David Kelm ’22, Brainerd, Minn.
Majors/Minor: Political Science, Environmental and Sustainable Studies; English Writing

What led you to study abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand?

I really wanted to get out of a Western-centric view of politics for a while and experience a new part of the world from the perspective of a different culture. I also love being in nature and Chiang Mai seemed like a great place for me to explore, as it is located right in the mountains and has phenomenal access to hiking. The Chiang Mai program is rather inexpensive compared to others, considering the exchange rate, the average price of food, and the cost of living. For these reasons, this program seemed like the obvious choice for me.

Please tell us about your experience studying abroad.

My experience while studying in Chiang Mai has been eye-opening in every way possible. Living in a place so vastly different than anywhere I’ve ever been before has allowed me to open my mind to new perspectives, not just in the classroom but simply by being a part of the everyday community. I did things that I never thought I would, such as backpacking through the Thai Highlands, meditating with monks, and going island-hopping in the Andaman Sea.

Also, the hands-on learning aspect has given me a new and very different perspective on society as a whole. Many of my classes addressed contemporary issues within society and international governance, and Chiang Mai continuously demonstrates prime examples of the very issues being discussed in class. However, I would have to say that I certainly missed the fall colors and the chilly air from back home. While there is the rainy season, there is no fall or autumnal weather of any kind in Thailand.

What was the highlight of your time in Thailand?

There have been so many things that I would consider as the highlight of my time in Thailand. However, taking part in a field study of the Hill Tribes in the Northern Thai mountains was certainly the most memorable. The study consisted of multiple homestays in the Hmong and Palong villages, where we met with members of the Lisu and Ahka tribes to discuss the growing eco-tourism industry and what threats Westernization poses to their culture. That experience definitely offered the most insight to how the seemingly vast economic benefits of tourism are, in many cases, counterintuitive to efforts in relieving poverty. Also, simply being in the mountains was such a unique experience, as I was able to learn about and observe its people’s cultural traditions, mentality on contemporary issues, and how they continue to live off the land using subsistence farming practices.

What was the most difficult aspect of leaving Thailand?

The hardest part about leaving Thailand was definitely no longer having such abundant access to nature. The fact that the closest trail into the mountain was just down the street was incredible and I certainly miss it.

What were you most excited about when returning to Concordia?

For me, one of the most difficult parts of studying abroad was not being able to take part in the mock trial team or political groups at Concordia, so I was excited to participate in campus events and organizations again. I was also excited to see all of the people I hadn’t seen for months and to catch up with friends over coffee.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering studying abroad?

From my perspective, do it if you’re able to – just do it. The amount of personal growth I experienced while living in Thailand after only a semester has been incalculable. Studying abroad was actually my first time ever leaving the U.S., so my perspective may be a bit different from others, but it was a phenomenal experience in every sense. The learning curve of the culture was certainly prevalent, as I found out many cultural norms through unintentional trial and error, but it is necessary to remember that an extended period of time studying abroad will be spent outside of one’s comfort zone.