The warmth of a Thai ethnic minority village community, even with language barrier

Name: Ayaka Matsushita
Affiliation (at the time of study abroad): Department of English Studies, Faculty of Foreign Studies

Destination: Northern Thailand
Type of Study Abroad: Social Engagement Programs

Every year, many Sophia University students study abroad in countries all over the world outside of Japan. How did they manage to find their way through the differences in languages, cultures, and lifestyles? Here are some voices of students who studied abroad.

Southeast Asia had vaguely attracted me from my high school days, and I had been interested in this program from the time I took the entrance exam. I could have chosen a long-term study abroad program, yet I chose this Northern Thailand program because I was fascinated by the lifestyle of ethnic minorities and the opportunity to go deep into a region in a way that I could not as a language student.

Upon arriving in Thailand, my first stops were Bangkok and other bustling areas of Thailand. The glittering cityscape, with skyscrapers and shopping malls lining the streets, seemed much more vigorous than Japan. However, if you step away from the main streets, you will find many slums. I was shocked to see slum life for the first time and experience the smell of slums, yet it was a valuable experience for me to realize the gap between the rich and the poor.

After that, I began a most exciting but anxious time living with ethnic minorities. First, I learned about issues such as education, orphans and water in Northern Thailand from students belonging to ethnic minorities, at an educational institution called Xavier Learning Community (XLC). By communicating with many local people and listening to their stories, I realized how serious the problems they face are. Seeing Thai students of my age seriously thinking about their future and their village while studying hard and having a high level of English made me realize I should make better use of my time at university.

After XLC, I spent a night in an Akha ethnic village. I was very worried about living without any common language, but it was all a needless fear as my time there was full of joy. In the village, I had such a relaxing time and felt at ease seeing the strong bond among the people in the community. It was such a pleasant surprise considering my pre-departure fears. I was very happy during the time I spent in Thailand. 

The people of Thailand are very kind and full of compassion for others and I made important friends throughout this program. It deepened my interest in Thailand as well as southeast Asia, but it also was a great experience for me to find a country that fits me and has become my new theme for my future studies. Although the destination may not always suit you, I think this program is a very good opportunity to test yourself in a different culture. I highly recommend everyone to give it a try.

Sophia University

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