It’s definitely a life-changing experience in terms of opening your eyes. I think a lot of people go into study abroad knowing that it will be a life changing experience, but the way that the CIEE program is facilitated, it’s changing your life without you even really recognizing it. Which is just mind-blowing.
What is your favorite memory from being a student?
I think it was over the course of one weekend really. I went up to Na Nong Bong to see the villagers protesting against the mine, where they were building a wall, and one of my fellow students and I got to stay behind and video tape this protest. Which was amazing to see people standing up for their rights and standing up for their land.
What issues are you passionate about right now?
Right now, I’m super passionate about alternative education, and finding ways to engage students that are not currently engaged with what I would call academia or school. Ways to engage those students and realize that you can learn from so many different avenues and it’s not just all about a professor lecturing at you or someone who knows more than you. But there are ways to learn all over the place. But I’m also an environmental studies major, so mining and environmentally friendly agriculture and sustainable agriculture/sustainable living are way up there on my interests.
What is the hardest thing about transitioning back home to your University?
I think for me, I have said this a few times, but it’s not culture shock. I think it’s education shock. I think that I just so thoroughly fell in love with how I was learning and the people I was learning with, and how much I learned when I was in Thailand, that it was really hard to go back into an environment where people were only looking to learn in a 50 minute class from a professor who is just telling them the information that they want them to recite back on a paper or on a test. And I think that is still really frustrating for me.
How has ENGAGE supported you in your journey and your transition back home since being on the program?
I am part of the ENGAGE Mentorship Program, so I have a mentor, Alison Dulin, who works for Davidson College. We have lunch on Tuesdays. We talk about things like me wanting to bring back the sustainable community, or things I’m struggling with in terms of how I really want to apply myself.
What have you been working on since you were in Thailand? What are you currently doing?
Since I was in Thailand I worked with my school to bring back a sustainable living community, where I’ll be living next year! I’m also currently president of Davidson Outdoors. It is one of the largest clubs on campus [150 trained trip leaders], and we run about 15 trips a semester – backpacking, climbing, caving, white water canoeing, mountain biking…I do a lot of facilitating that group, in terms of figuring out what people are interested in, and what further kinds of programming we want in terms of further qualifications in climbing or white water kayaking. Behind all of those outdoor activities is this group bonding and group facilitation, because really what you’re doing going into the outdoors is bonding with a group of people in a way that isn’t necessarily possible when you’re around technology and phones. It’s nice to get away and really get to know people.
And huge shout out to you for carrying on the Mentorship Program as a student! Back then, why did you agree to start running it? Why are you passionate about it right now?
It’s an amazing idea. It’s connecting people who have had success and love this program with people who are about to embark on something very challenging – going back into the life that you had before your four months in Thailand. I also just really wanted a niche to get more involved in ENGAGE and to feel like I was still connected when I left – to Thailand, my friends there, my group, and to other people that are passionate about the same things.
What do Mentors get out of the program?
I think that the mentors get to refocus on where they were, coming out of this program. And the decisions that they made that got them to where they are now. I think it offers a really cool self-reflection process!
How is the Mentorship Program influencing the network as a whole?
I think it’s an amazing opportunity to connect one on one and really get to know someone who has just finished the program – it really links generations. Building a network like ENGAGE, it’s really important to link those generations – realize that times are changing, and incorporate those who are just finishing the program. It’s important to make those connections so you feel comfortable passing off a project or just bringing up the idea of a project and suggesting it to someone you think might care.
Why is it important for current students to get involved with ENGAGE while they are still in Thailand?
For me, ENGAGE offers an incredible opportunity to really make the connection that what you’re learning in Thailand is not just in Thailand. I think it’s important to make that connection before you leave. And to know that there are other people who are passionate about these same ideas, that have found ways to do them in the US or wherever it may be. And that is just a really powerful tool coming home, but also just a powerful realization for any student, that the mines we see in Thailand are almost small scale in terms of mines around the world. That these same issues are relevant, wherever you go.