Saturday, June 18, 2011

From Majority to Minority

Hello all! I am Amanda Wiggans from Macon, Missouri, and I just finished my first year as a graduate-equivalency Music Therapy student at the University of Kansas.

This is my first time abroad. The Midwest has always been my home and my comfort zone. I cried in the airport as I left my family and boyfriend for 33 days, but they reassured me that I would have a positive, life-changing experience. We’ve been here a little over 2 weeks, and I can see that is already coming true; mostly in ways I never would have expected.

Thailand has more to offer than I ever imagined. This country is full of exotic animals, trees and flowers; unique and intricately crafted temples, and you can even spend your day laying on beach, basking in the sun only to look across the ocean to see mountains. It is utterly amazing. With all of these rich sights and sounds, it is hard not to find yourself staring. But what do you get when you put 9 sweaty but happy college kids in the middle of this lush, gorgeous scene? The tables turn and for once it’s YOU who is being stared at.

Most of us on this trip have never been part a race-centered minority. Of course we may be different heights and have different color hair, but in America we aren’t necessarily visually unique. That concept completely changed for us as we stepped off the plane in Bangkok. For many of us this is the first time in our life, that we could be identified as the minority. I would never have guessed that a group of light-skinned, Westerners would draw as much attention as we have. No matter where we go, there is constantly someone taking candid photos of us, or recording cell phone videos. At the Emerald Pond in Krabi, one Thai person kindly asked a group of us to actually pose for a picture. At first this was very off-putting to me, and I was somewhat offended, but we all have begun to accept that, yes, this time we are the different ones. I believe we have bonded more closely and quickly as a group because of this powerful lesson.

With this newfound attention come some positive aspects as well. Thailand is known as “the land of smiles”, which cannot be argued. They are very patient with us when we completely butcher their language. They smile and are very grateful that we tried. The Thais are also polite and are forgiving of our loud, Western tendencies and our obtrusive feet placement when sitting down. We are offered any available chairs to sit in and are waited on hand and foot at restaurants. Yesterday, when I boarded a full trolley on campus, almost all of the boys stood up to offer me a space to sit. I was extremely surprised; as this chivalry is something I’m definitely not used to in America.
In conclusion, I have started to realize how much of an impact attention, both negative and positive, can be to a person’s life. Have you ever felt like you stood out in a crowd, with no way to change that? How can you redirect your future thoughts and actions when you see someone who is different than you? How can you be proactive in creating a positive experience?


  1. Amanda, thank you for your post. As I've said when commenting on your colleagues's posts, I'll be coming to Thailand soon, and like you, this is my first trip outside N. America (at almost 48!), and I know I will be a minority in that culture. I'm also a tall and large woman (and my hair will be red, 'cause I like it that way), and I'll just have to deal with being stared at. I often stand out anyway, but this will be different. Redirecting thoughts -- I keep thinking about the students who come to the US from all over the world, and what they face. How everyone and everything is different for them. I hope this experience will help me bring back something special for those students.

  2. I am Amanda's mother, Debbie Wiggans and I know how it feels to be a minority. As a victim of cancer when I was having chemo and lost my hair there were days that I didn't wear a hat or scarf or my wig. People would stare and whisper and at first I was very self conscience but then I decided that I was in the fight for my life and even though people stared, I would just smile and hold my head up. So now when I see someone that is like I was, I stop and ask "how are you doing" and wish them well. That taught me a very valuable lesson; You will always encounter people who are different than you and the best thing to do is remember, "A smile is worth a thousand words!".

  3. Amanda! I can greatly relate to your post! However, I feel like I can say I felt like a minority when I had my dreadlocks. One of the reasons I have my hair back was from the looks I would get from everyone. It is sad to know that a specific look comes with such stereotypes, whether it's race, ethnicity, height, weight, hair color...there seems to always be a preconceived notion about that person. But here, I have noticed the Thai's are more respectful about people’s differences. I never had one Thai come up to me and say something rude about my hair. They instead spoke to me secretively, telling me how much they like my dreadlocks; or little girls would come up to me and reach their arms up to play with them!
    Also, to your comment, I think because some Thai's may not see a mostly white group of kids come through their temple or city, we may be something more than a difference to them, but a unique difference that is very interesting to them that they don’t see every day. It is the same as us walking down through Bangkok and taking pictures of the Tux Tux's or a vendor selling mango's to a local walking down the street.

  4. Amanda- I agree with you on these statements. I would add that being in the minority in Thailand is different than being the minority elsewhere. In Europe, I can blend in if I am quiet and careful, despite differences in language, subtle mannerisms, and fashion. Here we look completely different. It has made me more confident about myself. I might as well be proud of who I am while everyone is watching!

  5. Sarah and Sara - I love your comments! While it was weird to be stared at so much (and I can't say I enjoyed the attention in any way), it didn't bother me nearly as much as being stared at by people in the US does. For some reason, when Thais stared at us it was never unnerving for me, just a little unusual and almost humorous. But if people ever stare at me back home, I feel automatically uncomfortable and self-conscious. I think the difference was definitely that we were interesting - they weren't being rude or judging us, they were just interested!