Thursday, June 30, 2011

More than Just a Term in Our Textbooks

My name is Kim Davidson and I’m going into my senior year at KU. My first semester of practicum, I had sessions with a 17 year old with Autism in his home. His mother and younger siblings were always around but I usually only saw them when I arrived and when I left. In my second semester, I was at the Douglas County Jail so it was all inmates all the time. In every one of my music therapy classes, we’ve talked about family-centered care and I have read about it countless times. However, until I came to Thailand, I had never truly put the concept into practice.

While I like to think that many people in the United States are still very family oriented, an average Thai family system could put the most family-focused of Americans to shame. In each of our practicum sites here in Thailand, every single patient we’ve seen has been accompanied by at least one, and often multiple, family members. This is true of the hospital, of the adult day care center, and of the physical therapy clinics. And it isn’t the “I had to drive them here so I’ll just stay until they’re done” mentality. The family members are in the treatment room or day care room with their loved one, always by their side and assisting in whatever way they can.

This cultural aspect is truly amazing, but for me as a student music therapist, it was rather intimidating at first. In addition to the somewhat improvisational aspect of figuring out how to include the one, two or three family members present into each application, the extra pair(s) of eyes were nerve-racking. Our supervisors, professors, and peers watch us in sessions all the time and we can expect feedback and constructive criticism from them but these new eyes were not professional – they were personal. It was their child, grandchild, sibling, parent, or spouse who I was working with and the desire to meet or surpass goals and to demonstrate the effectiveness of our chosen profession seemed to multiply infinitely. This pressure was self-inflicted (the Thai family members are unbelievably gracious and appreciative), but it was real, and for me at least, it was distracting.

In my first couple sessions with children here, I worried that parents might not be comfortable with me using hand over hand techniques with their children to assist in arm extensions. I found myself wondering if mom and grandma thought what I was doing was working or if they had already pegged me or even worse, my chosen profession, as ineffective. When I observed at the adult day care, I watched the caretakers and wondered similar things. Did they understand the goals and far-reaching benefits of the session or did they see an hour break in the day with some singing and instrument playing? Did they wish that these loud Westerners would get out of their parent’s personal space and take their noisy maracas with them?

It wasn’t until several days in that I realized how self-involved all of my thoughts and concerns were. It wasn’t until several days in that, through baptism by fire, I began to scratch at the surface of an understanding of family-centered care and it’s incredible importance. It had nothing to do with me or my comfort level, for what did my temporary feelings matter in the grand scheme of the treatment of this precious little child with cerebral palsy? I needed to make the caregiver an essential part of the session because it was their comfort with the treatment and their rapport with their loved one that was so important.

Every human has a need to be included and to contribute; when could that need be greater than when someone you love is in pain or needs treatment? They want to contribute to their loved one’s care and we, as music therapists, need to provide that opportunity. Plus, the chance that a family member will replicate techniques used in a music therapy session at home is so much higher if they are actively involved in the applications.

Was there a moment in your work as a MT (or SMT) when the concept of family-centered care became more than a term in your books and lectures? When you really began to grasp the scope and importance of it?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Laughing is the Best Medecine

Hello readers, I sadly only have two weeks left here in lovely Thailand, but am taking the time to enjoy each and every day. Tomorrow will bring a different experience for me than yesterday has, however, each day consists of a good laugh. Why is laughing so powerful? Laughing, from the internet’s, The Free Dictionary by Farlex says laughing is, “to feel a triumphant or exultant sense of well-being”. To me, laughing is a universal medicine, similar to music as a universal principle across the world. Most people around the world can enjoy music, understand music, and participate in music. Likewise, laughing is the universal reaction of happiness and pleasure; it can arise from a joke, a silly mistake, or even a simple smile. I can easily say Thailand, also known as “the land of smiles,” has brought me more laughter each and every day.
About a week or so ago, I caught the laughing bug, one of the great “diseases” you can apparently catch here in Thailand. I used to have this bug years ago, but it seemed to have crawled out of my body only to re-appear after a long hike up a 1,237 stair mountain to a sitting Buddha. When reaching the top, I sat on a rock, overlooking the cities, oceans, trees, mountains, and people below me. I could hear roosters “cocka dooda doo’ling,” dogs barking, and Thai’s playing their traditional Thai music all the way down the mountain. I sat there, in awe of the sight I was seeing; I then closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and meditated. I sat there on the rock at the top of the mountain next to the sitting Buddha image, and concentrated on forgiveness. I forgave those who have hurt me, as well as forgiving myself for those I have hurt. After many, many breaths, I opened my eyes and looked at the sight I saw previously but it looked somewhat different; everything was further down, blurry, and new. I took another deep breath, taking in the new and powerful sight. I smiled, and then walked back down the mountain.
Later that night at dinner, I had strange feelings all throughout my body. I felt somewhat uncomfortable, like I had just experienced something too powerful for me to handle. Amanda, one of my good friends on this trip, looked at me and asked if I had bug spray in my eye because my eyes were apparently red. I couldn’t hold it in anymore, I just let out the tears. I excused myself to the bathroom and continued crying, however the crying didn’t really stop altogether, it just turned into something else. I came back to the dinner table and the waitress served our dinner. Kim (who was sitting next to me) and I grabbed some chicken soup to put on our rice. Looking at the chicken, with its skin still attached, Kim and I both lost it; we just started laughing. My crying from before had turned over to laughter, however this laughter didn’t stop. I don’t know if there was something in the air that afternoon at the top of the mountain, or if it was the amount of water I had lost from my body during that sweaty trek, but something had triggered a button, letting the laughing bug enter my body. It must have entered for a reason, because I can honestly say I have not been this happy in a long time, and I can truly say laughing has been my medicine.
Additionally, this bug still hasn’t left me, almost a week and a half later now; it just spreads from one being to another. No matter where I am, walking down the street with Daniel who is being sarcastic, buying angry bird earrings with Amanda, or playing telephone at a group dinner in a Chinese restaurant, there is always laughter brightening the mood and spreading smiles across faces I may have never known before.
Alternatively however, laughter can be used for feeling nervous, scared, or even of pain. I have noticed while being here the Thai’s may laugh not only because something is funny, but because they feel uneasy in a conversation. When I was at the umbrella factory with our group on a weekend trip in Chiang Mai, I asked the artist to paint a Buddha image on my shirt. He just laughed at my question, not because he thought it was a funny question, but because he didn’t have enough time to paint such a detailed piece and didn’t know how to communicate that to me. I felt at the time however a little uneasy like I was asking for something ridiculous. But I just had to realize the language and cultural barrier and the way nerves take over people sometimes. It has just been something for me to get used to and realize people laugh not only when they are happy. For instance, I know I sometimes laugh when I am in pain; I feel like laughing may mentally make the injury less painful and I don’t always like to show others that I am in pain.
How has laughing impacted your life here in Thailand; or for other readers, in your lives in general? Is it as powerful of an impact on your life as it is for me? And do you think it truly is the best medicine?

