The Gilman e-mail that I received! I was soooooo happy that day. Thanks again to the people at Gilman!
Thanks to the folks at the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, I have been awarded this wonderful scholarship to help fund my study abroad experience in Bangkok, Thailand!! I am soooo excited and so thankful for having this opportunity to go abroad as well as have the funds to explore and travel what beautiful Thailand has to offer! I can’t believe this is happening! One night I check my phone to see a “Congratulations!” in the subject heading. After applying for several scholarships and not receiving not one of them, my spirits were low. Gilman was the last to hear back from and I was almost sure that I would not get it, BUT I did!!!!
The chance to view the world in the eyes of another person is rewarding enough. To live their culture and lifestyle through a Thai perspective. I have never left the country and America is all I have ever known. It will be a humbling experience when you’re in a foreign country and Americans are not the majority. I hope I will change my way of thinking.
This blog is to document my study abroad experience and inform you about how I was able to fund studying abroad with the help of the Gilman Foundation. I hope to share with you how to apply for the Gilman scholarship. There are various parts to the Gilman scholarship and I encourage you to not miss out on this great opportunity. For low income college students, such as myself, this scholarship is geared for us! Why am I advocating students to apply to study abroad?
In addition to learning about Thailand’s culture and the Chinese diaspora in Burma, I also had the opportunity to attend Hmong New Year. One of the friends that I met in my program was Hmong, his family actually originated from the Northern part of Thailand. He shared with me his culture and how his people are hill tribe people who escaped from China. He talked about how much he loved his culture, but he also felt it was a form of oppression. He invited me to Hmong New Year and I got to see a traditional game that is played among the young Hmong adults. In this picture, they are paired up in a line throwing a ball. The other person is supposed to catch the ball. In the old days, if the girl likes the boy, she is supposed to leave a piece of her clothing. That same night, the boy must return it to her by visiting her house and playing a musical flute at her window. The traditional Hmong costume is very decorative and colorful. I also learned how Hmong people are not only based in Thailand; they are spread out all over the northern parts of Southeast Asia such as northern Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam.
My Gilman Scholarship Service Project is complete!! I have participated in the Thai club at UCI and was able to be a part of their Annual Thai Culture Night. Not only that, but I became a part of UC Irvine’s Thai Traditional dance crew. After months of preparation and asking my friends and next year’s Thailand study abroad students, I couldn’t help, but be so passionate about it. However, I was faced with lots of criticism such as, “You’re not even Thai” or “Why aren’t you in Kababayan? (The Filipino club at my school)” I couldn’t help but think to myself, isn’t this what my whole purpose about? To stop the negativity and narrow mindedness of thinking I should only care about my culture. Participating in Thai culture night was a way for me to pay tribute to my host country, Thailand, and to the beautiful people that I have met along the way. My whole point of this whole project was to show my appreciation to Thailand, a culture that I had no clue about. My whole point of my Gilman essay and scholarship project was about embracing diversity and a culture that you are unfamiliar with. And here I was, back in the states facing this challenge head on. Studying abroad helped me open my mind to things and change my perspective, I didn’t realize the criticism that was out there. When I heard those comments from my friends, although they were joking, I couldn’t help, but think why does it even matter? I joined Thai club and met the other Thai students who embraced me for who I was. Not once did they say “You’re not Thai!” Not once did I even feel excluded. I had told them that I was interested in participating their Thai culture night and they were ecstatic! I told them how I studied abroad in Thailand and how much I missed the place after my first quarter back in the states. Being a part of Thai club, just felt natural to me. It felt like I belonged, regardless of my lack of Thai speaking skills or my ethnic background. The whole six months that it took to prepare for UCI’s Thai culture night, I kept feeling like this is what it should feel like to be a part of a group. To transcend cultural barriers and welcome everyone. For me personally, it wasn’t mainly about working to finish my project proposal, but to really show how amazing of a culture that Thailand has. I was passionate about it. Although I worked part time, went to school full time, I made every effort to attend every Thai Traditional Dance practice. I never felt so excited when my friends came to watch the show.
My advice would be to don’t be ashamed in what you are doing. Who cares if people tell you that you don’t belong as long as you feel like you belong, that’s all that matters. And the people around you accept you regardless. These people from the outside looking in don’t understand and its up to you to help them. Invite them to one of your events or share with them your experiences. Help them understand. This applies to sharing your culture with them or even a different culture. We must educate them and that is all. As a Gilman Scholar Alumni, I encourage you to go out there and try new things. For someone like myself, I embraced a culture that wasn’t even mine to begin with, but I can’t tell you how much appreciation that I have towards Thailand! Studying abroad in that country has given me something that no one will ever take away from, the memories and the experience! Now that I have been in the states for at least 5 months, I have this newfound appreciation for everything. It truly is amazing. I cannot wait what the future has in store for me. I hope that I have more opportunities like this to go abroad or even experience diversity. In my first quarter back, I even attended an Ethiopian Student Association party. I was probably the only asian there, but I didn’t feel that way. Even then, the students of ESA welcomed me. For me, I don’t see color or separation. I see togetherness and community. There is no me vs. them type of feeling.
We are rooted in a country that is diverse and is a melting pot of different cultures. It’s our social responsibility to be respectful and knowledgeable of one another, which means learning their background and their history. I wish more people had the opportunity to study abroad so that they can open their eyes to the rest of the world! As a newly graduate college student I cannot wait to make a change!
I hope you are enjoying my blog. If you love my blog, please check out my Youtube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/wakingupinthailand
For legit Thai Tea! This is one of the street vendors on our street. Literally a few steps from our apartment. This is how they make Thai Tea, waaaay better than back in the states. How convenient is it that I am studying, get a little thirsty, walk outside my apartment, and buy Thai tea right there! For only 30baht ($1). Studying abroad in Thailand…and the livin’ is easy 😉 Oh, before you leave Thailand, don’t forget to buy Thai Tea powder at one of the local grocery stores! I bought a lot as well as Thai spices before I flew back home!