Greetings from Thailand! Hi, I’m Bunthicha Larlarb, a graduate student in Associated Medical Science with a degree in medical technology from Chiang Mai University (CMU). Currently, I work as a medical technologist. When I look back on my Global UGRAD journey, I still can’t believe that I made it and became a Global UGRAD alumna. I had been applying to UGRAD since I was a freshman. I failed over and over again until my last chance-my junior year. Fortunately, I was selected to be a finalist at my university to have an interview with Fulbright Thailand. And yes, I was one of the Thai finalists of Global UGRAD 2020. Although my dream was almost crushed by the Covid-19 pandemic, I was lucky enough to attend Augustana University during the fall 2021 semester in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA.
Being a daughter of an Asian family, I then wondered if this opportunity might be too dangerous to take because of anti-Asian violence in the news and having to travel to America as a solo woman traveler. However, nothing could stop me from taking this chance; I stepped out of my comfort zone and empowered confidence in myself. Finally, I arrived safely at my host university and met the most amazing humans that I have ever known – my UGRAD friends, Augie students, and American professors. During the academic term, I learned the history of blues, jazz, and rock music, medical humanities, ecology, food science and I took a course about being an international student. At first, it was quite challenging to study with American students because professors wore masks and spoke without using microphones, so it was hard to guess the words. Also, academic words are challenging and different from those used in daily conversation, but I was lucky enough that my professors were supportive so I could succeed.
My favorite class was medical humanities. I hadn’t heard about a course like this before; it is not just about medical ethics and how to treat patients, but it taught the students how to be more compassionate human beings. This course taught me how to listen to patients’ hearts, voices, and values. This course was not lecture-based like in a Thai educational setting, but it was discussion-based and gave us opportunities to reflect on the ethical and existential issues that healthcare practitioners encounter. This course filled an enormous gap in my training and provided an invaluable tool to enable me to be a better medical practitioner.
Besides the academic aspects, I had a chance to volunteer, join Augie student clubs such as the kidney disease club, and attend tons of outdoor activities. My Global UGRAD journey also inspired me to go on stage! I had an opportunity to represent my country, culture, and traditions via the Friday Rendezvous’ and the World Got Talent events which were hosted by the Augie International Program Offices. Surprisingly, a member of my host family, Tiffany, used to volunteer in Chiang Mai where I was studying, and could speak Thai!
The things that gave my UGRAD journey such vibrance were my UGRAD friends. I would like to mention their names here- Naira, Sema, Sidrah, Ramatou, and Ambar to commemorate the value of our friendship. Even though we had only just met, being with them allowed me to blossom and was very fulfilling. At the beginning of the program, I thought leaving the United States would be an easy thing to do when the time came. However, by the end of the program, I was crying so hard at the thought of not being able to have breakfast with my friends anymore.
Life must go on. Although one journey ended, there is another chapter waiting to be lived. Reverse culture shock and settling back into my Thai culture were stressors that put me at risk for burnout. One day, I took a fresh look at what I had to offer and where I wanted to go in my life. I accepted an offer to work as a medical technologist and had a golden opportunity to join the Indo-Pacific Alumni TIES Bangkok seminar in May 2022. The seminar’s main theme was “Public Health and Climate Crisis in the Indo-Pacific”. During the seminar, I engaged with professional networks to come up with strategies to mitigate climate and public health crises.
To not let the chance slip by, I decided to make an impact by implementing a youth engagement project idea that was created during the seminar. I did not want a creative idea to be just an idea and I knew I would feel regret if I did not do it now. As the youngest team leader, I applied for the Indo-Pacific Alumni TIES small grant which funds $10,000 USD for each project. Can you guess what happened next? Our team received the grant and now is in the process of implementing the project from September 2022– February 2023.
In Thailand, individuals still throw litter and unsorted garbage along the road. Littering, coupled with poor waste management systems, create catastrophic effects such as disease outbreaks and respiratory issues. However, we believe that education is a key factor. Hence, our UEngage.ASEAN team aims to empower youths in Chiang Mai, Thailand by providing UEngage.ASEAN workshops and opportunities for community outreach. We will train youth to become leaders and be able to use our environmental educational tool, the Hugsa board game, to educate Indigenous groups about waste issues. Our board game is made of recycled plastic waste and has main concepts about waste management, 3R concept, the effect of littering, and climate change. UEngage.ASEAN project targets to raise awareness about environmental issues, empower youth engagement and minimize inequality gaps in terms of race, gender, and status at the same time.
Although it’s been almost a year since my UGRAD journey ended, it still has a strong influence on me to engage and empower others. I would like to give a final word to young leaders: you might not clearly see yourself for who you are. Sometimes you may doubt yourself, but your dot still needs time to connect to other dots and once it is connected, you will appreciate all the dots that have allowed you to become an amazing person!
So, believe in yourself! “Once you engage and we engage is how we can sustain our world.”
If you’d like to read more about my project, please visit the UEngage.ASEAN | Facebook page.