A Faculty Led Trip to Studying in Thailand

Morgan Yearout studied at Washington State University (“Go Cougs!” as she would say) and is a first-generation college student. She is the first in her family to leave the USA for educational purposes; everyone else in her family left the country either for military deployment or for a childhood trip to Canada or Mexico. Taking her first international flight to Thailand, nonetheless during political protests, was a big deal for Morgan and her family. The following interview recaps a few of Morgan’s experiences and suggestions for anyone wishing to pursue studies abroad.

What sparked your dream to study abroad?

Washington State University’s Hospitality Business Management (HBM) program has an International Experience Requirement. It consists of two semesters of a foreign language or studying abroad for a semester. The HBM program also offered a faculty-led study abroad opportunity in Thailand with teachers and students that I already shared classes with, easing my family’s fears. This was especially important since it was my first time leaving the USA aside from when I had crossed into Canada during high school for a Junior Miss parade.

Buddha Thailand Buddha Phuket Buddhism

What were your expectations before you left? How did they change once you arrived to the location and what changed after having completed the program?

I tend to not have expectations so I don’t feel let down. Also, I had nothing to compare what I was about to experience with so I did not needlessly ponder the unknown and simply left with an open mind. I was, however, excited to see how other parts of the world operate, experience beautiful lands, and hopefully make friends with the people studying through my program.

After arriving, I found that deeply-rooted traditions, history, vibrant colors, kind people, and unadulterated natural habitation teemed in Thailand. It was infectious to my soul and transformed my thought processes regarding the western world. I left studying in Thailand feeling more connected to the Thai and renounced material possessions even more once back in the US. This led to my struggles with reverse culture shock after returning to the United States.

Phuket, Thailand

Culture Shock Hits Hard

After returning from studying in Thailand, I was officially three years into my business degree. I thought about quitting to pursue a degree in psychology. I wanted to be more connected and helpful to people. This was not a far-fetched idea for me. It had been something I wanted to do when entering college. I was in a state of mind where I did not want to perpetuate consumerism, capitalism, individualism, etc. with a business degree when I had just experienced so much joy in a poor, communal-based society.

Luckily, I had support from Student Support Services/TRiO counselors to help me grapple with my feelings and life plans. I ended up finishing my B.A. in Hospitality Business Management and graduated Magna Cum Laude. I had decided to volunteer my time trying to improve life for humans and animals rather than throw money at a problem. It took time and a lot of hard work but I eventually cultivated the sense of community I yearned for.

What did you not expect?

I did not expect to feel more connected to the Thai culture than the one I had known all my life. It was interesting to feel like more of an outsider around people I came abroad with than those I met in this new land. To experience the socio-economic disparity while attending a college campus is one thing, but it was even more distinct while studying abroad.

I was putting myself through school — relying on fieldwork in the summers and campus work throughout the school year. I intensely hoarded pennies for three years and applied for any scholarships or grants available to alleviate the financial burden of accomplishing my dream of studying abroad. This was a different experience than the majority of people I knew in college or while studying abroad.

Many came from well-to-do families that provided the financial resources they needed, making lifestyle and upbringing differences very apparent. I spent my disposable time traversing the area by foot. While I engaged in free activities, others often lounged by the pool bar, hung out on the beach getting massages, went out to eat, partied, or shopped. These were all things I could not afford and a lifestyle I was unfamiliar with. This led to feelings of isolation. Nonetheless, I would not have changed anything. This experience and the reflection time thereafter allowed my belief systems to be broken down, reconstructed, and expanded. It forever altered the way I emphasize the importance of people and loving them while disregarding the societal pressure to accumulate possessions.

What have you done since you studied abroad?

Seeing as how I studied abroad in the Summer of 2010, I have lived almost a whole decade since then! Crazy!

