The first year of EMA’s 5 year Physician Assistant Program is held in Chiang Mai Thailand. In order for our students to stay in Chiang Mai for a whole year, the best process is for them to apply for Education Visas through a local English School in Chiang Mai. By doing this, they not only get a reliable visa for one year while they study with us, but they also get to dedicate hours of their week to studying English from a diverse group of native English speakers in downtown Chiang Mai.
This sounds pretty straightforward, but nothing is straightforward when it is duplicated by 10 students. Add staff members from yet another part of the world and it creates some interesting language confusion. Ten first year students came to us earlier this month from Myanmar. They landed at the airport with a range of English levels and abilities, but with consistent smiles and enthusiasm. Only one week later the students had completed orientation at EMA, and we whisked them away on a van trip to Laos in order to complete their visa application process for their education visas.
They patiently listened through instructions about paperwork, passports, visa police border questions and plans, smiling widely and trusting the process. Our departure for Laos included our trusted driver, our 10 students, myself and Tyler, my colleague, showing me the ropes of visa travel with our students. Together we patched together various levels of language ability including Thai, English and Karen. We departed at 8 pm for an overnight drive and prepared to enjoy an adventure amidst limited communication and a whole lot of goodwill and smiling patience. I was truly delighted to enjoy time getting to know our students.
I am amazed in their grace demonstrated, and trust of us, near strangers promising to get them through a physician assistant program to better the lives of their communities. I am delighted by their joy in the process of adventure and their ability to bond and create friendships with each other in a brief amount of time. I am blessed by their energy, their laughter and their flexibility as they visit a country they have never been to. They relish the new with multiple selfies and photo documentation of every experience. I am surprised when they have no interest in eating sticky rice or pad-thai (stir fried noodles).
While in Laos one evening I was eating dinner by the market with our three female students and I accidentally ate a whole, very spicy chili. I then proceeded to quickly become SO red in the face with SO much sweating. The girls tried to help with water and rice and laughter because, how can I be SO weak? It’s a miracle to me that Pa Tall, sitting beside me through this episode could then proceed to eat the very same type of chili with no problems whatsoever. She did it with such goodwill and chuckling in the process.
The diversity of culture and various styles of learning and lenses through which we all, here at EMA, have experienced and continue to experience life is a constant challenge to me to step out of my comfort zone and box of understanding. I am faced with my own shortfalls and narrow view every day. In the midst of this I am so grateful for the grace that is shared in the laughter and in the joy. I am especially convicted and encouraged as I witness the students’ desire to learn for the sake of serving needy communities out of love.