By Morgan Thornberry, C of I political economy major
Click here to check out a photo gallery of the trip on the C of I Flickr page.
The month of January 2015 was one of adventure for me. Alongside eleven C of I peers, I traveled with Asian studies professors Rob Dayley and Jeff Snyder-Reinke to three countries in mainland Southeast Asia. Our purpose was to study the relationship between Buddhism and power. We biked around Thailand’s ancient city of Sukhothai, went on a scavenger hunt for temples in Chiang Mai, cycled through the world-famous ruins of Burma’s Bagan, and stood on an empty 20-lane highway in the country’s new capital. In Cambodia, we visited the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh and the must-see temple complex at Angkor all while giving book reports and journaling about our experiences. It was the trip of a lifetime, encompassing three Theravada Buddhist countries, nine incredibly diverse Asian cities and towns and one incredible village.
Of all of our experiences, the most memorable involved a village homestay. There, a mosquito net and 40 little kids stole my heart. With help from colleagues, Professor Dayley was able to arrange for us to stay two nights in Sre Prey, an ethnic Cham village in central Cambodia. As students, we were partnered up with host families and proceeded to make ourselves at home. Deena Emry and I were given mats, blankets, pillows and our own mosquito net to find a comfortable place on the floor to sleep. Our host brother spoke broken English he had gained through time at the university and while working as a supervisor at the factory near the village. The families welcomed us in and gave us food and hospitality. We bonded with the university students who had returned from the city just for our visit. They were around our same age, dealing with the same day-to-day dilemmas we face at The College of Idaho; making time for friends, struggling through school and, of course, finding entertainment.
My favorite part of the village homestay was the time we were able to spend with the children. One little boy in mesh yellow shorts and a playboy bunny shirt named Long completely stole my heart. With his dimpled smile, he constantly offered me flowers, only to run the other direction after giving them to me. After a while, he finally got confident enough to hold my hand through the village. With the kids and villagers, we toured the local rice fields and played hacky sack, soccer, and jump rope. Courtney Indart and I taught some of the children “Down by the Banks,” the old playground game with the sing rhyme to go along with it. I kept playing and playing until at least 30 little kids gathered around me singing and playing the game with great enthusiasm, giggling uncontrollably every time someone got out. It was my reaffirming moment that the direction I was going in after graduation was the right one. Before we left to Asia, I applied for the Peace Corps. Our village stay helped me realize I would be completely content to spend every day with young students teaching them how to read and speak English—all thanks to a College of Idaho study abroad trip.
I had the trip of a lifetime, witnessing Buddhist societies and their interactions with political power and economic development. I saw United Nations World Heritage Sites, where our group discussed restoring historical sites like the temple reliefs in Bagan. I sat in on a lecture given by a famous Thai professor at Chiang Mai University about last year’s Thai coup—in a country still under martial law. I enjoyed amazing experiences learning about the world, travel and other cultures, but what I learned the most about was myself. I learned that I am comfortable eating strange food on the street. I am ready and willing to sleep under a mosquito net every night. I know that a big smile and a game can break down cultural barriers. This trip confirmed to me that I am ready for my plans after I graduate from The College of Idaho in May. I am ready to travel to a village and dive head-first into every aspect of it, because I have done it before and I was successful. This trip was one of the greatest adventures I’ve experienced, and it has shown me that I am ready to go back and work in the world of international economic development with children every day.
Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. The C of I has a legacy of academic excellence, a winning athletics tradition and a history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars and 14 Marshall, Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.