As our fourth and final unit came to an end, I reflected on the reoccurring themes that stuck out to me over the course of the semester. Education; Self-determination; Sustainability; Globalization as a form of imperialism; and how we as students fit into the bigger picture. After thinking about each of these themes, and discussing them with other students, I found that education was not only an individual, reoccurring theme throughout the units, but related to each of the other themes I identified in one way or another.
For example, I realized that my understanding of sustainable development and globalization, prior to coming to Thailand, was shaped by my western-style education which was based on textbooks, facts and scientific proof. While I recognize that scientific-based knowledge has its strengths, I am disappointed in the public K-12 education system in the U.S., which I feel fails to develop students into adults that are capable of thinking critically. I will always remember the “AH HA” moment I had my freshman year of college when I finally realized that the teachings in textbooks are not indisputable facts, but information gathered by human beings that inevitably reflects current and historical opinions and perspectives. The thoughts and perspectives that students develop are therefore largely reflective of the thoughts and perspectives of their culture, and the values and norms that their education system promulgates.
Prior, to coming to Thailand I struggled with my opinion of globalization. Is it a good thing, is it a bad thing, or are there both positive and negative aspects to globalization? As a student studying business and economics I was mainly exposed to the benefits of globalization, as seen from a Western perspective, and taught through lectures, case studies, readings and projects in the United States. My education in Thailand, which has been based on experiential learning and observations, therefore, provides me with a great opportunity to compare what I have learned about globalization from books and college courses, to what I have learned through observations and experiences living and working with rural communities in Thailand.
Reflecting on the two different types of learning, I feel that my Western education provided me with a background on some of the arguments for and against globalization; however, only through experiential learning was I able to form my own opinion on globalization as I experienced firsthand the affects it can have on people, culture, and the environment. It is amazing to me how my ideas have progressed and developed so rapidly over the past three months, while engaging in experiential learning. I have never felt so mentally stimulated, inspired or connected to the issues that I am studying, and the potential I see in experiential education is exciting.
One of the concerns, however, recently expressed by our Thailand student group is how we share what we learned here in Thailand with our friends, family, teachers and peers back home, so that they are not only more socially aware, but are passionate about supporting social justice causes in some way. I am the first to admit that this is something I have struggled with every time I have returned home from a study abroad experience in a developing country, and I found it very hard to live around people, who I felt, were completely unaware of how unjust the world is. I now realize that without personal experiences to connect to difficult issues, such as poverty, human rights violations and environmental degradation, it is hard to know what to make of, or how to relate to, issues discussed in books, newspapers, classrooms and newscasts.
What then, would it mean for our education system to focus more on experiential learning? What if more high school students had the opportunity to live, work and learn in a poor region of the United States or a lesser developed country? Would we be a more socially aware society? Would it be harder to go back to the out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality that I know I fall into when living in the United States? Would our eyes be more open to the social injustices in our own backyards?