Student blog by Abbey Marino, sociology major and TU Global Scholar
With tears in my eyes, I looked over the city of Bangkok from a descending aircraft. Still thousands of feet up, my mind swirled with endless possibilities of what could go wrong in the coming months. Five months later, looking down over the same skyline, tears filled my eyes once more as I reflected on the time passed and the personal growth taken place.
It is said that one will never be completely at home again when he or she loves people in more than one place. I thought I had experienced this after moving from my hometown of St. Louis to attend college in Tulsa, Oklahoma. But now my heart is stretched even thinner, loving friends not only from all regions of the United States but also from Thailand and other parts of the world.
Tulsa and Thailand are entirely different places; however, their similarities lie in the coffee shops I’ve discovered, museums I’ve visited, nature paths I’ve hiked and friends I’ve met along the way. Both are full of humans living their lives, forming relationships and experiencing culture. Thai and American citizens alike face economic difficulty and barriers to health care access. Both are also privy to financial prosperity and successful medical treatment.
While shadowing an M.D. in rural Thailand, I met a man whose perspective, predicament and pallor astounded me. This man’s name is Dieow, and through him, I was given a chance to witness true strength. His story served as inspiration for my first published piece of writing. His life’s motto, “It is better to be strong than healthy” reminded me that the hands we are dealt are only as dire as our outlook allows them to be. Beyond that, Dieow’s tale reminds me there is always room for progress.
Thailand boasts universal healthcare coverage. In comparison to many other countries where access is not guaranteed, its system is admirable. It has its cracks though, and Dieow is in the process of slipping through them. Requiring a lifesaving medical procedure that is within reach but an unaffordable commute away, this impoverished man is left to his fate. Rather than responding with bitterness, Dieow is living his last months in a state of gratitude, appreciating the time he has been given to enjoy the company of his visitors and loved ones. His contentment and appreciation for life have stuck with me and are only two of the many lessons I’ve learned from my studies abroad.
Dieow also taught me about impermanence. This life is full of beauty, yet I’ve often found myself too rushed to enjoy it. The fast-paced ambition of western society, though stimulating and rewarding, leaves little time to breathe in life’s moments. Studying abroad helped me see the worth in enjoying the steps along the way. Above anything, though, this semester introduced me to myself. By leaving all of my comforts and people behind, I was forced to spend time alone, reflecting on who I am outside of that context. Returning from abroad I feel more autonomous than ever before.
Without the University of Tulsa’s Global Scholars Program, I may never have found the courage to venture to the other side of the world. The education and experiences I’ve been granted as a member of this program have opened my eyes to the challenges and benefits of a globalized society. My perspective embarking on my final year of college is entirely different from when I arrived. I have both the Global Scholars program and Sociology Department to thank for providing me with opportunities to become aware, engage in global dialogue and converse with individuals from many walks of life.
As I’ve traveled, my cultural competence has grown, and I’ve become aware of what little I know and how much more there is to learn. I hope to set out on a life of learning and adventure, gaining perspective through individuals and their stories along the way.