Thursday, May 1, 2008

Why are you going to Thailand and what do you expect to get out of it?

Good question! And frankly, I have no idea…It all started with Sabrina Packard encouraging me to go with her on a three month internship to Southeast Asia so she wouldn’t be alone, but then she pulled out and I found myself going to Thailand with no one that I knew and with no purpose other than the fear that if I pulled out, Ralph wouldn’t give me a good recommendation on my graduate school application.

However, Ralph’s stamp of approval lacked the sufficient enticement I needed to convince me to participate in an internship half way around the world that would require me to fly over an ocean (my worst nightmare). But despite my lack of substantial reasons for going, I did have three main reasons why I didn’t want to go to Thailand. First, I was convinced that I would die (terrorism being the obvious cause, of course), second, it didn’t really relate to any of my career ambitions, and third, it meant that I would for sure be spending one more summer single. Laugh all you want, but I saw this internship as a possible death sentence, an irrelevant resume embellishment, and a marriage-inhibitor (listed in increasing order of importance).

In order to help me with the impending decision, I sought my Uncle Tom’s fount of knowledge. Instead of admitting that spinelessness was the real explanation for my hesitancy to participate in the internship, I made my uncle endure an hour montage of shallow justifications disguised as a noble deference to reason.

Tom listened politely and commented here and there, but when I was all finished he merely replied, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” Suddenly I was standing in a marble hallway with vaulted ceilings surrounded by a dozen adolescent boys garbed in gray school uniforms listening to Robin Williams declare, “…we are food for worms lads…believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die…Carpe Diem. Seize the day…make your lives extraordinary.”

My uncle’s point was well taken. I began thinking, “My lack of a husband and a steady career are the reasons why this opportunity is even a possibility. This is my time to soar, to take chances, and to explore my capabilities. Destiny made the internship fall into my lap at the precise moment when I had no financial restraints, when I knew I would be free of educational and occupational obligations, and when my prospects for marriage were all but dried up. This is my time to step out into the unknown and seize the day!” I was excited, invigorated, ready to give three months of my precious youth to a mysterious Southeast Asian adventure…Or at least I thought I was until I went home and read the rest of Robert Herrick’s rosebud poem and realized that he wrote it to young virgins encouraging them to get married before their beauty decayed.

Frowny face. My enthusiastic bubble burst and was once again replaced with dramatic irrationality. Angry Thai revolutionaries, soup kitchens for the unemployed, and Sherry Dew haunted my dreams. But, in the end I have decided to participate in the internship mostly because my intense fear of not landing a successful job in the rat race, or worse, becoming an old maid at 22 revealed to me a simple truth: I have been in Provo way too long.

So off I go to visit the other side of the world, and what lies ahead is a secret waiting to unravel. This will be the coolest capstone to my major in Sociology! What better way to evaluate the struggle between individualism and social structure than in a society I know nothing about?
Although I’ll be teaching English without pay, Ralph and Jon insist that our purpose is not to offer “service” (meaning they don’t want us to engage in self-righteous attempts to impose western ideals on unsuspecting Southeast Asians), but instead to learn about and learn from a culturally rich society. That’s not to say I won’t try to help the people that surround me, but this internship is not supposed to be a self-serving vehicle used to flaunt a belief that American’s are better than Thai’s, but rather an opportunity to exchange and embrace truth across global frontiers.

I have been promised that if I allow myself to open up to these people and accept their idiosyncrasies I will awaken a deep appreciation for God’s children throughout time and space. Their idiosyncrasies will help to chip away at my narrow definition of reality and shake my ontological foundation. I suspect that by the end of my visit to Thailand I will realize that their “idiosyncrasies” are no more idiosyncratic than the “natural” and “normal” social elements that have characterized my life thus far.

With my social bearings awry I will be forced to reach outside my limited perspective, grapple in an uncomfortable sphere of relativity, and then finally discover a common thread that ties the eastern and western world together. Thank you Sabrina Packard!