All students have boarded their flights and are on their way home!
On Language and Meditation
My time in Thailand has been life changing, primarily due to the people I’ve met and the experiences they brought with them.
We started the day by returning to the Buddhist temple in the cave we already visited, but by popular demand we decided to return. The cave itself, along with it’s many statues, are great, but in my opinion the real reason for visiting is the monks. My “single story” of monks – what I expected to experience – is that they would have been silent and serious. To my surprise, the monks actually initiated speaking with me first, asking where I was from. I replied, ” America! “. They smiled and giddily laughed at my enthusiasm. I sat and talked with them for a little while longer, discovering that they only ate once a day, and actually lived in the cave, with the hundreds of bats as their neighbors.
I can’t speak much more Thai than sawadee ka (hello/goodbye) and aroi ma ka? Aroi ka! ( is it delicious? It is delicious!), at least I think that’s what it means. The monks were only a little more advanced in their English than I was in my Thai, but despite this, the monks and I had an hour-long conversation of sorts, where I showed them the many pictures on my camera, as well as attempting to mime a few things.
My time with the monks ended with them showing me how to meditate properly, right leg on top, in crisscross applesauce, with hands folded neatly in my lap. I started to meditate with the monks, releasing all of my worries and listening to the sounds of the cave. I meditated for about ten minutes, and when I opened my eyes five other GLA participants were meditating with me and the monks. This specific experience couldn’t be more characteristic of Thailand. The people greet and welcome you into their home, even though they don’t know who you are. Language doesn’t keep them from making connections. Thailand’s nickname ” The Land of Smiles” has with my experience proven to be true time and time again.
My name is Marissa and I am a 17 year old GLA student from California. I’ve been given the opportunity to write the blog on yesterday’s activities- I’m going to try to fit in everything we did since the day was so jam packed! Half of us woke up at the early hours of 6 am to learn how to wash the local elephants in the Maekok river. The elephants took it more as play time rather than a chore- they were splashing around like kids, spraying us with their trunks! We all reconvened for yet another incredible Thai breakfast, including rice soup, vegetable stir fry, and, everyone’s favorite, rambutan and mangosteen (everyday Thai fruits). Afterwards, we split again- half of us walking to the elephant village next door to get a bare back riding lesson from the mahouts, or elephant trainers; the other half walking over to meet a few women of the Raummit village to learn how to weave. As part of the group who worked with the elephants, I can easily say it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. We were taught how to mount these massive creatures by a few simple Thai commands from both their sides and their trunks!
A Wonderful Day
Elephant Village – The First Experience
So today was our first full day in the elephant village! We went next door to the elephant camp in the morning and spent the next two hours talking to the mahouts (elephant caregivers) and getting to know the elephants. We were introduced to three elephants and their trainers, who we will be working with throughout our time here.
Then, after all of the introductions took place and we’d learned what we needed to know by conversing with the mahouts, we got our first chance at riding elephants!
We rode on seats on the elephants’ backs, though a few lucky students had the opportunity to actually ride the elephants bareback. Later on in the week we will all get the opportunity to ride the same way, without the seats.
Because it was Sunday and this is a predominately Christian village, most of the village was shut down for the entire day, so we spent time playing games and engaging in leadership seminars. There were lots of laughs! We also spent time preparing our English lessons for the local school, which takes some preparation to get right. I’m incredibly excited to get some teaching time and spend more time with the elephants over the course of the program.
A Sea of Experiences
Standing on the other side of the arrival gate at Chiang Mai International Airport waiting for my first students of the summer is exhilarating; months of preparation work is in place and all the logistics are settled. As an international director, I know that when I see my first student walk out looking for our blue GLA t-shirts, the summer has officially begun. However, in this line of work, it’s not just another summer. It’s navigating young minds through a sea of experiences that will stick with them throughout their lives. I don’t take that in jest.
As parents, I greatly appreciate all of you allowing us staff the opportunity to help your students along on this voyage of discovery. Thailand is very warm, humid, and sometimes buggy which students take notice of immediately beyond the threshold of the air-conditioned terminal doors. Some of the first students to arrive; Wendy and Claire, stepped into this foreign climate and immediately looked at each other with smiles of “oh wow this is humid”. Moments later we were all riding in our local transport toward the home base. As we were riding along, I noticed how quickly they forgot about the sticky humidity and started experiencing the sensory stimulus provided form the sights, sounds and smells of the streets. This light bulb of fascination exhibited in students, is what brings me back year after year.
At the end of our first full day together we’ve begun to talk about leadership, Thailand’s culture, had a language crash course, started to practice bargaining skills in markets and opened our minds to the realization that we will be connecting with some other locals soon (the elephants). Tomorrow we begin our journey to Ruammit village where students will inevitably be awe stricken by these enormous and powerful creatures. As we prepped for this experience, Olivia was telling us how she felt like she was exactly where she belonged, which to me; is the purest form of inspiration. Going forward; these next two weeks, there will be moments of vulnerability for all of the students but what doesn’t challenge them doesn’t change them. We as staffs are here to guide them, mentor them, and learn from and with them. What an adventure it’s going to be!
– Tim E. Easley, International Director
All students have arrived safely for the Elephant Village Initiative. Further updates to follow!
– Tim E. Easley, International Director