I graduated high school in 2006, and then I lived in Israel for 9 months as a gap-year program. During my final month in Israel, I was troubled with the idea that, when asked about my trip, my innumerable experiences would be condensed into a few sentences (if not solely, “It was good.”). As the Thailand program was reaching its end, I assumed the same question/answer dilemma would arise upon my return. However, in my couple of weeks of digesting the experience, I have realized some very important principles that I got out of the experience; both from actual lessons provided by our instructor, as well as those from other external/internal foundations. From my review of my own experience, I have been more competent in my response to the aforementioned question.
Perspective: It is difficult for one to see everything from the inside, and Thailand offered me a great opportunity to adjudicate many aspects of my life. I was removed from my usual social connections, time obligations, and familiar sources of comfort as well as sources of anxiety. From this removal, I was able to understand parts of myself in their raw forms; how I deal with situations, levels of impulsivity, how I form and maintain friendships, my path of professionalism, among others. To divulge into this information would be lengthy, but there are a few specific concepts I would like to mention:
Judgment: On the first morning we were all provided a page of reading involving the concept of judging others. This sparked an idea inside of myself that I had not considered in some time, the idea that I need to mentally evolve as a human being and push aside unfair generalizations based on previous experiences and/or the opinions of others. This is much easier said than done, and it will continue to be a struggle. However, I know that I am on the right path of introspection on my immediate impressions of others.
Flavor: I loved the food in Thailand. I am now a much stronger eater when it comes to spicy food. More importantly, I realized how fun it is to be adventurous when in a new location. Trying new things, whether eating things that looked questionable (which was common) to climbing trees, to being beat up by an elephant (which totally happened) is a BLAST!
Don’t take anything personally: This concept was introduced to me directly before the program by one of my best friends from home, Hannah. She read a book called the four agreements and told me about one tenant within the book, “don’t take anything personally.” I figured that was nice and everything, but impossible. As we continued to discuss the concept, I realized how beneficial it would be to be able to listen to others’ opinions, even when presented unprofessionally or hurtfully, and understand that their message is not solely their opinion, but their opinion through the filters of their experience. These experiences could be known or unknown subjects, anything from being in a bad mood that day to having four professional degrees in the area being discussed.
I had a few situations during my time in Thailand in which I was presented with information, whether constructive or non-constructive, that I would have previously recognized as some level of hurtful. Through the course of the program (including a Skype conversation with Hannah in which I discussed the concept directly related to a situation) I was able to become progressively more successful in this concept; I also want to buy the book and learn more of the “agreements.”
“Stop making barriers”: An aspect upon which I would like to improve would be that I create barriers. What this means is that I find problems with a situation, a music therapy application, an experience, etc… that need not be considered as a problem. I am generally not a fan of “making excuses,” and perhaps that is why I make barriers; it’s an internal excuse disguised as an external problem. By not allowing barriers to get in the way of the big picture, I will be able to be a more successful professional, student, and friend.
Now, following my experience in Thailand, how do I answer the question, “How was it?”
“I learned a lot.”
Think about a time in your life that you returned from an experience to an audience of friends, family, etc. that had not been present for the experience itself. How did you answer their questions? If you were to answer the question “How was it” in the most concise yet true-to-experience way possible, what would it have been?