In the Hill Country of Thailand We Found Our Self-Identity

At Chrysalis, we engage in intensive work discovering and building our self-identity. There are few better ways to find out who one really is than by serving others. Making connections with, and finding the strengths of individuals in another culture halfway around the world helps to heal one’s own wounds and strengthens ideas about who we are. A Chrysalis team of 12 girls, 6 parents and 4 staff set out on just such an adventure.

It took a bit for the Chrysalis team to adjust from the Western ‘go go go’ mentality to the more laid back ‘learn as you go’ approach of the Black Luha tribe in Thailand’s northern hill country, an approximate 45 mile drive to the border of Burma. In that adjustment of seeing and slowing time, we were able to sit and lay on the bamboo floor of a villager’s home to hear the sounds, smell the smells, taste the flavors, see the detail, and feel the universal love of life, despite cultural and language differences. The tribe shared food, work, music, play and ritual with us in a way that had us examining how we are alike and how we are different. Identifying our values in relation to their values helped each participant to know a bit more about herself.

Building Connections & Gaining Insight

What connections did we build, what strengths did we find in each interaction with this native people? Insights gathered showed that humanity has the same basic needs and desires the world over. The need for shelter, food and water. The desires of health, community and joy.

Inspiration was drawn from the various villagers interactions with us, with each other, and with their environment. Observing facial expressions of all ages, from infants to elders was a study of the vast range of human emotion. The joy of sharing one’s life with foreigners, from the repetition of daily survival to the celebratory healing dance ritual, was evidence that connection to the human soul is of paramount importance. They longed for us to see their way of life, to revel in it, with no pity, no judgement, no desire for us to Westernize them. They are proud of who they are, with no pretense to be anything else. It is a healthy pride. Seeing this was an opportunity for each girl to ask herself: Am I proud of myself? Do I pretend to be something I am not? Is my pride healthy?

The villagers tried their best to communicate, not necessarily with spoken word, but with body language, with gestures and with facial expression. It was inspiring to make connection in this way. With each other, community rapport was impressive, as they created together, cooked together, served together, sang together, danced together and laughed together. We were unabashedly invited to participate in their shared prepared meals, in their spiritual rituals, in their healing ceremonies. Interactions with their environment were also respectful, knowledgeable, sustainable, and spiritual. They guided us with care and pride to their ‘coffin caves’, along their rivers, over their hills, and through their forests. A quiet joyful respect for the creation around them was evident. It was inspiring to see how little people need to be healthy and happy and willing to share that way with others. Unselfishness was apparent among them. They shared their lives with no expectation of gaining anything in return. Although we did help to make water tanks for them, I believe their hospitality and genuine joy in this sharing would have been there had we ‘given’ them nothing. A blurred distinction arose: who did the ‘giving’ and who did the receiving? For the Chrysalis team, the Black Luha villagers gave us far deeper intangibles than we were able to give them tangibly while working on their water tanks. Their unselfish inclusion and acceptance of us made us question where our values lay in relation to acceptance, inclusion, and joy? What pieces of our own identities include those values? 

Work that Goes Hand-in-Hand

The true gift with this opportunity is finding that service work, immersed in a different culture if even for a short period of time, truly alters ones’ perspective. As we continually seek to have our students ‘identify’ who they are, it is with this kind of opportunity that a big portion of that work will be done. Cultural immersion, true service, and identity work thrive hand in hand.