From the look of all the travel posts that I’ve been sharing over the course of the last couple of weeks, it’s probably somewhat hard to tell that I’m studying abroad, but I assure you that school and coursework is alive and well. Sometimes it feels like the past 4 weeks has managed to teach me more than I ever have learned during a quarter (maybe even a year) just sitting in lecture, much of which goes beyond just the curriculum. One thing I’ve loved especially about the program is the fact that there is a real world application of the courses we’re studying to the country we’re studying in, and even better, we have a fieldwork requirement that allows us to examine certain topics within the field of border mobility/health of border populations in the Thai/Myanmar border.
The four weeks of our studies at Thammasat University has quickly come to an end, and we’ve had the chance to visit a local Burmese migrant community in Rangsit previously. We had the chance to visit the same community in Rangsit during our last week of class to apply some of the things that we’ve learned in class: Ajarn Praewa taught us about human-centered design in the week of “design lab” where we basically propose various solutions to certain issues and learn about what makes an efficient solution that serves humans. It sounds kind of weird when it’s put like that, but essentially the goal of our last week of class is to prepare us for when we go into the field and work with migrant communities and have to address certain challenges that the community is facing and propose a prototype of a solution that could effectively serve the community that keeps their needs and goals at the center. Another professor, Ajarn Brendan, told us about how one of the most common mistakes that people make when doing fieldwork and coming up with research proposals is that they forget to listen and try coming up with solutions without considering what the community wants and needs.
So, in order to put these methods to practice, we headed back to the Burmese migrant community in Rangsit with our respective teams (#teamEDU aka education team!) to work on methods such as a “transect walk” and also interviews with local community members to frame certain ideas about challenges we might face or improvements we need to make when working in the field.
Met up with the local schoolteacher again, who is an incredibly inspiring man and has so much love and care for the students in these schools.
This is their community play area, where a lot of the boys like to play “takraw” (in Thai) and girls also just love playing with each other and running around. We walked with a couple of students to this area and as soon as we started approaching, this whole crowd of girls began running excitedly towards their friend.
We got the chance to meet up with the community leader who told us a bit about the challenges that his community is facing, how long he’s been working as community leader, health issues that they face, and answered some other questions that we asked him as a group.
Last time we were here, we got the chance to help some of the women cook and they served us fried calabasas or “buu thee kyaw”. This time, they made us a traditional Burmese dish called “lahpet thoke”, which is a tea leaf salad mixed with roasted peanuts, crunchy beans and lots of garlic and onion. It was SOOO SO SO delicious.
A million thank-yous to this community for always welcoming us, being so kindhearted and generous, and being willing to share their personal stories and struggles.
SO good. I tried to order this again two separate times at different Burmese restaurants after trying it here and nothing that I’ve tried has been as delicious as this time when they made it for us.
We started our transect walk with a woman named Kay Thee Aye, who told us about her story of migrating to Thailand, her job, her family, and her hopes for the future. The goal of the “transect walk”, which we learned about in a lecture taught by Ajarn Waew was for the community member to show us important features of their community, like certain places that are special to them or hold value to them and just to get a better feel of how their community is structured. She took us to the local market, where she explained that the majority of the community worked here selling pork, including her husband who is a butcher.
While we were stopped near the front of the market asking her questions, we got to experience the whole sha-bang of how this process works…we were standing not too far from an entire truckload of pig parts and intestines and blood. Pretty gory stuff.
Her son, who is quite the player. Our first visit, he handed out flowers to all of girls and all of us preceded to fall in love a little bit. Here he is striking a pose while simultaneously showing off his guns 😉 I can’t get over how adorable this is.
Our team headed back to the office area to speak some more about our transect walk and debrief on some themes we might want to focus on looking ahead for the next couple of weeks. While in the office, we got to sit with this young girl who was taking care of one of the community member’s baby (so so so cute).
Again, it’s just been such an incredible and invaluable opportunity being able to feel more integrated with the community and learning more about the lives of these migrants. Many Burmese migrants might often face difficulties in healthcare access, being separated from family members, continuing education, and fear of deportation back to Myanmar. With us coming in as foreigners and college students, it’s easy to see why people might not be willing to share more personal struggles or be open up with challenges they face personally, but I’m incredibly grateful that they felt open towards us, sharing their stories and allowing us to gain more insight to their community.
With that being said, I think that another challenge that some of us faced was the fact that it’s not feasible for us to base our opinions about a community based off of our interactions with only a few community members. Additionally, because their experiences, beliefs and views are so subjective, it can be hard to formulate a general idea about a community and consequently come up with solutions without knowing all the needs of the people as a whole.
With all of that in mind, we’ve learned so much from our time here and have so much to take away from these interactions that will help us immensely during our time in the field in Mae Sot. So happy to be a part of a team with such bright, passionate, ambitious and hilarious friends and as much as I don’t want this program to come to an end, I’m excited for the end of the program when we get to present our research proposals and see what we come up with.
Feeling very blessed and constantly grateful for my health and my education and all the people in my life ♥