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July 18, 2013

Local Voice From Around the Globe: Keeping Thai while re-entering America

As I’ve begun my American life again, spending time with friends, holding up a job, etc, I’ve been able to stay above the tide of reverse culture shock and the sort of post-exchange despair that is common at this time for exchange students by meditating on some Thai-inspired thoughts. 

Concepts such as how to stay in the present and not the past; how to focus on my own progress rather than someone else’s and how to incorporate some of the virtues of my experience back into my “normal” life here. Those are all applicable to my situation now as a rebound student.

Having arrived back home only recently, there are still things about re-entry that are frustrating to me. The comfort of urban life there was easy to get used to and difficult to leave. Where once food was attainable in a three-minute walk in any direction, I am again residing in a forest where a three-minute walk in any direction will bring only trees and more trees. The comparatively short tempers of American people, too, are a new phenomenon that startles me at times. Whereas Thai people are rarely outwardly frustrated or unpleasant out of fear of disrupting another person’s “inner harmony,” Americans will frequently honk horns, raise voices and be jai ron, hot-hearted, in stressful situations.

That aspect of reverse culture shock makes me reflect on a memorable occasion in Thailand when I was about to learn that lesson in dharma, basic Buddhist principle. I was sitting in the car with my host mother waiting at a stoplight. The light turned green, but the car ahead of us didn’t advance. I suggested to my mother that she should give the horn a little honk to make the person notice. She said, “No, if I honk my horn I’ll pass to that person my own hastiness and ill-will and that is wrong.” This fundamental of Buddhism that I encountered in Thailand is one that I haven’t found in America, and one I’d like to practice while living here.

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