Working Together with Flexibility

In my last blog I wrote about community. Now the sense of community I have found is being put to the test by working with other students in a clinical setting.

I am used to having partners in practicum at school. We planned and practiced together, implemented the session together, and processed together with our supervisor. Everything at school was structured and done on a regimented time schedule. I quickly was comfortable working in this way, even though it did not always seem realistic. It was easy to compartmentalize populations I was working with. For instance, each semester I would focus on a different population, such as children with autism. The population would change every semester, and I could shift my lens of focus from one area of music therapy to another. 

In Thailand, things are different for us as students for several reasons. Culturally, time is different here. People in Thailand do not worry about being on time as much as in the United States. Therefore, our practicum sessions are not strictly sixty minutes each. They vary upon the weather, the clients’ energy levels, and whether or not they have arrived The people we see are not always in a uniform population or age range. Yesterday I saw kids with cerebral palsy, visual impairments, developmental delays, or a combination of these diagnoses. Sometimes I am not even aware of the diagnosis of a particular client I am observing or working with. For the group I observed at the hospital, the clients were expected to be older adults, but when we arrived there were more young adults. We can expect nothing to be what is expected, whether it be time or population.

I think both of my different clinical experiences in the United States and in Thailand have been valuable learning opportunities for me. I learned basic clinical skills that included using music therapy techniques with clients and working with colleagues. My experience in Thailand has built upon the skills I already have from the United States, especially in flexibility. The time and client fluctuations have been more of a challenge for me. Sometimes the session plan will not be entirely appropriate for the clients who are there. Sometimes the session does not start and end or last as long as expected. Adding to this challenge, I am working in cooperation with other music therapy students. Since we work as a team, no one person can make all of the decisions. If I think another music therapy technique would be better for a client, it is up to me to communicate with my team members to make that change. On the other hand, sometimes I have to gauge whether I am taking too much of a leadership role. It is important to step back and give my peers a chance to take initiative as well. Working in these situations really gives me practice in flexibility and balance of leadership roles.

I think that the clinical experience I am receiving in Thailand is giving me a realistic view of what music therapy looks like outside of the academic setting. The United States will have the same time and client fluctuations in the workplace. I will have new colleagues to work with; I know I will never treat a client without working with other colleagues in some way. Working and observing on this trip is preparing me for the realities I will face in my internship next year and in my future career as a music therapist.

I am interested to know what similar challenges you have faced.

A group of puppeteers we saw at King Power in Bankok working together fluidly to create beautiful results. I think they have the potential to be great music therapists!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hole in the Space-Time Continuum

Sawadee Ka., All blog readers! In case you missed the initial introduction, I am Melissa Hill and I am a senior studying music therapy and music education at the University of Kansas.

Today I would like to write to you about something that I have been thinking about since I was flying over the ocean and that has been constantly reinforced since my first day in "the land of smiles". Time does not pass in this country and like it does in our own. Perhaps this difference is part of the study abroad experience itself-which entails a constant group fluctuation between feelings thrill and exhaustion-or perhaps the culture in Thailand simply moves at a different speed than what I know.

