Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
I have the honor of writing the first blog entry for our Class 23 cohort – but as I write that I realize we will want to come up with a better team name in the coming weeks. I might also demystify the date by saying that the Buddhist calendar used in Thailand has us in the year 2560, and it is looking quite good from my perspective.
We concluded our first week in the program – two days for orientation and background on Thai history and culture, two days for learning about Trauma and Self Care, and finally the presentation of our individual Conflict Analysis topics to our classmates.
We opened by observing that the same global dynamics that make it easier than ever to convene such a global and diverse group also contribute to the new challenges facing peacemakers globally – challenges of interconnectedness, knowledge across borders, and the ability to see beyond surface identities. These are profound challenges, and if I had any preconceived notions about having expertise in this area I am appreciating this week how much I have to learn.
Fortunately, I feel I could not be in better hands than with these teachers and this cohort. We are 24 people from 20 countries, with a range of diversities that I have not seen before. We are teachers, lawyers, nonprofit specialists, social workers, counselors, political activists, police officers and an aviation noise specialist (that’s me). Suffice it to say that everyone is united by a deep belief in peaceful conflict resolution, and I am looking forward to learning from these experienced and creative people over the next 11 weeks. The professors and lecturers are invited from around the world and many are recognized as top thinkers, contributors and doers in this field. It will be a unique learning experience.
It will also be difficult, challenging and heavy at times, as we are not shying away from the hard facts of war, violence and oppression that are so very present in every country, and show up in every person, including ourselves. I’m looking forward to diving deep into the current research that combines biology, psychology, sociology, history, politics, law and communications to inform conflict frameworks and give us tools for better understanding, engaging with, and transforming conflict.
I feel that the time will go very fast, based on my experience this week. We have a demanding schedule with preparatory academic readings, rigorous class sessions that run all day, practice and homework that includes journaling, blog writing, speaker research, individual project research, and mandatory group activities. Because this is an active and engaged group we have self-selected extra-curricular activities that each person can opt into – for example we will make a brief video in the next two days in support of World Refugee Day – look for it on the Rotary Peace Chulalongkorn website, as well as on You Tube. Even a small project like that takes organizing the group into script writers, videographers, film editors, speakers and actors, and post-production efforts – and everyone was willing to lend their expertise or learn a new skill to support the effort.
Beyond the coursework, academics and projects, we are acculturating to this new life in a city that is new for many of us, and in my case much more urban than I am used to in Portland, Oregon, USA. One challenge for me will be to find open and green parks for recreation and reflection, as land is a precious commodity in Bangkok. I am enjoying the hospitality and patience of the Thai people, and hope to surmount some of my language challenges when the Rotaract students start teaching us basic Thai language classes for us in a few days. But even with a few basic phrases I feel quite welcome here.
We have the usual chores to support ourselves, with the possible exception that our apartment housing does not allow cooking, which is quite welcome in my case, given the amazing and affordable array of culinary choices a few steps in every direction. Exercising can be a challenge in the outdoors given the very hot temperatures, but the Chulalongkorn University facilities are more than adequate and the swimming pools are delightful in the heat.
I have been impressed by the efficiency with which the Peace Center runs such a high-quality program. As I have been to many Rotary meetings in the USA prior to departure, I now see the direct connection between the dollars that Rotarians generously provide for missed meetings and “happy bucks” showing up here, in the fellowships that enable our being here.
For readers considering the program, I can assure you that the experience promises to be both unique and profound, propelling us with new skills, commitment, networks and inspiration into a complex and conflict-rich world that needs our contributions more than ever. I will look forward to sharing more news along the way.
I have attached two photos – one work and one play. Our group photo was taken outside, during our tour of the Chulalongkorn University campus, and the other is from my weekend bicycle tour of Bangkok, in a suburb of the city that still produces fresh coconuts for eating.
Philip Stenstrom – USA
Rotary Peace Center – Class 23