Briefly:

  • I moved to Texas with whatever could fit in my Coupe upon graduating with my Bachelor of Arts in HBM. I lived without the internet for a year and slept on an air mattress for three months
  • Worked corporate for five years
  • Became certified in yoga teacher training
  • Became certified in personal training
  • Taught fitness classes as a side project
  • Mentored high schoolers through Big Brother Big Sisters’ Mentor 2.0 program
  • Volunteered with the animal shelter
  • Taught fifth grade Sunday school
  • Sorted food at the North Texas Food Bank
  • Completed the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth, TX, two half marathons (Valencia, Spain and Austin, TX) and a women’s only Duathlon in McKinney, TX.
  • Competed in a NPC bodybuilding competition
  • Acquired my motorcycle endorsement and logged over 10K miles in the five years of owning my moto
  • Moved to Madrid as an English assistant and lived with the kindest host family for a year
  • Became PADI Open Water Diver Certified in Malta
  • Spent quality time in 27 states and 25 countries
  • Moved back to Texas
  • Re-immersed in my passion for leading teams and supporting peoples’ livelihoods through revenue managing hotels

Trip to Phuket Thailand

What’s your favorite memory from the time studying in Thailand?

Oh boy, I have so many! A vivid one is going to a local market and experiencing the variety of activity, colors, smells, and foods! It was an atmosphere unlike any other. It offered an awe-inspiring inside look at how the locals shop. We collected all of our ingredients from the market and proceeded to make authentic Thai dishes. It was my first “formal” training in how to cook international cuisine and I am still so enthralled by the combination of flavors that Thai food incorporates! Thai cooking is often a quick process, something I can appreciate as well!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to study abroad?

If you want to study abroad, then dream big dreams and make it a reality! Studying abroad is a fantastic way to explore your identity. It can foster a deeper understanding of how integrated our world truly is.

Advice For Studying Abroad:

  • Start by weighing the benefits of a faculty-led study abroad program, enlisting a third party,  or going directly through an international institution to fulfill your study abroad wishes. If faculty-led, you may be able to pay in-state tuition as I did. This made it much more affordable than other programs I was interested in.
  • I suggest targeting somewhere with a language you wish to learn, even if at a rudimentary level, since language is deeply entwined with culture. If you have a desire to know the language, it can help you commit it to memory and feel more integrated into the society as well. Also, your classes may or may not be taught in the country’s language so choosing a country with a language you would appreciate knowing could make your studies more enjoyable.

Be Honest

  • Apply for financial aid, scholarships, and pick up extra hours at work while in school or during the summer to minimize the stress of finances while abroad.  You want to be able to focus on the experience. Worrying about funding can detract from being fully present.
  • Be completely honest with yourself about why you are choosing a specific destination. If it is heavily weighted on the Instagram pictures you have encountered and/or envision replicating, please choose elsewhere. If traveling for superficial reasons you will feel the efforts and expenses to get abroad were not worthwhile. Traveling is something to be felt and images are to spark that feeling. Images in and of themselves will not bring you joy.
  • Finally, explore making a “Top 3-5 Bucket List” to accomplish while abroad. This is something I did for studying abroad and still till this day for all my travels. I find that if I have a distinct purpose that’s achievable, I reflect on trips fondly long after it is over. A full-fledged agenda with no room for spontaneity can lead to an inorganic experience.

A Wiser, More Open Person After Studying in Thailand

Overall, studying in Thailand was a defining time in Morgan’s life! Much of her personal growth during college came within that short period of time. It also led to her insatiable desire to understand the world in depth. Her experiences abroad have also benefited her family, especially her siblings, of whom she has taken on several excursions.

Morgan’s siblings now engage in their own travels and continue to evolve their views of the world! You see, increased knowledge is not just about yourself. It can have a ripple effect on your family, friends, and the generations to come. Studying abroad can be a key way to expand your family’s legacy through knowledge building. If studying abroad is in your sites, dream big dreams and make them a reality! Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions or comments about Morgan’s journeys studying in Thailand.

by Leesa Truesdell