Time is supposed to fly when you are having fun. Well .... I'm certain that I am having the most fun that I can remember and yet time, in my opinion, is moving at a snail's pace. This is not a bad thing! I want to soak up every minute in this country. I constantly feel that I do more than I ever remember doing in a day but that there is too much to capture on camera, too much to take in with one pair of eyes, and too much for merely a month of being here. Clearly I am experiencing an interesting dichotomy that is difficult to explain but seems to be a shared feeling among the group; time is passing both too quickly and so slowly that a day can feel like a week when the pillow and blankets are in sight.

One of the possible factors that may be causing the sensation of time passing more slowly is a cultural phenomenon that I have noticed in this country: Thai people seem to move slower than Americans in daily life. Street traffic may move lightning fast, but walkers do not. A great amount of time seems to be spent eating with one another or simply in the presence of one another, engaging in relaxed conversation. Thai people have a sense of calmness about them. This seems to stem from cultural values ​​including the common, versatile expression mai bpen rai (which essentially means "no worries"), the Buddhist principles and practices of peace and meditation, and also to the Thai cultural value of "keeping face-. . which means. that conversations are never to become heated in public and everything is done or decided in a light-hearted, joking manner (including bargaining with vendors). Even their speech, which includes drawn out words and gracefully slow hand gestures (the. ". wai" which is used as a polite or respectful gesture while saying "Hello" or "Thank You"), seems slower at times. When I am surrounded by Thai people, I realize that Americans are both loud and constantly pushing time-. which are. not necessarily things that I feel proud of while living in this country as a farang (foreigner, Westerner).

While the crowds in Amphawa bustle in and out of shops lining the river, these Thais cook delicious-smelling food and patiently wait for hungry customers. These merchants are preserving an ancient Thai tradition - the "floating market". The boats on this river move in a slow, peaceful manner through the canals.

On the other hand, certain things seem to move quickly since my departure from Kansas. As previously mentioned, traffic moves terrifyingly fast and any shopping experience has been quite the rush. Mall vendors are quick to pounce with offers and are quick to come back with "you make a deal?". If you politely decline. I broke out in a sweat on my first experience in a shopping mall in Bangkok! Yet this seems to encompass merely a small part of the Thai culture. I would venture to say that this mall experience is more related to the tourist culture-which is what the most exhausting parts of our trips have encompassed. On our touring days, we typically see enough sites in a single day that most of us flip through our cameras at the end and say "Oh, I forgot we did that earlier today!". I am always amazed by how many Facebook pictures I see. of myself wearing the same day's outfit:). We move quickly between destinations, but we see many beautiful things in a single day that would each be worth a full day's excursion in America.

For my 21st birthday, we went to the roof of a hotel to see the whole city of Bangkok. The large, bustling city below us was quite a site to behold. Life in this city certainly moves at a faster tempo than life in the Amphawa floating market above. This is of the many dichotomies we have experienced here.

Perhaps the sensation of peace and stillness in my life, caused my many factors such a balance of work / play and the beauty of my surroundings, is factor supporting my feeling that time is moving slowly. Maybe time in America seems to move more quickly because the culture generally moves quickly as a whole. How do you feel about the need for speed and a fast-paced life in America? Have you ever felt that time was moving both quickly and slowly?

Monday, June 20, 2011

If You're Happy and You Know It....


It’s a phrase we hear often, for many different reasons. We smile for pictures, we smile to put on a good face when we may be feeling down, we smile when we meet someone to be polite, but how often do we genuinely smile? I’m talking about a big ol’ ear to ear grin that makes your face sore and makes you feel excited to the pointing of bursting. Now THAT is something that doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, wow is it powerful! We don’t often dwell on the incredible power just a single sincere smile holds, not to mention how contagious it is.

My friends tell me I’m a naturally bubbly person, so I feel like I smile quite a bit and get smiles in return, but the other day I saw a smile so unlike any other that I’ve seen in quite a while, and that smile was both a gift to me and it’s wearer. So you’re wondering, who smiled so big that I cared to write about it? One of our music therapy clients, a little Thai boy with cerebral palsy.

Here’s the situation: we, meaning the music therapy team, walked into the kids’ room at the physical therapy clinic on campus and there were four kids spread around the room, each working individually with a parent and physical therapist. The PTs were working with one boy in particular trying to get him to use his arms and build up muscle tone. He was mostly compliant, but it was requiring many prompts from the therapist and much assistance from his mother. So it was going fine, but that was exactly it, just fine and nothing more.

Then we brought over the instruments.

What an instant change! When we played a drum or egg shaker, all of a sudden this boy’s face lit up and he did not stop grinning the rest of the session! Not only that, but when we used the drum to encourage him to reach out his arms he exercised faster and longer than before, and both his mom and the PT were extremely grateful.

I had never worked with children with CP before, but I could tell how much he appreciated the music and I was so touched by his smile I think it made me almost as giddy as he was. It also got me thinking about how much you can communicate through a smile with no words or extraneous factors to damper the pure simplicity of the moment. I felt so joyful for that boy during that session just seeing his excitement in having a new meaning to add to his normally mundane exercise routine.

