Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mai Pen Rai

We are having our Fulbright ETA orientation in the International Classroom #1 in the Education building of Chulalongkorn University. We have covered the structure and expectations of the ETA program, sexual harassment, health issues, and how to navigate Thai culture and the country’s politics.

Yesterday, we had a presentation entitled “What’s so special about the ETA program in Thailand” by Porntip Kanjananiyot (or P’Tip to me and the rest of the Fulbright gang). P’tip passed down a couple words of advice. The advice she passed down resonated in me because what she shared was very similar to the lessons that I have learned in the past two years. She said:

1. Prepare your heart (but don’t have expectations)
2. Turn everything to its positive side
3. Love and help your family (i.e. the members of the ETA group, my students, and community)
**SIDE NOTE: I am getting a better understanding of the use of P’. P’Tip explained that “P” is used for an older sister or brother and in Thai culture everyone is like your family.
4. What matters most is how you see yourself?-- P’Tip showed a slide of a cat looking into a mirror and seeing a lion in its reflection...this really stood out to me. It reminded me that there will be days when I won’t feel recognized for my labor (much like my initial term of VISTA service in AZ), but I have to know that social change/knowledge doesn’t come over night.
5. Create my own comfort zone.

We also delved into learning three important phrases in Thai culture, they are the following:

  • Jai yen yen: This phrase translates to “calm down” or “take it easy.” In Thailand, maintaining one’s cool is very admirable. Many of the travel guides, I read pre-departure, suggested that you want to keep a cool head in all situations. Before coming to Thailand, Professor Ann Hill--my Cross Cultural Women’s Studies prof at Dickinson College-- advised me, she said, “Just keep your expression neutral and your body still.”
  • Mai pen rai: The English version of this phrase would be “no problem” or “it’s ok” or as my Does and Don’ts in Thailand pamphlet put it “This phrase is, if you like, equivalent to it’s no use crying over spilt milk” (a lesson that has taken me many years to learn and probably many years more to completely master). Mai pen rai, is basically what you tell someone when you want to calm them down in an awkward situation. For instance, lets say I spill my milk onto my favorite sundress you would tell me mai pen rai! Basically, you are emphasizing to stop worrying about the little things.
  • Sabai: relax and go with the flow.

The discussions on health issues and sexual harassment were not uplifting but the information were things that I have heard in the past from traveling in other countries or living in Baltimore (JHU campus safety did a good job at scaring the living daylights out of me during GHCC on-site orientation and training).

It is now time to head to my third day of Fulbright orientation!

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