When I was born in Iowa in 1955, I wonder what the chances were that I would end up living in Bangkok Thailand by age 19. That’s what I love about my life — it has been filled with so many delightful surprises!
But, in fact, there was a direct connection between where I was born and how I ended up in Bangkok. My father completed his PhD at the University of Iowa soon after my birth, and became a botany professor.
Nineteen years later he earned a sabbatical, and decided to spend it in Bangkok working with UNESCO to improve Thai science education. His NSF grant included travel for any of his children under age 20, and that’s how I ended up in Bangkok in December 1974.
My first surprise was when I stepped off the plane and received a fragrant fresh flower lei, and you can just imagine how all that heat and humidity felt after leaving Colorado in mid-winter! The next morning I woke up early and couldn’t wait to go outside and explore.
There I found a tropical paradise filled with gigantic Poinsettia trees, right outside my door! My head was abuzz with this completely different world I had just been dropped into.
The next day we paid a visit to the Grand Palace. That was when I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore — such a transformative trans-cultural experience!
I lived in Bangkok for about three months, learning more everyday about southeast Asian culture. We took a boat ride to the ancient capital of Ayudhya, visited the rural areas of southern Thailand and Chiang Mai in the north. I felt just like a culture sponge, absorbing so many new sights, smells, tastes, and experiences.
I came away from this experience absolutely fascinated with Asia in general, and yet I found it difficult to express to my friends back home how this experience changed me.
I remember being surrounded by college friends at a party that following spring. They were all curious about how being in Thailand had changed me and asking about my trip. The best answer I could come up with was,
“It is SO different there! It’s a bit like going to the moon!”
I returned to college determined to learn everything I could about Asia, because it seemed like an emerging and important force in our future. I guess I got that right! I ended up with a B.A. and M.A. in Asian studies, the ability to speak and write Chinese, and I lived in East Asia off and on for the next 15 years.
I only wish EVERY American could have the opportunity to travel to developing countries in their youth. This trip absolutely changed my life, opening my eyes to so much of the world I was missing by staying in the U.S. I feel certain we could change our world if we all had the chance to experience the full-range of life on earth.