During music therapy sessions I am always conscious of my facial expressions toward my clients and I definitely see my expressions reflected back through them. With all my past experiences and this new one combined, I’ve realized how important it is to keep a positive affect during sessions in order to create a welcoming environment for the clients. I can see that people here with disabilities are often ignored because of the general population’s lack of knowledge, and therefore discomfort with them. So for them, even a simple acknowledgement adds to their self-esteem, and a genuine smile may be so rare that it makes a world of difference to them. We as therapists should take special note to give a real smile to all of our clients, and in doing so I think we will witness encouraging responses.

Our clients’ smiles (or lack thereof) are a valuable gage of how they are feeling during a session and whether or not a particular application is working for our goal. Of course some strenuous exercises may still be necessary, but I think there are more times than we realize that a client will convey to us how much they are gaining from a certain experience through their smile. I believe that when any person is given the correct tools they can express themselves freely. (In this case it would be a music experience tailored to their needs which could include singing, playing, movement, and more.) Just as the song says, “If you’re happy and you know it then your face will surely show it!” Then, we as therapists can create a meaningful experience for them not only by the intervention but also by being present with them.

There is so much experimental learning and so many individual differences in our experiences here that I wouldn’t expect this to happen every session without putting in the work to do quality music therapy, but it is so special when it does happen. It’s also not all fun and games; sometimes our work is to help clients process through negative emotions and experiences to reach a more positive state of mind (but that’s just not what my blog’s about right now). So when people ask me what music therapy is, I can give all the clinical research and scientific details, but in general I strive to help people along the path of healing and wholeness as a person, whether that be emotional, physical, mental, or spiritual. So am I a music therapist to make people happy? On one hand, yes you could say that. On the other hand, no there’s more to it than that. Of course I love to brighten someone’s mood, but a music therapist will always aim to improve overall quality of life and help people reach their full potential. But sharing their joy in making accomplishments makes me smile.

So, how can you consciously smile more at others and to watch others’ eyes and facial expressions more closely to learn what exactly they are trying to communicate?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Life Around the Globe

Hello everyone, I have now been here a total of 33 days and I must say I feel like I am learning a lot, not only about Thailand and music therapy, but I am also learning and observing Thai lifestyles. I have noticed some great aspects about the life of a Thai, and have tried to incorporate some of those ideals into my life too.
A typical day for most of us readers would most likely consist of a routine schedule focusing on time. Week days may be planned out minute by minute: wake up at a certain time, eat breakfast from 8-9, get ready for class, go to class from 10:00 to 12:00, have lunch for an hour, class from 2:00 to 3:00, break, class again from 4:00 to 5:00, work out from 5:30 to 6:00 , shower, have dinner, and socialize with friends from 6:30 to 8:00 , do homework from 8:00 to 11:00, read a book or meditate for 30 minutes or so, then go to sleep. If one is late to that first scheduled event, they may be thrown off the rest of that day. This may bring one stress, which could affect their school work, bodies, mental health, and even relationships.
Furthermore, there may be a feeling of stress if a schedule changes. For example, a person’s stress level may rise if a schedule has been interrupted and time is now a worry which could ultimately change a person’s energy level. Energy can dissipate through relationships, jobs, stress, lack of sleep, lack of proper physical and mental activity, as well as lack of proper nutrition. I believe people may focus their energy too much on stress through their daily schedules, judgments, as well as worry about their past and future rather than what their body is telling them regarding their personal needs. They must think about the amount of sleep they need in order to expel all this energy, or the amount of food they need to regain themselves. It is almost sad in a way, to think life for an American “has” to be focused around these aspects of time and money, when in reality there is so much more to life.
Here in Thailand, there may also be scheduled classes, jobs, and eating and sleeping schedules; however, from what I have observed, this is not the main interest. For example, today our class time was scheduled at 1 pm. Due to heavy down town traffic, our professor was late. There were no students complaining, or watching their watches; the students patiently talked amongst themselves and waited for the professor to arrive. In my school back at home however, Montana State University, we have a time limit for if the professor does not show up in ten minutes, we are allowed to get up and leave.
Here in the “land of smiles,” I personally believe, people handle their energy and stress levels wisely. From observing some lifestyles, which is very Buddhist influenced, people are very good at noticing things without a label. I have noticed when plans go wrong, if there is a buildup of traffic for example, no one will honk at each other to hurry up. Everyone is patient; I haven’t noticed any road rage, or impoliteness towards others. Why waste energy honking and getting mad at the other drivers if everyone is stuck in traffic together and no one can really go anywhere? I believe this may come from their culture: the Thai’s don’t express much emotion when they are excited or angry. This I believe is a wonderful trait to have when a person is angry, by not becoming more stressed about the situation, just trying to let it go. However, this also to me is somewhat of a bad trait to have in respects to letting out emotions: such as showing a great amount of happiness from winning a competition, for example; I think it is necessary to congratulate yourself when you have accomplished something so special to you
I think we all can take in many lessons from developing Thailand. Even though Thailand may be a developing country, I believe I can take many life lessons from here like living in the moment instead of worrying about time. I am learning how to be more patient, forgiving, and non judgmental. I am trying to live more in the moment, accept everything for what it’s worth, and appreciate what happens even if it is not as planned.
I would like to know how you have grown as a person from being here in Thailand, and what you will take back with you and try to incorporate into your daily lives.

