In Part 1 of Sonya's Thailand Internship blog, we learned about her getting accustomed to the Thai culture, first week at her internship, experiences with AIP and much more.
If you missed out on Part 1, be sure to check it out before continuing to read Part 2.
Sonya must have some great stories to tell after being in Thailand for over a month now.
The Beaumont Partnership Foundation (TBP) is amazing to me because the non-profit school is supported by a 3-part self-sustaining platform:
1) Produce grown in the Foundation greenhouses is sold in Bangkok, with all proceeds returning to support the school and Foundation.
2) A hotel next to the school also serves as a facility for students to directly apply their hospitality course training (similar to Cornell's Statler Hotel), with all proceeds benefitting the Foundation and students.
3) A future community business park will invite clean industries to bring jobs to the rural community.
Moreover, the school/ classrooms, greenhouses, and hotel were designed and constructed by TBP's architects and interior designers, so its vision and process is extremely streamlined.
So often in college I have entertained myself with thoughts on how to make microsystems truly self-sustaining (which is much more difficult than it initially appears), but learning about TBP's platform from the CEO himself allowed me to realize the interconnectivity, synergy, and logistics required for sustainable systems to be truly successful.
My co-workers are also amazing. Admittedly, most of us are early to mid-20s, Asian girls, so evolution has essentially dictated that we become friends.
But even though our demographics are the same, our experiences are extremely varied.
One co-worker was an exchange student for 2 years in Washington, while another studied abroad in Canada, and yet another came to Bangkok from Australia 3.5 years ago, because her mom was called upon by the Thai Embassy.
I have my co-workers to thank for almost everything I've learned about Thai culture this past month.
They offer a local's perspective, insight, and humor that I would not be able to glean had I simply come to Thailand for vacation.
My favorite part of the workday is exploring the numerous street food vendors near the office complex with my co-workers, who introduce and explain foods to me with the storied experience of veteran travel vloggers.
In Thailand, the serendipity of discovering great food is half of the experience.
I love being able to experience cultures in perhaps the most non-invasive.
yet universally binding way: food.
Having had extensive travel in East Asia, I immediately found conversation points with co-workers, some of who had visited Taiwan, as well as my boss, who is Thai-Australian.
Indeed, this past month has made me realize first-hand the stark difference between being simply a tourist and being actually well-traveled.
We can visit foreign lands to take pictures with ornate temples or feats of sculptural brilliance, but it is hard, almost impossible, to truly immerse oneself in the life of a local without actually interacting with one.
This was a point I solidified during my first weekend, when I, along with some other interns and co-workers took a road trip to Hua Hin, a beautiful seaside city, and Sam Roi Yot National Park.
Having a local Thai friend drive us around, recommend foods, explain Thai politics, and receive normal prices (not inflated tourist prices) allowed me to understand the way perceptions of cultural identity are shaped.
My friend is ethnically Indian and culturally Thai but is considered Thai because of his cultural upbringing.
This is similar to my own experience as a Taiwanese-American.
I've never been more conscious of--and proud--to be both American and Taiwanese than I am in Bangkok.
On the one hand, being American seems to give me some sort of immediate credibility in the workplace (which I realize is an immense privilege of the Western world), while being Taiwanese binds me to locals who are accustomed to Asian culture.
During our weekend trip to Hua Hin, my boss invited me to her home in the same town, where we had drinks and discussed how to cultivate our life's purpose.
("What you do on Saturday and Sunday--what you really love--is what you should be developing your career around. No other path will be as fulfilling, or will give you as much sense of purpose or passion.")
Those two days were quite arguably some of the best days of my life.
We hiked in Sam Roi Yot National Park to Phraya Nakhon Cave, which houses a beautiful shrine for Thai monks;
Took a boat in the ocean on the way back (we had to take off our shoes and wade in the water to reach the boat);
Visited Khao Takiab ("Monkey Mountain"), a breathtaking Buddhist temple on a mountain surrounded by an open monkey population (one of them ran into the car and took my Clif bar wrapper);
Went swimming at our beachside resort pool (complete with a slide!); visited my boss's house;
And finally finished the day with late dinner at Cicada outdoor market (which reminded me of the Austin food truck scene).
