
One thing that I thought was awesome about Thailand was that everything is so cheap and all of the food is so fresh and delicious. I ate out essentially every meal and most meals were bought by street vendors and were cooked right there in front of you. The delicious soup or noodles would then usually come out to about $1.50 for the entire meal.
Chiang Mai was also gorgeous with huge beautiful mountains surrounding the city. These offer amazing hikes to hidden temples or waterfalls surrounded by bamboo and fresh fruit. One of the most memorable experiences I had was when I participated in a 9 miles trek through the mountains at which one point we stopped in a valley and our guide picked fresh berries and oranges off trees that we enjoyed while surrounded by stunning mountains.
One aspect of the study abroad that I will likely take away the most from are the new friendships and relationships I made with the other students on the trip with me. My trip had about 25 students from literally all corners of the nation. To be able to not only literally step out of your bubble by going halfway across the world, you are also stepping outside of the bubble of the people you hang out with at home and getting to know people who have totally different life experiences than you even while being in the same nation as you. The deep conversations I was able to have and the different perspectives I was able to gain are invaluable. And I now have friends all across the nation which is super exciting! I already have a trip planned to go to Texas to visit some of them in October.
Obviously there is pages and pages to say about how amazing my trip was and how much I learned but I think this sums up a few of the key takeaways and demonstrate how invaluable of an experience a study abroad like this is.
Kyla Downs (BS Secondary Education: Political Science ) spent Summer 2022 studying abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand through USAC. Kyla had the following to say about studying abroad, “Studying abroad is an invaluable experience that not only allows one to learn about unique topics while living in the place of the content, but fosters new friendships from around the country and around the world while allowing you to step outside of your comfort zone both mentally and physically and begin to gain and grow a global perspective.”
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