Madrid for the weekend!

Arriving back in Madrid was as it usually is – incredibly exciting and instantly soothing. It feels like home. I was welcomed by good friends and a comfortable home and spent the first day getting reacquainted with a city I love.

More importantly, I was able to see and check in with dear friends and talk about our lives, our futures and our dreams to change the world. My friends Michelle and Miguel actually flew in from Geneva and Lisbon, respectively, to spend time together and work on our joint project to transform professional development for educators.

Being around IE was inspirational. Despite challenges in Spain, IE is supporting really interesting projects in social innovation and entrepreneurship and consistently ranks as one of the top business schools in the world. I feel honored to be part of the network, and am confident it will be an important part of my life for long to come.

After a full and rejuvenating weekend in Madrid, I had a one-night stop over in Amsterdam before catching a standby flight to New York. Thanks to my friend Brian, I was able to really make the most of my time in another of my favorite European cities. I headed to The Hub where I met with the founder, Tatiana, one of my role models and an inspiration to all around her. I was also able to catch up with a handful of other friends I had made during my time in Amsterdam in September and it was amazing to feel so welcome and so at home. I stayed at The Hub for a mindfulness workshop before Brian and I hopped on our bikes in the cold and headed out to listen to a friend of Brian’s play live music at a traditional Dutch bar.  

Advertisements

Farewell (for now) to Thailand

My last two weeks in Thailand had their ups and downs. After remaining very healthy for the first month, I finally caught a food poisoning bug. In addition to being physically ill, I felt terrible for not being able to contribute at work.  

I managed to recover enough to enjoy my final weekend in Thailand. I planned a trip down to the southern coast in order to get a glimpse of some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Fortunately, my friends David and Jess who are also living in Bangkok were taking the same trip.  We arrived at Ao Nang beach and waded into the crystal clear blue water to board a long-tail boat and catch a ride over to the secluded Railay Beach. It was stunningly beautiful with large protruding lime stone rock structures. The weekend was lovely and was spent exploring, snorkeling, relaxing and reflecting on the previous 6 weeks.

My last two days of work at Thammasat were very busy. We hosted a design-thinking and innovation workshop for a group of Chinese executives handpicked and sponsored by Intel. My colleague Viria – a trained expert in design thinking from the Stanford d-School – led the way and I supported her and joined in with the participants. The group was incredibly excited and motivated and, despite the work being done in Chinese, it was inspirational to watch them create, prototype and test ideas for building a university campus that inspires social innovation.

On my last afternoon at Thammasat the faculty gave me a short and sweet goodbye party that involved a plethora of Thammasat gifts and many farewells. In just 6 short weeks I felt as though I developed lifelong relationships and certainly took away many lessons learned from the experienced professors at the school. Stephane, the French human rights expert who spent decades with the UN in Southeast Asia, is a sweet and honest soul who works harder than anyone I know. Marc, the Belgian public health expert, whose sense of humor and genuine interest in the well being of the students provided an example to live by. Nitya, the Dean of the School, was welcoming and professional and always treated me with the utmost kindness. Bill, the American doctor and reproductive health care expert who arrived in Thailand from a year in Afghanistan, showed me what it means to be truly passionate and dedicated to your work. Toi, the founder of the school and the “Thai mother” that took care of me during my trip, showed me the most amazing hospitality imaginable and demonstrated the toughness and perseverance needed to make a difference in this world. Of course my direct colleagues Ada and Viria who became fast friends and peers who are working so hard each day to create social change in their country and make a difference for the people of SE Asia.

My time in Thailand came to a quick and abrupt end. Before I knew it I was on a plane back to Europe and the Western world. Time for reflection and thought is never enough, but wow, what an experience I was so fortunate to have. I learned so much about the Thai people and the country and more importantly about that region of the world that had been so foreign to me. I left feeling more complete, inspired, and excited to find out how my new Thai friends will be part of my life in the future.

 

A month in Thailand.

I’ve now been in Thailand for over a month. I’m more and more comfortable here everyday while at the same time learning so much in all that I do.

Work at Thammasat University has continued to be interesting and busy. With the stakeholder meeting for the Social Innovation Lab behind us, we’ve been focused on the new BA program in Global Studies and Social Entrepreneurship. This includes everything from creating new marketing materials, outlining a strategy for PR and outreach, recruiting students and developing curriculum. The Social Innovation lab plays a very important part in the BA program as it brings the element of innovation to the academic setting.

