One week has passed since my return from study abroad; I’m still processing my 4-month experience in Thailand and how to adjust to life back in Seattle. On the drive home from the airport, everything felt simultaneously the same but unfamiliar. I feel as though time has stood still here, while I have grown and changed in ways I have yet to fully realize. Upon seeing friends and family, they’ve asked me “So, how was Thailand?!” or “What was your favorite part?” For a moment, my brain is flooded with memories to the point where I really don’t know what to say in response. So much happened – from the research project, to the homestays, to the trips across every region of Thailand – where do I even begin? You had to have been there at Khon Kaen University. You had to have been there when we would hop on a songtaew to the night market, or rode the zipline across the Nam Phong River. You had to have been there when we would indulge in some honey toast at a cafe, or struck up a conversation with the cook across the street who made some of the best noodle soup.
Despite how difficult it is for me to fully express and share about my time abroad, I do know I have grown academically and professionally. I learned how to conduct a Master’s-level research project about a local community’s perceptions of the water supply. I learned how to carry out culturally and socially appropriate research, as well as a modest intervention that was well-received by the community. And although all of the group projects were at times hectic and stressful, I came out of it more proficient at working with a team and understanding my own style of communication and leadership.
Personally, I’ve become more willing to take risks and be spontaneous (hop on a train for a weekend trip? Sure!). I’m learning to express myself more openly and not be afraid to make mistakes (I can’t even count the number of times I butchered my Thai…). I’ve also discovered that although I do a great job planning and managing my time for academics, I am not the best travel planner. But, I will definitely be improving that skill as I gear up to travel around Southeast Asia this summer. I’ve got a serious case of the travel bug and have decided to spend a month and a half visiting Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. And so, although I miss KKU and all the people and friendships I made while abroad, I’m excited to be returning to Southeast Asia! In the meantime, I have adopted the fork and spoon method whenever I eat rice, which brings back some memories from the Land of Smiles. Every day I’m grateful for the opportunity to study abroad and am even more determined to pursue my passion for health equity while engaging with cultures from around the world.