My dad was killed while on duty as a highway patrol officer near Lamphun, Thailand when I was 8 years old. The police ruled my father’s death a suicide but I can remember cigarette burn marks on his body at the funeral. My parents were divorced long before that and I had been mostly raised by my grandparents in the nearby province of Phichit.
In Thailand, in the eyes of society, a girl without parents living with her uncle and grandparents is destined to either be a waitress, a prostitute, or both. When I was 10, my mom, who had been working for several years for the government in Maryland, was finally able to get visas for my sister and I. We moved our lives to the US.
Moving to America was hard for me. I didn’t speak a word of English and was thrown into elementary school. I had my patented Thai-school-girl bowl cut and weighed about as much as a feather. I can remember being in gym class and the captains picking teams for volleyball.
One of the captains was Filipina and I thought that she would be nice to me because she looked like me, but instead she said something along the lines of, ‘I don’t want her, she can’t even speak English’. Although I didn’t understand her exact words, I knew they weren’t nice so I threw her on the ground. I was in the Principal’s office the next day with my mom who pointed out their failure to properly integrate me. I was taken out of PE and put into music.
Since then I have worked in the mental health field in a lot of different settings, and was even a licensed Montessori teacher for a while, but still had a nagging desire to return to the country I was from. With the amount of student loans I was carrying around, however, this proved no easy task. Eventually, in 2014, I was offered a job as a school counselor at an international school in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The job was located just five hours from my hometown of Phichit and my grandparents who helped raise me like I was their own.
My homecoming wasn’t some moral or spiritual victory. I had managed to escape where others couldn’t and I was lucky. I also worked really hard. I took advantage of the opportunities. All of it was in the shadow of my childhood traumas, the ones I carried around with me and dealt with the hard, and only, way: slowly and steadily and with the help of loved ones.
But my work in trauma goes way beyond just Thailand. Everyone has their own experience and you can’t predict what will be traumatic. Something simple and easy for one person can be incredibly difficult for another. And all of this isn’t to say that Thailand doesn’t have ways to cope. Strong family ties, religion, and a culture of general acceptance towards the nastier things of life are aspects of my cultural heritage that I’m proud of. What I want is my cake and to eat it too. I want to have strong connections with friends and family and also to get people to open up about their feelings, to not consider themselves weak when life throws something at them they just can’t seem to get over.
So talk to someone you love and trust. Talk to a counselor. We’re here to help, even if we were supposed to be a waitress instead.
Note: Traumas come in all shapes and sizes. Something that seems so mundane may leave a huge impact and something that is quite big may not leave a long lasting impression. It is important to consider not only empathy but compassion as well when we talk about our experiences.
Studying, completing assessments, sitting the exams. Sometimes students may wonder if that is all there is to the IB Diploma Programme. This question can especially arise at the beginning of the DP, as the concept and focus of learning gradually moves away from the mostly inquiry, project-based MYP Programme.