Me and Byar Reh “playing Facebook”.

It’s hard to believe that I’m already halfway through my internship here in rural Thailand. Recently, I’ve been contemplating the experiences that I’ve had at KSDC a lot. There’s so much to talk about, but there’s one particular subject that I want to focus on in this blog; and that’s working through challenges that are related to living and working in a tight-knit multicultural community. This topic has proven to be extremely difficult for me to articulate in writing, given the fact that that I’m not exactly well-versed in discourse relating to the notion of multiculturalism in a tight-knit community context. That being said, I have experienced living in multicultural settings a fair amount throughout my adult life, so I can relate to what it’s like to be apart of a multicultural community. I want to use the opinions and ideas that I’ve developed through my experiences about these subjects as a means to discuss multiculturalism in relation to the community at KSDC in an enlightened manner.

Unsurprisingly, there is divide between Canadian culture and Karenni culture. The encounters, privileges, and experiences that I have been afforded as a Canadian are totally different from those of a Karenni person. As a Canadian who was fortunate enough to grow up in a setting that allowed me many privileges and opportunities, I did not experience the enormously difficult circumstances that many Karenni people have had to face throughout their lives. This reality, paired with the fact that Canadian and Karenni people live in two geographically distinct areas of the world (North America & South East Asia), help create the cultural divide between Canadians and Karenni people.

My face after some female students painted me with thanaka.

The Canadian-Karenni cultural divide can seem stark at KSDC sometimes. However, I’ve still created deep and meaningful relationships with many of my Karenni co-workers and students.

In my opinion, it’s all about how a cultural divide is perceived. Sometimes, a cultural divide can be a lot smaller of a barrier to overcome than it’s first made it out to be…

During my first couple weeks here at KSDC, I spent a lot of time becoming acquainted with my new community. I came to understand how my new life would be set up, what my daily routine would be like, and how to pronounce all the student’s names correctly. Really basic stuff mainly. Once I got settled in, I started having more encounters that revealed a cultural divide.

One day, a student didn’t come to class because they said they were felling really sick. Fair enough, if I was the student I wouldn’t want to come to class if I was feeling really ill either.

It came to me as a minor surprise that later that day I saw this student walking back towards their dorm, dripping in sweat after they’d finished playing a game of soccer with some other students…

“I thought you told me you couldn’t come to class because you were sick? If you’re sick, why are you playing soccer?” I asked the student.

“Teacher, sweat is good for my sickness. I am sweating out what is bad inside of me.” The student replied.

Moseph jamming!

Not entirely convinced with the validity of the student’s explanation, I went and asked the house manager, Deh Ni, whether or not it was normal in Karenni culture for someone to exercise when they are feeling extremely ill. He told me that it was common in Karenni culture for someone to do vigorous exercise when they are really sick to try and get better. In the end, my ignorance of Karenni medical practices is what caused the misunderstanding. I felt a little bit bad that I even questioned the sick student. I’ll know for next time though.

More cultural differences have become evident over time. Things like formal speaking tendencies, gender roles, and standards of beauty from my cultural perspective are often extremely different from a Karenni cultural perspective. Sometimes these differences can be challenging to grapple with, and difficult to understand. While this is true, I think that my perspective has helped me work through the cultural differences I’ve been experiencing.

In my opinion, no matter what I believe in, it’s never ok for me to impose my beliefs on another person.

Byar Reh sporting an interesting hat at night class.

It’s fine to share ideas and challenge people about their beliefs, however, what needs to be acknowledged and respected, is the fact that everyone’s different. Nobody experiences life the exact same way, so I can’t expect that people will have the same belief systems as myself. Sometimes, I’m not going to fully understand, or agree with what another person believes, and that’s ok! That does not mean there has to be conflict.

What I am more focused on at KSDC are the commonalities that I share with my Karenni students and co-workers, not our differences. It turns out that we all have a ton in common. We all love to laugh, we all love to have fun, we all love eating food, we all love to sing (some better than others), we all love being goofy sometimes, we all love Jackie Chan movies, we all want to belong, and we all want to be accepted by one another. Just in case you’re wondering, I could make this list of things that we all have in common a mile long if I had the space in this blog.

KSDC staff with members of Refugees International Japan, a donor organization of the KSDC.

Indeed, this is what makes KSDC such an amazing place. It’s like the apparent cultural differences that exist between us push us to find out our similarities…

That’s an interesting realization, isn’t it?

My experience at KSDC so far has reasserted my belief that we as human beings share much in common, regardless of our cultural background. Maybe, people are too lazy, or stubborn to realize it sometimes. The commonalties are there, people just have to look for them.