Part 3: Back Out Again to Isaan

Guest contribution by Saint Cyr Dimanche

Read the first installments of Saint Cyr’s account, “Part 1: Out of Africa,” and the “Part 2: Into America

V. Study abroad student as global citizen

During my college application, I had no intention of coming to Asia or studying in Thailand. But the CIEE program makes all of this lifelong opportunity possible.

The CIEE Khon Kaen Development & Globalization program in Thailand emphasizes community-based learning, teamwork among participants, and building a sense of solidarity with communities facing various environmental and human rights issues.

At the CIEE Khon Kaen in Khon Kaen Province, with noted Thai scholar and social critic Sulak Sivaraksa

Three things I have learned stand out for me: community, globalization, and a way of being a global citizen.

Our community stays in rural villages reminded me of rural life in Central African Republic (CAR). In Loura kids like me are very clever and creative, playing with just dirt and clay. I witnessed the same things with kids in the villages here. Just like in the life I experienced in CAR, everything here is also based on community. My fellow students and I lived with families, ate all our meals together with the family, and got to know about the issues through their lives. These family were very engaging with us, interacting with us in a very kind, love, and welcoming ways.

In comparison, in the US everything seems very individualistic and you seem to be fighting against yourself, against the time you have, and everything is like a competition in order to succeed rather than achieve something greater as a collective society. In Northeastern Thailand, we are working with communities collectively, a part of advancing forward in society.

Prior to this academic program my understanding of globalization was about the free flow of goods and services between countries. Now, after our learning from and with communities and seeing how certain trends are impacting communities here, I have been able to understand another side of globalization. I learned globalization does not always result in positive outcomes because it has impacted the world both positively and negatively.

In this program, I got a better understanding of how globalization can affect every aspect of life–religion, food, livelihoods, transport, language, music, and clothing. I’ve gained a better understanding of how the spread of globalization and development are affecting Thailand as well as Southeast Asian as well as African countries like the Central African Republic. I have also gained a greater awareness of how issues of human rights and environmental activism are often closely related.

With fellow students from across America whom I’ve got to know through CIEE, we’ve enjoyed meals together in community and travelling together to neighboring Laos.

I was introduced to new ways of learning here. Working with my peers, working closely with the local people and participating in the event happening in the communities, I have discovered how to learn, discovering my own learning style. I’ve learned the importance of learning how to work with other people. The yearning to understand has been crucial–learning through exchanges with communities, NGOs, government officials while being engaging and writing about what we have learned from their experiences.

My best experiences studying abroad in this way are the feeling of connection I have established with the CIEE Khon Kaen staff and the other students on the program. They have helped me to stay engaged and motivated. Studying in the we have about human rights and development issues in the Northeast, the poorest region of Thailand, has also taught me a lot about humans values. The feeling of sharing certain values has helped me feel solidarity with affective communities. All of this has furthered my understanding of the world, my role as a global citizen, and how I can play a role through the skills I have gained from the program.

The entire experience has helped me appreciate life and what I have! I know now that the past and present should not stop the pursuit of tomorrow. Henry David Thoreau said, “wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” Despite all that has happened to me in the past, I wake up happy every day happy, ready to share and enjoy life in this world and to be grateful for people around me.

VI. My hope for the future

Meanwhile, the Central African Republic continues to go from one crisis to the next. CAR has been named as “worst country in the world to be a young person.”

A report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said: “Since December 2013, some 250,000 people too scared to stay in CAR have fled to at least 14 countries in West and Central Africa… Thousands of people continue to escape CAR every week. Those who have fled are often traumatized, malnourished and dehydrated. …Many have walked for weeks and taken refuge in the bush along the way to hide from armed groups. Some have been exposed to atrocities and survived violence. …Many are still hiding in the bush in fear for their lives, surviving on leaves and roots.”

The report says that the majority of those fleeing are “women and children”–children, just like me who, almost ten years ago, fled for my own life.

I appreciate my being born in the Central African Republic. Since I fled, I’ve learned so much about the struggles it has gone through, and continue to go through. As a Politics and International Relations major, I look forward to returning to the CAR one day and contributing some fresh and positive ideas. I want help find way to help stabilize the lives of people there, so that hope can be sustained there for years to come.

Saint Cyr Dimanche studies international relations and political science at Brandeis University. He studied about development and human rights issues in Khon Kaen this past fall.