Summer Fiori traveled to Chiang Mai, Thailand, where she studied Thai Language and Buddhist Philosophy at Chiang Mai University. Summer befriended many people at her host university, including her teacher and an intern named Arm. In particular, Summer and Arm talked about the cultural differences between The United States and Thailand, specifically pertaining to differences in school, food, and how Thai people spend their free time. Summer felt fully immersed in the culture when Arm took her traveling to new places around Chiang Mai, including museums, restaurants, and parks. Befriending these individuals gave Summer an opportunity to practice speaking the Thai language, as well as to assist her Thai friends with his skills in English. Additionally, Summer found the opportunity to practice the language at restaurants, street vendors, and the weekly Walking Street market. In addition to this, Summer volunteered at Thailand's first sanctuary for elephants, Elephant Nature Park. During her week as a volunteer, Summer spent her time at the Journey to Freedom project located three hours away from the city of Chiang Mai. This project introduced disabled, overworked elephants to a natural environment that was free from work. Within this unique experience to observe elephants outside of captivity, Summer was able to interact with and observe six rescued elephants. Through this, she was able to learn about elephants from their mahouts (caretaker), as well as become educated on the neglectful work elephants are forced to do for tourist businesses. Through the project, Summer became acquainted with fourteen other individuals from around the world as they worked together to cut, clean, and prepare food for the herd. The volunteers spent the evenings visiting local Karen Hill Tribe villages. In the villages, Summer assisted the children with their English homework, played soccer, and asked the children questions about their schooling, activities, interests, and hobbies. The volunteers also had the opportunity to spend time with a local kindergarten. During this time, the volunteers taught one-hundred and fifty students the names of foods in English, which were provided in order to cook lunch for the class. As a result of her international experience, Summer gained greater confidence, better communication skills, a love for her host country and its people, and inspiration to travel. Summer reflected on her international experience through her willingness to share her fond memories and with gratitude toward the Vira Heinz program, which made her experience possible.
CEE Title: Hard Conversations: Addressing the –isms
The cohort from the campus of Waynesburg University proudly presented “Hard Conversations: Addressing the –isms” on November 9, 2016. This Community Engagement Experience allowed each of the cohort members to address a topic that they had experienced while abroad and facilitate a hard conversation with the audience about that topic and how it affects people both globally and locally. The topics discussed were: tourism, racism, sexism, terrorism, poverty (-ism), and domestic violence (-ism). At this event, the audience of 92 individuals enjoyed light refreshments from the destinations of each of the cohort members’ international experiences. Then they were asked to take a seat to participate in an activity. The activity consisted of 18 yes or no questions created by the cohort. Each question correlated to each of the topics being presented. The room was set up in six sections, and for forty-five minutes the audience rotated to each section to hear the cohort member present their topic. The activity served to suggest which topics the audience members should rotate to based on how they answered the questions. For example, one question was “if given the chance would you ride an elephant?” and if the answer was yes, we suggested visiting the station discussing tourism in Thailand and the exploitation of elephants. The audience had the opportunity to hear about three of the six topics throughout the rotations. At the end, time was allotted for open discussion, comments, or questions. The cohort presented a variety and abundance of information to the audience through the resources provided including informational handouts, factsheets, references, and contact information for organizations in and around the community of Waynesburg addressing these topics. The cohort hoped to create an intimate environment by sharing personal experiences about the topics making the audience feel comfortable discussing their own experiences.