Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
As an Indigenous (Metis) Canadian woman from Winnipeg Manitoba Canada, I was surprised and very honoured when I was approached and encouraged to apply for the Rotary International Peace Fellowship Program; but I was not optimistic. I did not think it likely, that a police officer from a mid-sized Canadian City would be selected, when the applicants come from all over the world. I was fascinated, and secretly hopeful that maybe I might have a chance. I decided to give it my best and organized my information (applications, essays, approvals and interview preparations) and applied.
I highly encourage anyone reading this and interested in applying to this program to connect with past fellows, locally or through this blog. Rotary was so supportive, connected me with individuals who have participated in the Fellowship Peace Program in the past, and continually encouraged me along the way.
Write down clearly what you do, and what you have done. Do not be shy about including the volunteer work, the projects and the experiences, they are important (lived experience especially). As a police officer I oversee our Community Support Division which includes officers working in, crime prevention, youth, Cadets, school officers, victim services, diversity and Indigenous partnerships. However, my connection to and work with, community boards and NGO’s were as valuable in my work. Everything is important when looking at what we are doing together towards “positive peace”.
It is hard to reach out, but please do. We have a wonderful network of caring individuals, in Rotary, who are passionate about making positive change in the world and they truly want to support change makers!
When I received notification that I was accepted. My heart stopped and I was dumbfounded and thrilled. I was being given an opportunity to sit in a class with global experts in peace work, to learn and share our work with each other. What an unbelievably rare and potentially transformational opportunity! I committed to myself that I would make the most of it! But how to do this? I had 7 weeks to make arrangements and then be on a plane.
Be optimistic. Plan a bit ahead of what you will do if you are accepted. 7 weeks is a mad rush to attend the travel clinic for shots, select a conflict project that you are currently involved in and would work on throughout the course (and submit it to the university 4 weeks before you go), arrange leave and coverage at work and volunteer boards, apply for and receive a required Education Visa, research Thailand’s customs and cultures (please spend some time on this it will make your transition here – even with your rotary host assistance much smoother), and book your flights.
Last but not least, preparation will assist to pack practical gear:
Cloths – are pretty individual, but I can advise it is very hot here. Pack light weight cloths but ensure you have a couple of sweaters or blazer type jackets for formal presentations or for when you are inside, the AC is frigid. The Fellows in class dress business casual for the most part, but we each have a formal business dress for formal occasions. Flat shoes, athletic equipment (there are lots of sports facilities on campus and you get to use for free with your student card), bathing suits (pool on campus and beach), ziplock bags or sealed containers for food, a kettle, and toiletries for your first couple of weeks will all be helpful. The stores are close and plentiful, inexpensive and well stocked. If you forget anything you will be able to pick up here.
Bring a computer, an unlocked cell phone so that you can buy a Thai SIM card (our whole class communicates by WhatsApp and have purchased local SIM cards to do so), travel or computer bag, prescription medication, and bug spray.
You will be living in a room the size of a small hotel room with two twin beds but only comes with one bottom sheet, comforter and one pillow (extra twin sheet or a king – if you want the beds together is a good idea), 2 floor to ceiling cabinets double door (no hangers are provided but you can get some first day of class) 2 desks with chair, a double shelving system with mini bar fridge. There is a balcony and an amazing AC system with remote. Private bathroom with toilet, sink and shower. Something from home will go a long way to make your space welcoming.
No cooking allowed in your room at all. There are lots of food options close to the residence. It really is an oasis. If you are a vegetarian there are lots of options close by but most people carry a note in Thai to clarify (as there could be fish sauce in the tofu unless you ask that it be left out). Bring a few snacks for the first week until you get to know the area.
Items of note to help with the preparation:
I have been in Thailand for two weeks as a member of Rotary Peace Fellow Class 26. 22 Fellows from 14 countries. The background and work of my classmates is diverse and absolutely fascinating. There are already different opinions, understanding, and perspectives. We have engaged each other inside and outside of class about our work and our knowledge. The absolute best part is that we do not all agree. But we listen and we learn and our own understanding and perspectives may have shifted as a result. Almost each person in class has stated their desire to learn from and with each other.
I have renewed optimism that with open minds and hearts we can contribute to small and large differences in this world of ours towards positive peace. I am looking forward to the next 10 weeks and almost as much as returning home to share this experience and help support changes in my community. Thank you, Rotary International Peace Fellowship for making this possible!
Bonnie Emerson – Canada
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 26