Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lessons Learned

Coming back to the United States has been fun and busy for me, and I am putting to use a few lessons I learned in Thailand that I will never forget.

            I was at my third layover in Chicago on my journey home to Georgia. Everything up until then had gone according to plan, but because of thunderstorms in the Atlanta area, my plane was delayed a few hours. I was very tired after having traveling so far and long. The last thing I wanted to happen was to be stuck in an unfamiliar airport with a bunch of unfamiliar people. However, I was able to meet two friendly people nearby who became my friends for the next few hours. We went out for beers and had conversations about our travels and professions. It was so interesting and fun to meet them and share the time together that would otherwise be spent in impatient crankiness. This scenario helped me realize one of the lessons I learned while in Thailand, one that I had intended to learn even before going: Friendship is there if you seek it out. I went to Thailand not knowing anyone ahead of time with the challenge to myself that I would make new friends. It took internal trust and courage to be outgoing and to initiate interaction. It also took open-mindedness to other beliefs and lifestyles. The results of this lesson were rewarding. I made many new friends on the trip and now feel stronger in my ability to connect with others in the future.

            The third layover delay also brought to light another lesson. Living in the moment is something far more valuable than pictures and memories. Life experiences are better when fully experienced with awareness and mindfulness. The delay of our flight pushed our flight back to about a 9 PM take-off, prime time for a Chicago fireworks display on the 4th of July from above. Thankful for a window seat, I gazed down on dozens of private and public fireworks displays all over the city. It was such a moving and meaningful experience because it felt like such a celebration. I was coming home after growing so much on my travels to Thailand! I took no pictures, because I knew they would never be as good as the full experience I was having in that moment. I know that the experiences in which I was consciously present, thus not thinking about past or future, I remember in a positive and meaningful light. When I went to Thailand, I knew I wanted pictures and mementos, but I wanted raw life experiences even more. And with gentle reminders from others in the group and me, I was able to see the world from a more present and therefore more real perspective.

            The third lesson I learned through observing and implementing music therapy. The music works, even without the words. Many of the clients we worked with did not know English, so we used music as a tool of communication. I remember one client I had in the pediatric setting, a young boy of around five years, running around the room waywardly, not engaging in anything we tried. In exasperation, I decided maybe we could change the music to match his energy and see what he did. He stood still for a few seconds, caught off guard by the music, and began to move again. But this time he was responding to the music by dancing; his movements more or less matched the music. With the gradual slowing and softening of the musical qualities, he calmed down just a little bit, all without a single word. The miracle of music as a communication tool was never as clear to me as it was in Thailand.

Hopefully I can bring all of my lessons into play in my life in the United States. My ability to make friends will help in my travels across the country this summer and my internship this coming year. Living mindfully in the moment will allow me to savor life, wherever I am, and also to be open to learning more. Finally, I hope the power of music as communication will continue to be a part of my work as a music therapy intern and a music therapist.

What lessons have you learned in Thailand or while being in a new place?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Redefining Normal

Hi everyone,
my name is Brighton and I'm a music therapy major at Colorado State University, with cello as my main instrument. I'm so thankful God has blessed me with the ability to perform music and a heart for helping and healing people, so I'm excited to share my experiences from Thailand!

How does one define normal? Can normal ever change? It did for me, over the course of 5 long and yet short weeks in Thailand. I’m sure by now you have all read our experiences of culture shock upon arriving in Thailand and accounts of how we adjusted. Never did I imagine that I could immerse myself in a foreign culture so deeply that returning to my own country would seem odd. After all, compared to 21 years of being raised in America, could 5 weeks in another country really affect me that much? Apparently so! It was this discovery that made me realize how my day to day expectations had broadened since staying in Thailand. My “normal” did change after all.

The most noticeable change was my eagerness to learn. I am not referring to learning in a typical academic context but rather in a constant striving to soak up any new experience every minute of every day. When a comfortable rug of assumptions was pulled out from under me, I could no lounge around on my familiar customs. Instead had to use every opportunity to learn and adjust! What a challenge and yet also an exhilaration to always be gaining new knowledge in Thailand– bowing (called a “wai”) when greeting someone, taking off my shoes when entering a building, ordering and eating unfamiliar food, communicating without verbal language, waving down a taxi, driving on the left side of the road, haggling in the markets…the list goes on and on of things I learned while travelling. It was challenging having to earn all these processes because I could not take a break and function in the culture without knowing them. And yet, it was exciting to have a mindset of constant learning and to be open to new experiences. I always love a good adventure, so it wasn’t too hard for me to adjust to this lifestyle. It became my new normal to make every encounter into a learning experience and then from that apply what I learned to future circumstances. I was never once bored; every place I went, every person with whom I interacted, everything I saw and heard was an adventure!

We have a running joke with the trip members that Thailand is our Narnia, our fantastic world of friends and adventure. It definitely felt like Narnia to me – almost like a secret fantasy world where everything is magical and exciting, created for the purpose of learning and personal growth in such a way that wouldn’t have been possible in normal life. I teamed up with eight other students to facilitate music therapy in hospitals and rehab settings and learn about Thai music during lessons at the school. I walked to school every day through a beautiful tropical setting with green plants, flowers, ponds, and giant lizards calmly monitoring the water. Food was cheap and delicious, no matter how strange it looked. Fruit was served with every meal and the smoothies were to die for! I survived walking through and haggling at the crowded markets and saw the most exquisite sites of Thailand with the team. We learned the meaning of quality social time and planning because we had no cell phones or instant means of electronic communication. We climbed coconut trees, played giant gongs, saw crocodile wrestlers, and rode elephants together. All of these things I’ll miss dearly, but I know most importantly I have shared in this experience with a team, now family, of people that will always be around to share in memories and support me in the future.

As I left Thailand, I thought of the ending scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The Pevensies had entered Narnia as children and quickly forgot the world they left behind as Narnia became their new home that they knew and loved so deeply. They then reigned in Narnia as kings and queens for years. After all that time, what a shock it was to return to earth through the wardrobe and discover that everything was just as they had left it. But no matter how little things had changed at home, they knew and remembered everything that had happened in Narnia. That’s as best as I can illustrate how I feel about leaving Thailand and returning home – I may look the same outwardly, but I’ve grown so much as a person and clinician through the few weeks that I’ll never forget. Now the challenge will be to take what I have learned abroad and apply it to my faith, relationships, and school at home. Although everything here seems the same, it will not be boring; I won’t let it be. I’m changing my new normal and setting bigger dreams, higher hopes, and challenging myself more than before. Ready or not, here I come!

Was there ever a time in your life where normal changed for you, and what did that look like?