International Education Week: Learning From Immersion

This week, now mostly in the past, is international education week. In honor of said international education, I’m going to be writing a couple of posts about how, and what, everyone involved in an exchange learns.

YES is a cultural exchange; I’m here to get to know Thai culture…the food, the social norms, religion, language, and everything in between. All exchange students learn about their local culture, but when the focus of an exchange is purely cultural, we learn even more.

Whether you realize it or not, you think that your culture is doing things the ‘right way’. I don’t mean you approve of everything your government does, but that the little things, the habits, are assumed to be correct. Exchange is important because it shows you just how limiting this mindset is.

In America, we keep a huge refrigerator filled with food in the house at all times. This is convenient because it means snacks are available 24/7, and there are plenty of options. In Thailand, every house has a mini fridge for keeping water/beverages. When you want a meal, 80% of the time you go buy it at either a street side stand, restaurant, or the notorious 7-11. Food is cheap in Thailand, and this method of eating saves many hours of food preparation, as well as space and electricity.

In America, we use cars for nearly everything. In Thailand, a car is for going somewhere as a family; if you want to make a run to the store, or head to a friend’s house, you take a bike or a motorcycle. The motorcycle’s save gas, and avoid the constraints of heavy traffic, allowing the rider to weave between cars trapped in gridlock.

In America, we have small, close knit friend groups. In Thailand, all your classmates are friends with one another, for the most part.

In America, we are passionate about our toilet paper. We can’t imagine going without it. We also like sitting on the toilet. Thailand prefers a sprayer (like a mini shower head) to toilet paper. There are also squat toilets aplenty. (My personal opinion is that any country with an either/or approach to the paper/sprayer dilemma is seriously missing out. One sacrifices cleanliness, the other dryness. Someone needs to implement a combination system).

In short, everyone does things a bit differently, and there are things to be learned from all cultures about open mindedness.

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