Unforgettable Memories in the Land of Smiles

Unforgettable Memories in the Land of Smiles

Fumie Watanabe

Thailand | Medical Service Certification Program 2018

Fumie is working towards a career in Marketing and International Business | Attending University of Hawaii at Manoa

All photos have been provided by Fumie. Read her story below!

I started my 2018 summer on a plane with twelve International Baccalaureate (IB) students, along with two IB advisors. Within the two week duration, I earned Wilderness First Aid (WFA) certification, provided medical check ups for the elderly and children, donated basic utilities for families in need, and took part in the finishing touches of a construction of a new elementary school, a project that previous travelers had started. In spite of the hard work, my two week trip to Thailand was such a fulfilling experience because every person I interacted with was so appreciative of our service.  I have never seen an area where everyone has a smile on their face and every greeting is made with a smile. Thailand is for sure the Land of Smiles because these people who are struggling just to survive always seem to express so much kindness and happiness to foreigners and to each other as well.

We learned through service projects and activities that fully immersed my IB group in Thai and Laotian culture. Starting in Thailand…during the day we spent time at Buddhist temples, learning about the Buddhist religious beliefs of the people and listening to monks speak about their lifestyle. Throughout the day we would learn the Thai language and short common phrases from our local leaders. At night we learned how to cook Thai food from the rice field base chiefs, play Thai instruments from local musicians, and practice Muay Thai from a local Muay Thai fighter.

And then on to Laos…staying in a house that previous group travelers had built was our starting place. Na Som Village was far from the city with limited electricity, where the villagers relied solely on natural resources such as the rice field and fresh water from the mountains. The village Shaman spoke about the Hmong religion and then performed a soul-calling ceremony in response to an illness or disease caused by the separation of the soul from the body. I strongly believe in spirituality and I was lucky enough to get a personal soul-calling ceremony before leaving Laos. And for the entire group, the village and Shaman performed a string-tying ceremony to protect us from evil spirits. I am grateful for the cultural lessons and ceremonies performed for the safety and good health of our group.

I am sorry the pandemic has postponed international travel and projects; I learned so much on my trip to Thailand and Laos. I am more appreciative of the life I have been given. From this trip I have gained wilderness training (WFA) and so much more cultural experience and life lessons that I can talk on and on about.  It truly made me realize that I want to continue gain more experience and knowledge from international service projects.  A new passion has grown inside of me to provide service to the less fortunate, to travel to beautiful rural locations, to learn about different cultures…a passion that allows me to gain both an international perspective and to seek adventure. Nothing could be more beautiful or fulfilling.  I hope to make a change and difference in the world with my cultural perspective and greater appreciation of life experiences.

Learn more about Rustic Pathways programs in Thailand, or view more Alumni Stories here