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Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
April 12th, 2002

From Frazee to Lampang

A College Student's Spiritual Journey from Minnesota to Thailand

 
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Ever since growing up in Frazee, Minnesota, a small town with a population of 1,700 people, and living next to two Lao families, I had a dream of going to the Thailand/Laos. (Similarly, both peoples actually stem from the same group of people called the Tai Yay.) The two Lao families lived next door from when I was six until I was thirteen when they had to move away. During this time,

I was best friends with the children of both families. I spent my days at their houses, ate with them, watched Thai and Lao movies and concerts, joined in on their traditional ceremonies, and they would teach me a Lao word a day. That was the start of my love for the Thai/Lao language and culture. Ever since then, my Thai/Lao roots have kept popping up and reminding me of my subconscious love for those roots.

A few years ago, after being out of college for three years, I was actually debating on going back to college or becoming a nun. The decision factor was Thailand. I knew that I had to get to Thailand in my lifetime, or my life would never be complete, and I would be miserable. I thought that college brought a better possibility

of making it to Thailand—so I went to college. My first year at the University of Minnesota, I found a study abroad program in Chiang Mai, Thailand, through the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My dream was coming true.

Living the dream
After being accepted into the program, I intensively studied Thai language for two months and then, I was off to Chiang Mai for nine months. There, I attended Chiang Mai University, studying Thai language and culture. Another requirement of the program was to do a research project of my choice. I did a project about “Disadvantaged Children in a Boarding School in Lampang Province.” By “disadvantaged,” I mean children who live in poverty and don’t have any parents; or whose parents are divorced, have AIDS, or are on drugs; or abused children or children with serious handicaps. At the end of the study abroad program, I received a scholarship to study Thai culture for an additional two months, so I got to spend eight months total at Jitaree Welfare School in Lampang Province.

While there, I was able to become friends with and become an “older sister” to the kids living at the school. The children and I became very close—this occurred for many reasons and among them was the fact that I crossed cultural and societal barriers in order to get close to them. They told me that they loved it that I could be with them, eat with them, share the details of their lives. They said that no Thai adult would do that. They liked it that I cared about them, loved them, and did not look down upon them. Being with these children and learning about them and their lives was the greatest experience in my life thus far.

What’s next?
I did not want to
leave my students or Thailand, but I had to do just that. My goal is to return to Thailand in five years to help disadvantaged children. I knew before going to Thailand that God wanted me to help people as my career, but now I know who God wants me to help and in what area of the world–Thailand! I have always felt God leading me in life—especially these past five years. I believe God has even more in store than I know, but I imagine the signs will come in a gradual manner. It is a scary thing though—having one’s life guided and planned out by a higher being. But I know God has a mission for me and that he will continue to help me become a better person and follow in his footsteps.

 
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The Author : Jaclyn Riewer

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