Jennifer Ille
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Charity project Chiang Mai 2015

When I heard about the trip to Chiang Mai I immediately wanted to be a part of it.

As an exchange student you want to experience and know as much about the country as possible. So the fact that the University offered us a trip to the monks to work on a charity project was the best opportunity that could happen to us.

The trip started at midnight, which was a great idea since we had a long journey ahead of us. While we were driving in the bus, Mr. Wood always informed us about the schedule and about the temples we would visited. Seeing all the different temples were an interesting part of the trip, we got to see different architectures and listened to the stories behind the construction. It was a very nice gesture for us students that the University offered us varieties to have breakfast, dinner and lunch.

After we arrived at our destination the monks welcomed us very kindly. Immediately we were grouped and had the opportunity to go to our rooms, which were little houses build by the monks themselves. It was a nice idea from the organizers to set the groups so that the Thais and the international students could stay in one house together.

The facility of the monks was incredible. It was close to nature and you could see how peaceful they lived.After the welcome we went to our rooms, got ready and went to dinner. The food varied and everybody had the chance to eat what the like. Every morning we woke up at 5am and prayed for an hour with the monks. As a Christian this was a new experience for me how other religion were taught. It began with singing and continued with praying. Sitting on the floor on a carpet gave me a peaceful feeling. It was early in the morning so the sun hadn’t risen yet; it was nice to listen to the monks and waking up in such a beautiful area. After the ceremony the monks thought us the way to go through life by helping us to walk and see different things in life. You should walk through life with the right foot and they also told us that we could continue this ritual back in our home country.

At 8am we were offered breakfast and after a short break we started to work in the garden. It was a fun experience because the students were able to get hand on experience and talk to the monks while they thought us how to garden. A very interesting fact, which I didn’t know before was that monks seeded and grew fruits and vegetables, which they were only allowed to eat.

When we finished the gardening we continued to have different kinds of activities. We walked through the area, which belonged to the monks’ temple. It was nice to see how they lived and what they achieved since everything was build and created by themselves.

Another interesting aspect while we were living the monks was the fact how many novices lived with the monks and that some of them are part time-monks. I didn’t know that this was possible and that families send their children to live with the monks so they can learn and understand their religion better. For my personal thoughts I think this is the best way to understand a religion. It was nice to see how the monks treated the younger children and explaining and helping them were they could.

We also go the opportunity to go to the boarder to Myanmar and understand the complication and political circumstances. It was very fascinating and sad at the same time. As a European you don’t always hear about the news if you don’t engage on your own interest.

When we got back to the monks we started working on the earth house. It was a lot of fun working together and knowing you are helping each other out. We continued finishing a house and everybody was involved. It was fun talking to the monks and getting to know them better. Of course it was difficult sometimes to understand them, since not all monks couldn’t speak English, but this wasn’t a problem because we had the support of our Thai-friends.

My favourite moment with the monks was the activity teaching them English. Again we were set in groups and each group had a different topic. We taught them how to introduce themselves correctly. For me personally it was so much fun, but knowing that some of these younger children not older than 13 years, were orphans. I’ve always seen and heard about organizations that were a part of charity, especially now reflecting it, it felt great and I want to continue helping people.

Another inspiring moment was the sacrificial offering and the blessing from the monks. I have never experience neither of these rituals so I felt honoured to be a part of this experience. We couldn’t always understand what the head monk was saying but the supervisors did their best to help us understand what was happening. Being blessed by monks was very unusual but a great feeling. Thanks to this trip I can understand a lot better how Buddhism teaches life. It is a wonderful and philosophical religion and after knowing a lot more about the rituals and believes I can understand the Thai culture better than any book could explain.

With sadden to my heart we left the monks temple and continued the journey to Chiang Mai. Here we got the opportunity to see “Wat Phra That Doi Suthep” which is one of the nicest temples I’ve seen. I was very grateful that we got to chance to see Chiang Mai; I’ve heard so many things about the city so it was very nice to see.

At the end I would like to thank the University and the organizer for their great support and their commitment. For us exchange student it was a wonderful journey through the Thai culture and getting to know more about the history and the religion. Even the more difficult part was an epiphany you get to know yourself better and learn new things in life.

Thank you very much!!!

With best regards,

Jennifer Ille