Exhausted from the previous day's activities, we spent the majority of Sunday in the resort pool, and all left with rosy cheeks (sunburns), those self-induced emblems of our experiences, proof of stay for our weekend getaway.
Interestingly enough, transitioning from being a minority in America to a majority in Thailand (Asian) has made me reassess popular thought on racial diversity.
I have not fully realized the privilege that comes with race until I came to Thailand.
It would be inaccurate to say that I do not enjoy looking like most people here, because I know I will not face racial discrimination, and that comfort and safety are for the most part guaranteed.
In this sense, I better understand why people are psychologically ingrained to gravitate toward those who look like them, as well as consider those who do not as "outsiders."
But I also know that diversity is necessary for progress, innovation, and a more vibrant and better life.
Thus, personal experience plus genetic proclivity makes me believe that, if given the option, I would still prefer to be a minority in a more diverse country, than part of the racial majority in a more homogeneous country.
English is the language of the privileged, a product of Westernization.
And being American, especially in foreign countries, is a free pass for a lot of things in life.
As my co-worker put it, "If you speak English, you can travel and work almost anywhere in the world. If you speak Thai, you will only ever speak it in Thailand."
Even though I know I am not personally in control of this fact, I still feel a certain sense of shame.
However, I think the first step is simply recognizing the privileges inherently bound to English, and working diligently to learn as much Thai as I can from my language courses.
It is also interesting to see how fascinated my co-workers are about my Texan origins.
As expected, many locals here assume I am Thai, or an international student, but never American.
To them, I just don't fit into the media's portrayal of Texans as gruff cowboys boasting heavy Southern accents and eating comfort food at every meal (and consequently hugely obese).
Perhaps this speaks to both the racial melting pot that is America as well as the more ethnically homogeneous population in Thailand.
Aside from those I met on the Hua Hin trip, who transitioned from strangers to friends with whom you're comfortable discussing racism within a mere 24 hours, I am good friends with another AIP intern who is at TBP (on the 12th floor of my same office building).
Having one other person with whom to commute every day and explore the areas surrounding subway stations helped me familiarize myself with Bangkok quite naturally and start falling in love with the city within my first month.
As an intern at TBP/ TBP Foundation/ Qube Consulting, I truly feel like I have found my perfect fit.
I love everything about this place--synergy across all three entities, my work/ projects, relationship with boss and co-workers, company mission and values, and company culture.
I jokingly told my parents that I would work here full-time after the first day.
But more realistically, my first month has solidified my interest in Urban Planning and design.
I will take Intro to Sustainable Design at Cornell in the Fall, as well as a City and Regional Planning course on Asian cities in the Spring.
Moreover, I now am seriously considering looking for companies with Asian branches.
I would love to join a US-based company and be sent to an Asian branch (preferably somewhere I can speak Mandarin, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, or Taiwan) for a few years.
While I ultimately want to settle down in the US, I plan on working abroad for several years within the next decade.
Overall, my first month has been filled with events I never would have dreamed possible.
For example, having drinks with not one but two CEOs at their beachside home in a foreign country;
Seeing breathtaking, well-preserved havens of nature and caves the size of entire buildings;
Befriending both Americans and local Thais; as well as learning more about my own identity (Asian-American, female, student) in the context of a new culture.
As Rilke said, the answers will eventually appear to those who are patient, just as fate will organically emerge from within ourselves.
We are products of our environments, yes, (being at an interior design company has taught me that much), but our surroundings can also be the effects of ourselves and our actions.
I happily accept responsibility for all the interwoven forces, stories, uncertainties, and revelations that have led me to where I am right now.
As I keep living life without expectations, I am constantly reminded of how lucky I am to have this experience.
Sonya has already experienced so much during her short time in Thailand.
It seems like she is really making the most of her internship by going to different events, traveling throughout Thailand, and learning about Thai culture.
Be sure to stay tuned for Sonya's third and final blog, where she will wrap up her Thailand internship experiences.
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