I believe the integration of social entrepreneurship, innovation and academia will prove to have a huge impact on the social sector and on international development. It’s a way of bringing together the expertise of academics with the urgency of entrepreneurship and creating businesses that exist to better society. In a country like Thailand, it also has the potential to create more legitimacy and prestige around pursuing a career in the social sector. 

My colleague and friend Viria asked me yesterday what has been my favorite part of my trip so far. The answer was easy – it’s been meeting her and our other teammate Ada, and the other faculty at the school. Work has been stimulating and exciting, but nothing beats the relationships and the bonds formed through the experience. 

Mae Kampong

Last weekend I had a really amazing experience. I met a guy named Pai who just started a social enterprise that promotes eco-tourism by creating a platform for visitors to be connected to local authentic villages for short educational stays. While his site, Local Alike, isn’t live yet, he helped to set up an experience for me in an eco-tourism village called Mae Kampong.

It wasn’t an easy trip. I first took a taxi, van, metro and airport link to get to BKK Airport. From there, I flew a short hour-long flight in a prop plane to Lampang. At Lampang, a van took me to the bus station where I waited an hour and then hopped on a 2-hour bus to Chang Mai. At the Change Mai bus station, I somehow found the man who was there to pick me up and hopped in his truck despite an inability to communicate with each other. After a short stop at the grocery story, we continued to drive in the hills outside of Chang Mai for over an hour through dark, windy and very narrow roads. It was hard to see what was around and I didn’t have a clue where we were.

When we finally arrived at his village and the home stay, the first thing I noticed was the near deafening sound of rushing water. I couldn’t see anything, but I knew there was water all around. Khun Prommin, my driver (and later found out the head of the village) showed me to my little hut where I was to stay for the weekend. The loud roar of the water was steady, but I was tired and fell asleep.

When I woke up I was so cold it was hard to get out of bed. Who knew Thailand could be cold? I guess I should have done my research. Finally I managed to get up and wander outside. I didn’t know where anything was or who anyone was. I found a little patio that looked like the kitchen/restaurant and there I found Khun Mam, Khun Prommin’s daughter who ended up being able to speak a little English. She got me a hot (and MUCH appreciated) cup of coffee followed by two fried eggs and white toast. They tasted amazing after having missed dinner the night before.

I discovered the source of the running water. There appeared to be many creeks rushing through the village. I learned there was a big waterfall up at the top of the hill and the run-off produced seven creeks that ran through the village. Around me the villagers were starting their Saturday morning. I sat and watched the activity for about an hour, then started to wonder what I was going to do all day. After a while, Mam came to tell me I could walk down to check out the temple. I headed down the road to find it.

At the temple a man started to show me around a bit. He picked a passion fruit up off the ground, quickly extracted a pocketknife and cut it in half and handed it over to me. It was sour, delicious. We kept walking and exploring. He would pick up a flower or a fruit and we’d examine it, taste it if possible and then move on. We watched the shop owners cutting fruits or roasting meats. One guy poured a large sack of fresh coffee fruit into a machine that extracted the fresh, slimy beans from their shell. A young girl watching her dad lay tile hid her face behind her book as I tried to say hello. Boys ran through the streets playing, excited to be out of school. Khun Prommin appeared most places I went and it became evident to me that he was an important person in the village.

Later I was met by a guide who took me on a hike through the hills and to the top of the waterfall. Similar to my last guide, he would stop and show me all the beautiful details of nature. Trees, leaves, bugs, fruits and more. At one point I saw a large snake almost cross right in front of us, but it was shy and slivered away before I could get a real good look at it.

After my hike Mam fed me a big meal of mushrooms, a local vegetable stir-fried with egg and a plate of white rice. I was hungry and I ate it all. I sat on the patio for a couple of hours with the local guys watching Thai boxing on TV. Having zero connection to the outside world and absolutely no obligation that day was really a new experience for me. It was challenging and enjoyable at the same time.

The next day Khun Prommin drove me back to the Chang Mai bus station. It was a little sad to say goodbye to the faces that had become so familiar in just 24 hours. Mae Kampong is certainly a special village that has managed to help preserve the rainforest while maintaining authentic culture and exemplifying how human beings should live in harmony with the land. At Chang Mai I boarded a bus to Chang Rai. A four-hour ride later, I arrived in the northern town and spent the afternoon walking, exploring and shopping at the night market. I met my friend Viria – both of us refreshed by our time in Northern Thailand – and we caught a quick flight back to speed, heat, people and pollution of Bangkok.