The picture I uploaded is of my roommate Sara and I receiving a blessing from a Monk, experiencing the Thai Buddhist traditions!!

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?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Turning the Corner

Hello, my name is Rianne Matthews and I am a music therapy student from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. I am most interested in working in neurologic rehabilitation with patients who are recovering from stroke, who have experienced traumatic brain injury, or who have been diagnosed with neurologic diseases such as Parkinson’s and MS.

The past few days, we have all been thrown headfirst into clinical music therapy sessions where we’ve had to work through group-planning, finding appropriate songs and materials, battling a language barrier, and thinking on our feet. This much alone is tiring; add this to the fact that many of us have differing views on some aspects of music therapy and it becomes exhausting. Although it sounds as though many of our professors back home try to get us to think for ourselves whenever possible and although Dr. Dena has been encouraging us to spend more time on the “dance floor” and less on the “balcony”, I think that many of us are used to much more comfort and a little bit of hand-holding in our clinical experience thus far. (Keep in mind that I can speak reliably only for myself. This may not match the views of the entire group.)

Yesterday, however, we started to hit our stride more than in the past. As Dr. Dena put it, we “turned a corner”. For many of us, we are used to thinking about the things we need individually. What is it that I am leading? What is it that I am comfortable with? How am I going to get the hours or experience that I need? I know on my part I was so concerned about how I was presenting myself professionally to my peers that I often forgot to dig in and get up close with clients, which is one of the things I love most about music therapy in the first place.

I’m not certain what changed specifically. Perhaps it was the size of the group (smaller than the ones we’ve worked with thus far) or perhaps we were more comfortable after being in clinical sites for a few days, or perhaps it was something in the air. Whatever the cause was, the team of us seemed to buckle down and work as a single functioning unit that focused on the needs and reactions of the clients. Transitions were smooth, instruments and tools were wordlessly passed, and we all stepped in where necessary. We had bright faces rather than fearful ones and stepped forward to interact individually with clients in whatever ways possible, often without words and letting eye contact and music to do all of our communicating for us.

Our reward for this new mindset? Smiles from both clients and treatment staff and joyful voices throughout the group. We had a number of clients who could not wait to sing and were so eager to join us that they set aside the tasks they were doing at the time. We were informed by Karn, one of the music therapists Dr. Dena works with at Mahidol, that one client had demonstrated very little movement or engagement in previous music therapy sessions; this time, he was alert and participating the entire time. Hearing that we make a huge difference, even if it is only for a short time, is incredibly gratifying and like manna to the hungry of heart.

Are there any strategies you use for putting your needs aside for the needs of the group? What results do you find?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Climb

Hello all readers! I'm Melissa Hill and I am a senior studying music therapy and music education at the University of Kansas. I am from Derby, Kansas (the only KU student native to Kansas on the trip) and have never been out of the country until now.

Before reading this story, one of the first things that you should know about me is that I have exercise-induced asthma, or something similar, and I was quite nervous about this part of the trip. I don't define this to be a large part of who I am, but I now define my ability to conquer this fear and push through the journey below as one of most monumental moments of my life, considering the difficulty and the sheer beauty I found awaiting at the end of the climb.

This Thursday we were traveling to the southern province of Krabi, taking many stops along the way-one of which was the Tiger Cave Temple, otherwise known as Wat Tham Sua. We first entered a natural cave below the mountain in which we found monks, statues of tigers, and images of Buddha amidst the natural beauty. The temple complex also includes a 1,237-step climb up a limestone staircase to see the "footprint of Buddha" and what our guide accurately described as a 360-degree view of the countryside. We were warned about the difficulty of this climb, but we had little warning as to when this climb would occur. No time could have helped us prepare for this journey (without extensive exercise). Our tour guide jokingly took a picture of us as a "before" picture.

The first steps up the mountain weren't so bad-they were relatively standard-sized stairs with nice hand rails. Stairs were divided into units of 20-50 on average with a small, triangular platform in-between to take a break and to follow the curve of the mountain (we were slowly winding up the mountain in a zigzag pattern, unlike the typical movie version where the stairs lead straight up to the bearded man sitting on top). The first 100 stairs were no big deal, but the climb became exponentially more difficult as altitude increased. My thighs began to burn, my heart was beating like I was sprinting, and then my lungs began to feel the work that my body was doing. My roommate and friend, Kim, was obviously concerned about my breathing and I asked her to help me slow my breathing to a normal rate so I could keep climbing. To be honest and frank, I remember constantly thinking about the number of sweat glands that I had no idea I possessed. I felt like every toxin in my body was leaving! [Note: these are my personal feelings along the journey, but others may not have had a similar experience. Each of us that climbed the mountain seemed to have a unique personal journey that meant something different to each of us and varied in difficulty] . Despite any physical constrictions, each stop that we made between staircases was well worth the journey-the view was increasingly. more beautiful and vast. The last 100 steps were probably the hardest; I remember telling Kim (who stayed beside me like a trooper through the whole climb) that I was going to need to "climb on my hands and knees like a monkey" to make it up to the top. It made sence at the time we really did see many wild monkeys at the Tiger Cave temple complex!

