Annually we welcome around 3,000 students and staff from over fifty schools worldwide.
If I had to sum up Seoul International School’s trip in one word there is no doubt in my mind which word I would choose: relationships.
Even before the group set foot on Thai soil this trip was going to be different. Unusually, the program was selected by a student – not teacher – who had visited us last year. He was one of several students to return and I was happy to be able to share memories with them.
Though the program was quite different this time, the students were keen to complete a service project as they had done previously. It was our returning student’s bright idea to also invite the children benefitting from the service work to join us at Traidhos and so we arranged for a local orphanage to send us their children for a chilly but fun swimming session followed by basketball and dinner. It was a very rewarding experience watching the two groups of people from just about as vastly different backgrounds as possible mingling and playing together. On the one hand, there were the Korean students, some of whom are relatives of the most successful businessmen and women in their country. On the other, a family of over thirty children all living together who, in some cases, could consider themselves lucky just to have enough to eat and the opportunity to go to school.
Fortunately, these children have all found themselves in a loving home and can look forward to a good life.
But what is a good life? Our highflyers gained some insight into a Buddhist perspective on the concept during their visit to Suan Dok Temple. Phra KK, a resident monk, delivered an inspiring presentation on Buddhism, including the Lord Buddha’s teachings on how to lead a good life and be happy. Phra KK told us about his difficult childhood – how he had been part of an ethnic minority group living in the hills of Bangladesh and had lost both his parents by the age of thirteen. He joined the monkhood in the hope of finding truth and meaning to his life. Sympathy for his story soon turned to awe as he proficiently shared his wisdom in a language he had not started studying until he eventually arrived in Thailand five years ago. Our students were clearly intrigued by a system of beliefs quite different to those normally expressed in the competitive and, according to some I spoke to during the week, cutthroat culture that exists at the top of Korean society, as question after question flowed until we had to call time in order to make our booking for dinner.
So why relationships? Does a chat with a monk and a short-lived interaction with local kids really qualify my opening statement? Well, take a look at the photo below and you will see from the looks on the faces of the children that have just received individual backpacks full of goodies, including t-shirts that match the ones SIS Korea students were wearing, that even though they only met each other on two occasions (once again after the service project to hand over the donations) that this memory will stay with them for a long time and maybe, just maybe, could even play a small part in shaping the relationship that all of our tie-dye t-shirt-wearing friends have with the world as a whole and all those of us that inhabit it.
I say this not least because of a comment made to me by one boy from Korea on the final day. His was another face of pure emotion and I will remember what he said to me for this fact over and above the words that he used, as meaningful as they were. That emotion was sincerity. He told me “I want you to know that you have changed the way I think about other people.”
Judging from comments made on our feedback forms, however, the relationships that seem to have been impacted the most from the trip are those between our visiting guests themselves, my favourite among many quotes indicating this being
“The main experience I took from this trip was seeing my peers and schoolmates in the type of environment I had always thought to be personal to me.”
The type of environment in question, I assume, is a natural one – when asked if they thought the trip had benefitted them in any way, one student replied
“It was nice and relaxing to spend time in an eco-friendly environment, where I could feel like a part of nature and be at peace.”
Connecting with nature is indeed always one of the values of our trips.
I decided to write this trip report in first person for a reason. I have been working at VSP for almost five years now and this trip was without doubt one of my favourites, mainly thanks to all the people involved. I hope that I have conveyed my own thoughts on the experience through this article and I look forward to a continuing relationship with SIS Korea, with the children at the local orphanage and all the staff that were involved in the trip’s success. I hope that everyone else feels as privileged as I do to have been involved.
And finally, a quote from Mr Arthars, one of the accompanying staff from SIS:
“Traidhos VSP opened a doorway for our students. They met people from backgrounds very different from their own, and joined in activities they had never even considered. The choice to actually live a more sustainable, more questioning life is theirs now, because they’ve seen something new.”