Ava Fergerson is a CISabroad student studying in Thailand this semester. She comes from Western Kentucky University where she is majoring in Clinical Psychology and Women’s Studies. Follow her as she talks about her Thai journey thus far.
Sawatdii kha readers!
Choosing to study in Thailand was a bit of a whim, originally. One day in the spring semester, I browsed through my study abroad options at my home university and laughed to myself at the thought of living in such an unfamiliar environment for so long. Shortly thereafter, it occurred to me that that was exactly the challenge I needed! Fast forward to September: it’s game on.
Knowing nothing of the place I was to live for the next three months, I had little expectation for the lifestyle and values of Thailand. As they say, blessed is she who expects nothing, for she will never be disappointed; and disappointed, I was not! To say that I have not experienced culture shock would not be entirely truthful, although the simple lifestyle here is not a difficult adjustment.
The standard of living in Bangkok is somewhat different from my home in Kentucky, as it is a much larger city with little greenery, the tap water here is not drinkable, etc., but none of this proved to be too difficult an adjustment. The true challenge has been altering my philosophy of life. While I am no expert on the Thai way of life, what I have observed here has been vastly different from my Western mindset. These differences can be noted in the subtle things, which reflect profound philosophies. For example, it is nearly impossible to find a decent weekly planner that covers a full calendar year, an essential to many US college students. Although this may seem trivial, it is reflective of a core value: life is unpredictable, and we cannot plan for it. This shows a stark difference in uncertainty avoidance between the US and Thailand. I have found this philosophy to be a comforting one! To worry about we cannot control is useless, but to welcome change as it comes allows for much greater inner peace. Whose 5-year-plan actually works out anyway?
There is a saying here that I am learning to love: “mai pen rai”. In literal translation, it means “it’s no problem”, but it is often referred to as a way of life. Again, the implicit value in this statement is one of acceptance. This means acceptance of other people, acceptance of things we can’t change, acceptance of serious things, acceptance of silly things. I myself can get high-strung over things that don’t matter in the big picture, so “mai pen rai” has been a comfort and a challenge. Thailand is called The Land of Smiles for good reason! When we learn to stop complicating our lives, it is much easier to enjoy life. For those with an extra 15 minutes and an open mind, I highly recommend watching this Ted Talk.