At last, we made it to the top of the mountain. Kim and I looked out upon the countryside and gasped in unison-the view was unbelievable. After a few minutes to catch our breath, we explored the Buddha images and tried to soak in the view from every angle. Some meditated and others simply stood in stunned silence. Much to our surprise, we found life on the mountain. A dog had somehow made her way to the top, who we appropriately dubbed Summit. My lungs felt amazingly spacious after such a work-out and we were all filled with adrenaline and renewed energy for the way down-which was a breeze (even though our legs were shaking like Jello).
Have you ever been on a similar journey that taxed your body in a way that you never knew was possible? How did the journey make you feel?

Here is a video of one of the pit-stops up the mountain. I look extremely tired! :P

View from the top coming soon...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Something in the Water?

My name is Kim Davidson and I’m from Austin, Texas. I am going into my senior year in music therapy at the University of Kansas.

I was a relatively shy child and, in adulthood, I still consider myself to be somewhat quiet. I have considered myself more of a wallflower than a centerpiece, which has never bothered me in the slightest. However, in this country, I consistently feel loud and intrusive. The places we visit are sacred and beautiful, and while the Thais worship and observe in silence, we have a tour guide who is always explaining while we ask questions. I feel like a bleach stain on an ancient fabric woven with threads of history, spirituality, and tradition. It sometimes seems as if I am ruining something precious and delicate, something that I do not quite understand but I know is more valued than I can fathom.

Despite these feelings, the Thais simply smile at us Americans; a group that varies from a few straggling college students to a complete mass of twelve, a number that is essentially impossible to keep hushed and composed. They show no frustration or anger at us, even when we mess up and forget to take our shoes off, accidentally point our feet at the Buddha, or lean against ancient paintings that we are forbidden to touch. They are so forgiving and understanding and they love that we are there to experience their history and culture, even if we do so in a way that is sometimes uncouth. I have come to see that this is the Thai way. They live with little anger and do their best to avoid stress and frustration. In general, Thais simply seem to speak more softly, move more delicately, laugh more quietly, and live with a level of serenity that is difficult to find in America.

This Thai lifestyle comes in quite a dichotomous manner. Regardless of the time of day or night, the streets of Bangkok are inevitably bustling. Cars, buses, and mopeds are weaving in and out of traffic giving little regard to speed limits, turn signals, or lanes. Street vendors sit cart to cart on almost every skinny sidewalk so that many smells and verbal advertisements assault your senses. Nine million people bustle through the city and as a dozen tuk-tuk drivers yell, “20 baht, take you anywhere,” you wonder how the people of this exhilarating nation can retain such relaxed lifestyles. And yet, their “mai bpen rai” philosophy, which essentially translates to a Hakuna Matata-esque “no worries” attitude, permeates through all the aspects of everyday Thai life.

One can even find this in the stray dogs that, despite lacking a true home and consistent owner, are calmer than the average dog back home. Though some of them look a little worse for wear, they are usually taken care of, given food and water by the community. Similarly, children are watched over by a network of caregivers: the whole family structure, all the employees of a shop, basically any one who knows the child. It boils down to community. There is a sense of dependence on one another that we do not find in our nation. Is it out of necessity? Perhaps. We don’t typically need a taxi driver or a moped carpool system to get us to work or school. Many Thais choose not to cook for various reasons (they often do not own ovens or stovetops), so they depend on street vendors for their family’s dinner. Thais intersect with others more frequently than we need to in America, and it makes for many interesting cultural differences.

So the Thai calmness, the “mai bpen rai.” Is it the result of an interdependent culture, so different from our independent American one? Is it a product of spirituality, perhaps the Buddhist principles that most Thais live by? Does it come as a byproduct of living on such beautiful tropical land, surrounded by the greenest foliage at every turn? Is it a combination? Maybe something in the water that the foreigners or “farang” are discouraged from drinking?

Where does the Thai calmness originate? I honestly do not know, but I like it and as the inhabitants of the “Land of Smiles” would say, “mai bpen rai.” No worries, it’s okay.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Water Wonders

I'm Brighton, a senior music therapy major at Colorado State University. I’m also pursuing a performance certificate for cello and I’m hoping to be able to use both these skills in life to help others and share my passion of music!

I think I’ve been wet more in my first week in Thailand than the whole past semester in Colorado. Humidity, swimming, the ocean, rain, boat trips….in short, water is a big deal here! It’s been interesting to discover cultural differences between then U.S. and Thailand, such as how to greet people, how to use a fork and spoon, sitting vs. squat toilets, religious beliefs, and moral foundations. My new item on the list is water. Yep that’s right, good old refreshing wet stuff. Even how water is integrated into the cultural makeup of an area differs between our countries. I’ve noticed how important the water is to Thai culture during our tropical excursions.

