Questions, Questions, Questions
Without stepping out of your comfort zone, how can you ever learn what your boundaries are? How can you discover what you are capable of? How can you understand another person’s point of view if you have never been forced to look out a new lens other than your own?
These were questions I never asked myself until after I committed to studying abroad and came back from my experience. Not only did I study abroad, but I studied abroad in locations that were vastly different in culture and social norms than I had ever experienced. I went from a small rural upbringing with the mindset of being a homebody to the developing and bustling countries of Thailand and Vietnam. Imagine an individual who was raised to be a fiercely independent and self-reliant person and placing them in a society that valued and was based upon communalism. I was out of my comfort zone, out of my territory and knowledge, out of my realm of understanding, and left questioning everything going on around me because it was all so new.
New Mindset, who dis?
As someone that prided herself in having a sense of awareness of her, while I was walking the streets of Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh, I found myself learning more about myself than I ever had before. I thought of myself as open-minded, but I recognized that I could not be all that open-minded when I had never been forced to stretch my perception of the world around me. What I mean by this, is that in the states, I rarely encountered events that shocked me or made me stop and ponder why someone acted in a certain manner because they were all behaviors or situations I had experienced before: open-air markets, traffic in rush hours, and the use of money. These do not seem like they would be moments of personal learning, but that was the most shocking part of all.
Redefining Farmers Markets
Suddenly, when placed in a different context, such as a different country, these more mundane activities that I engaged in at home were altered in my mind. Open-air markets took on a completely new meaning while I was in Thailand and Vietnam. Suddenly I was introduced to the concept of floating markets in which I buy my food and goods off of a small boat decked with simple grills and jerry-rigged fans to keep flies away. In these markets, I had to bargain for the prices because the price tag was not necessarily the final price of the item.
Additionally, a new concept was the train market. Watching the shops pop up their canopies and them quickly break them down to allow the train to pass and then throw the shades back into place to allow the shopping to continue as if nothing occurred. In the Train market, I learned that it was extremely rude to step into a vendor’s area to allow others to pass you in the narrow two-person-wide walkway on the train tracks and what you see is what you get.
LA Traffic has Nothing on SE Asia
How would I describe traffic in SE Asia? With one word: Awe-inspiring. One might think that rush hour on the 405 or HWY 101 is intense; they have never witnessed the extravaganza of traffic in Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh. Motorbikes zip in all directions using sidewalks as streets. Pedestrians step- aside because the sidewalk is no longer for you.
Cross at your own risk, or as my tour guide suggested, maintain a slow and steady pace and the drivers will go around you. Scooters, cars, and tuk-tuks are so close that you could hop from one vehicle to the next and never touch the ground from one side of the six-lane street to the other. And lanes, they are more like suggestions. But the most impressive part of it all is that despite what might sound like madness and mania, is truly more of like controlled chaos. Drivers navigate with unprecedented skills carrying impressive loads on their small bikes and still managing to avoid bumping into each other or crashing.
Relearning How to Pay for Goods
Counting out a few dollars and some random change had never been a challenge until I was looking at a new bill or coin. First, I needed to assess what color the bills were. 10,000 dong versus 100,000 dong makes a difference when paying for a good and the amount of change you expect to get back. So make sure you grab the correct yellow-tinted bill, especially at night when lighting is dim! Once I retrieved the proper bill, I needed to determine how much I needed this bill. In Thailand, I would have to look at the coins I had accumulated and need to assess the size, colors, and patterns to recognize which coin and what value it held.
Learning a new currency on the spot is not to be underestimated. How simple it would have been to use a credit card, but that was not always an option. Many vendors were cash only, so what then? No cash, no service. On several occasions, the vendors in the local Family Mart across the hotel would provide assistance because I would take too long to gather the correct amount to pay for the Ban Bao and water I was getting for a snack.
This trip enabled me to rethink experiences that I had become accustomed to in the states. No longer was the process simple, or the environments familiar. I was in a land of self-discoveries about how quick I could, or could not; adjust to another person’s way of life. Something, such as quickly identifying the proper bill, is a component of life I would have never thought twice about because I never truly struggled to achieve such a feat before and run into complications. While abroad I can genuinely say I walked at another pace in life and although it was in my own shoes, it was like I was learning how to tie the laces all over again.