Student Keala Yang ’18

I love traveling more than anything. This past summer I went to northern Thailand, with 12 classmates and Professor Nick Kontogeorgeopoulos as part of a three-week field school. In the spring we took his course Political Economy of Southeast Asia, where we leaned about the political, economic, social, and cultural processes that have shaped Southeast Asia, with an emphasis on Thailand. We looked at how traditional practices like agriculture have had to adapt because of Thailand’s growing place within the global economy.

It's one thing to learn about a country in a classroom, but actually being there in person, you learn so much more. We did research in class and then got to build on that knowledge in Thailand. My research looked at how minority groups manage their natural resources and how that is challenged by the central government. When I wrote my paper, I looked at it two-dimensionally—statistics and laws passed. I hardly considered the role of people in the community. When we arrived in the Karen village in the mountains of northern Thailand, I saw that the true driving forces behind these agricultural practices were the people themselves. They were so empowered. To have my mindset completely shifted was incredible.

We did two homestays, and they were both amazing. The first was in a village known for its co-op, which helps support organic farmers in the community. The language barrier was the biggest challenge. I love to ask questions, so there was a lot of miming. It was a good reminder that even if you don't speak a common language, you can bond with people. The whole community was so welcoming. I felt at home there even though we only stayed for a week.

I didn't expect to learn so much from my classmates. A friend summed it up best by saying, "I think it's amazing that we're all comfortable with being uncomfortable. And that we're in this together." That stuck with me.

This was one of the most rewarding experiences I've had—personally and academically. How many people get to learn about a place in the classroom and then travel there and do hands-on experiential learning?

Keala Yang '18
International Political Economy
Santa Rosa, California