Canals run all around and through the Bangkok area. I was highly amused at first how neighborhood blocks are built on the river just like our American neighborhoods are built along streets. Stairs lead straight from backyards into the water! Seems to be a popular place for kids to congregate and have diving contests. Aside from play, though, I noticed other people using the river to wash their laundry and dishes, squatting on the steps for balance and leaning carefully over the water. Quite a strange concept to me, having the big river out back as your main source of running water.

In other places, especially coastal and low-lying areas, buildings stand on stilts in order to survive the flooding seasons. At first I wondered why even bother building so close to the shore, but then I learned how important fishing is to business, and the nearer you are to the water means fresher seafood! Fishing, crabbing, squiding (yes, I did just make that a verb) make up most of the local business, especially down here in Krabi, in the southern islands of Thailand.

Speaking of which, Krabi now takes title of my new favorite place and I’ll try not to give Dr. Dena too hard of a time for making me leave tomorrow….but why do I love it so much? The water! Down here the water serves a very different purpose, however: tourism. Speedboats work vigorously to transport tourists between the lush islands, and at each stop there is a different activity. All in one day, we swam, rode waves, fed fish out of our hands, snorkeled, and explored a cave. And….all revolving around the water of course! (Which if I didn’t make clear before, was absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous!)

All this talk of water making you thirsty yet? I know I am! Which is my last point I’ll make about water…the tap water here is not safe for foreigners to drink, and clean water in general is more difficult to come by than in the U.S. Having to scout out bottled water and not having the luxury of filling up a glass from the tap whenever I need has definitely made me think twice about how precious it is, and how much more thankful I now am to live in America! We certainly have it easy in comparison. It seems Thai people have needed much less convincing than me of the value of water, and that’s precisely why it’s had a long standing, or waving (bad pun, I know – I couldn’t resist) history in their culture. Gotta love the H2O!

What other things do you think we take so readily for granted that may not be the case in other areas around the world?

Finding Community (June 9, 2011)

            I came into this program not knowing anyone else in the group. In fact, no one else is even from the east coast. I attend Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina and call LaGrange, Georgia my home. Thankfully, we all have in common a desire to learn more about music therapy. And now, the seventh day of travel, I feel like I have found a community with the strangers of last week.

            After nearly missing the plane in San Francisco, my seat neighbor suggested I make a sign that said, “Got Music Therapy?” and walk up and down the aisles of the airplane to try to find my group. That is how I found Brighton, Rianne, and Daniel above the Pacific Ocean. In Tokyo-Narita I met most everyone else and we talked a little about music therapy and ourselves.

            In our group, similarities are exciting to me as well as differences. Similarities that bind our group community together are music therapy, love of travel, openness to learning and new experiences, and general age of the students. I also share an interest in yoga with a few in the group, especially my roommate Sarah, and we do yoga every morning.

Along with all of these similarities, differences make our group unique and diverse. The first obvious difference for me was location and geographical background. I am the only person in the group currently from the east coast, yet I am not the only person who is from a different place. Everyone from the University of Kansas calls a different state home. Brighton and Rianne hail from Colorado and Sarah represents Michigan and Montana. This geographically diverse group also shares differences in educational training. Rianne and Brighton come from a school with a Neurological Music Therapy perspective. Sarah is in school for physical therapy. Everyone has different teachers and influences in their education process. Geography and education do not even cover differences in taste and preference for music, movies, and food. Each difference is positive for me because they are interesting and they allow me to expand my knowledge.

The most magical part of this community is our commonality in our journey to Thailand. Look at us from a therapeutic slant, and you might say during this first week we are building rapport. I think the rapport is being built so fast because we are in this strange experience together. It is rather like being on a different planet. We do not know the language, nor do we know the food, let alone how to chase down a taxi or do a music therapy group at the rehabilitation center. But I think we will learn all of these things together, and there is some comfort in that.

Another situation my friends in the group have helped me with is sickness. I have always had a sensitive stomach, and the food has not agreed with me since Monday. I get many concerned questions as to how I am feeling. Dr. Dena and her husband make sure I am safe. Brighton and Rianne agree to bring me rice and Daniel looks at me with concerned eyes and says, “Aw, honey.” All in all, being sick in Thailand is not so terrible when there are so many supportive friends around. As I know from experience, “this too shall pass”. Hopefully I will arrive in Krabi feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

Looking forward, I hope and believe that our community will form closer bonds that will last even beyond this adventure and into the next. I am grateful for the community, and I am now, happily, feeling better than I did an hour ago. However sick I may be, there are things to be grateful for, such as my ceiling fan, which blows cool air in my room.

I would love to hear other perspectives on our community. For now, I will say, sawatdii ka (goodbye)!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Say what?!?!?

I am a spoiled American.

There. I have said it. Now that we haveve gotten past that, I can say with no hesitation that going someplace without being able to communicate exactly what I want to can be frustrating. In some instances it is something simple, like asking the waitress for a bottle of soy sauce to go with the white rice. Other times it is mildly terrifying, like when you are trying to figure out where you need to be from where you are (which is incredibly lost).

