Full Circle: Mai Pen Rai

With Bi Si (welcoming and goodbye ceremony strings in which locals bless you) strings on my left hand and an ocean to my right, how do I even begin reflecting on this experience? I am sitting on the beach in Koh Tao, staring out at the beautiful water forgetting that I am in Thailand still. It is the brief interactions with locals and long conversations with vendors in Thai that remind me of my experience. Or the exported food items on the menu that make me wonder how far they had to travel. It is the memories of my host families and the villages that come flooding back when I see bedding or mats. These are just a few of the moments that make this experience real. Otherwise it feels like a dream. A dream that I can’t forget in the morning, a dream whose lessons I must keep with me.

I am traveling with four of my friends from the program and we often find ourselves talking about goals for going home or how to explain our program in relatable terms. The list of 55 buzz words work well when talking to another group member, but to anyone else, space just means space. It does not make you laugh, cringe, or cry. I am struggling with how to explain my tears when someone says that word, or explain my frustrations and successes with “challenging appropriately”.  However, this experience would not be meaningful if I could not take it back with me, if I could not implement the lessons I have learned.

So what will I do? For starters, write down my lessons, quotes from NGOs, villagers, and government officials, and post them around my room. Keep a constant reminder of my growth and new knowledge. And for that knowledge, bring it back to UR. Not just the content, but my new outlook of what education means. We turned it into a joke here, the basis of our education model, “Took kawn ben ajaan.” Every person is a teacher. This program put it in the structure, we learned from each other as facilitators, villagers about their lives and development, journalists about politics, and everyone we encountered. I hope to share that lesson. One can learn a lot from the experts, but experience is unmatched. Lets just hope this plays out well in VA and NJ.

So, as for my first question prior to leaving… how do you say “no worries” in Thai? It’s mai pen rai. Meaning no problem, don’t worry about it. And just like I thought, it’s more than a saying here—it’s a lifestyle. It is a lifestyle I have now understood and adapted to. So adjustment back home will surely be difficult, but mai pen rai, its all a learning experience.

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