The lucky part for us is that almost everyone speaks at least a tiny bit of English, and many speak it fairly well. In a jam, we could probably flag someone down who speaks well enough to help us get out of whatever chaos we may find ourselves in.

An interesting part of being somewhere with only a few words of the local language is that you find new ways to communicate. Almost everyone, for example, understands a smile. On many occasions I am sure I have butchered the language while attempting a greeting and then screwed up the rules of wai-ing, and yet my smile makes my intentions to please clear and so I receive back a smile in return and what I am sure is a much more polite greeting than my sloppy attempts. (Note: A “wai” is a sort of bow that is done as a respectful greeting. There are many rules to the wai and, needless to say, we students understand very few of them thus far.) In many cases body language is also highly intuitive. Nearly everyone understands pointing and nodding. Simply ordering tea at a Mahidol University cafĂ©, for example, is an adventure. It involved the waitress using her very few words of English, me adding my very few words of Thai, and both of us pointing at menus and pitchers. Yes, I would like the tea, and yes, I would like ice, and yes, I would be happy to pay 30 baht for it. So much work from both parties goes into such a simple communication.

The real difference, though, is that between how the Thai treat the limited language abilities of tourists and how we treat the same situation in America. Here, people are exceptionally patient as we try even the simplest of words and phrases and often laugh (happily, not mockingly) at our attempts with genuine pleasure that we are trying to learn their language. They seldom appear frustrated at our lack of lingual skills. On the other hand, I have heard many Americans – myself included – state displeasure at foreigners (especially Spanish-speaking immigrants) who do not speak English. It even goes so far as to say that some Americans become highly impatient while an individual is learning the English language. I will admit that this is not the norm, but I’ve seen it exist. Rather than being encouraging and patient, it is sometimes the case that we become annoyed and frustrated because someone is not speaking clearly enough or quickly enough to suit our needs. I think it likely that this is more of a broad cultural value related to the general pacing of time; the Western world moves very quickly while time in Thailand is more flexible and fluid. Being unable to speak easily here has made me much more sympathetic to foreign visitors or immigrants who are learning to speak English. I have a much greater desire to help them.

How do you feel we can make our thoughts and intentions known when our words cannot be understood – either because of a language barrier or because of misunderstanding?

Also, here is a Thai language mini-lesson from yours truly, for your edutainment. :)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Expanding understanding

As the only non-music therapy major here, I feel like I am not only uneducated about music therapy, but had a false notion about what music therapy truly is. I became more interested in music therapy this last semester; my first semester of college was the only time I had not been involved with my violin since I started playing in the first grade. Until then, I never realized how much I would miss playing it. As an exercise science major, I plan to go into physical therapy, focusing on an alternative or holistic approach. My mother brought to my attention the existence of music therapy as a field, and how I could incorporate that into physical therapy. I started researching more about it, and from what I read it looked very interesting and beneficial. To me it was a route that would incorporate both of my passions into one area of study and practice.
I learned that music therapists commonly incorporate African drums as well, and as I have also been playing African drums off and on since fourth grade, it was very important to me. I know African beats and dances are all focused around the heartbeat, controlling rhythm, and are relatable to every living being.
I have also read about different melodies or pieces that can change an individual’s brainwaves to specifically help the person reach a certain mood or mindset. This goes along with chanting as well, or the use of Tibetan bowls, which send off vibrations for therapeutic effects. I do not yet know if it has something to do with how we perceive and interpret the vibrations that make the sounds, rhythms, and tones so therapeutic, but this is something about which I would love to learn more.
It was not until I arrived in Thailand with another group of students for study abroad experience about healthcare in Thailand that I realized I did not know exactly what music therapy was. I have now been in Thailand over a month. For the first two weeks, I learned about Thailand’s health care as well as Chiang Mai University’s nursing school. We had the opportunity to talk with doctors of all specialties: alternative, psychiatric, HIV, etc. When I toured the hospitals in Chiang Mai, they showed us the “music therapy program” for some of these patients. This consisted of a band playing in a big room for the patients. My whole view of the degree changed when they told me their idea of music therapy and I became slightly disappointed. However, once I joined this group, I learned music therapy is very useful with helping children, elderly, and the disabled. I can see how it works conjointly with physical therapy as well as occupational therapy.
Nevertheless, my area of interest is working with athletes. As much as I love working with children, or even athletes in the Special Olympics, I would really like to work with sports injuries and prevention/rehabilitation in respect to athletes. I recently asked Dr. Dena if there was any information of the use of music with regards to athletes, and I learned that this is an area that is not well researched yet. However, I would LOVE to research how music could be self healing for patients not only recovering, but for going into surgery, or coming out of surgery, or for calming nerves down before a big competition, etc. I would even be interested in the research for meditation (specifically for injuries/pain levels/mental rehabilitation) and the rhythm of concentration on the breath. I think learning about that would be very beneficial for my area of interest.
I can say my perspective of music therapy has flipped a 180, and I feel like the more I think I know what I want to do with my life, the more I get confused! I am excited to see what else this trip will offer me and what I will take home with me for my future. As for you, the reader, I’m curious to know if and how your perspective of music therapy has changed for you during the time that you have known about music therapy?