Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Leaving America

Wow! I'm on my first flight out! Though I don't start my classes in Paris for about another month, I've decided to head out early and make a few stops before the coursework begins. I'll be with family and friends in Croatia for three weeks (with a four day trip in Prague somewhere in there) and one week with friends in Italy.

Every time I sit in an airport I can't help but take a look around and observe the many bodies around me. Almost everyone is on their phones (which is to be expected), but that's pretty much the only thing that's similar among everyone I'm looking at. Other than that, there are so many different races, ages, and reasons for travel. Surely not everyone is off to Europe for summer vacation and study abroad...there's something special about occupying the same space for a number of hours and then dispersing to our own individual journeys. Hopefully this moment in time can serve to meet someone cool and interesting. 

I sit here at my gate and can't help but also notice what books are being read around me. There are a few 50 Shades of Grey covers, one The Help, and a number of magazines. All this reading makes me think of the quote that says something like "...the world is a book and those who do not travel only read one page" and that's so incredibly true. There's so much to be learned about humanity (both others and one's self) through travel. There are questions that finally have the space and time to be asked. If engaged with and answered, you walk away and back to your home with a deeper understanding about yourself. It's weird. And so cool. 

I've been preparing the space for that to happen with me this summer...consciously moving some thoughts to the side to save for later. I have an empty journal ready to be used and I can't wait for my mind to have the energy to cover these things. It's gonna be great!

So long for now...I'll be blogging every once in a while and look forward to checking in with you! 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Why Not Thailand?

My experience in Thailand has been really indescribable. I have loved every minute, at least in retrospect. Sure there were some days filled with frustration, but on the whole I can't think of any days which were terrible.

I only took 12 credits this semester, but the learning experience was invaluable. In most of my classes I was the only native English speaker. Moreover, I was often one of the few students (sometimes the only student) from an actual democracy. Learning about government and policy made me realize how much we take for granted at home. Not all people in the world enjoy the same rights and freedoms we do. Many people can't gather in protest or criticize the government. Some people don't even get to elect their leaders. Meanwhile, at home all we do is point fingers and complain about what is wrong with our leaders and legislation but then we don't vote?

Being abroad was the biggest part of my learning experience. It allowed me to interact with students from Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal,  Philippines, Germany, Netherlands, Finland, Australia, Zambia, South Africa, Brazil, China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Bhutan, Maldives, and South Korea. Interacting with people from all over the world has made me realize that we are all the same. We are all excited and curious citizens of the world. For many, including myself, it just took leaving to realize we aren't so different.

Before I left the US and once I got to Thailand the recurring question was always, "Why Thailand?" Well, I never really had a motive for coming here. But, after coming here I have worldly advice for those less traveled: Don't ask yourself why. Ask yourself, why not?

After deciding I was going to study in Thailand, I began telling my friends. Most of them, in disbelief, asked me why. But a comment by one of my best friends, Al Ford, really stuck with me. After explaining to Alec that I was moving to Thailand for a semester he said, "Chase, Thailand will change a man." Al was right. Thailand will change a man.

Thailand has made me more tolerant. I have interacted with so many people from many countries and backgrounds. I have learned that yes, people are very different. People have different customs and opinions. People like different things But being different is good. Once you learn to accept that everyone is different, then you can grow personally and better find your place in the world. The phrase here is, "Same-same, but different."

Thailand has made me more patient. Not speaking the language made every day tasks challenging. Rather than get upset when there is a communication breakdown, it's easier to laugh it off. Acknowledge that there was a communication failure and work to fix it. Unless something is life or death, there is no point in getting worked up. The phrase here is, "Sabai sabai," which means easy, easy.

Thailand has made me happier. Thailand is known as the land of smiles. Everyone really does smile here. Even if it is a subtle purse of the lips, it always seems genuine. There were countless occasions where I felt uncomfortable or frustrated, but then I would make eye contact with someone and they would smile and nod and I would immediately feel better. I would become more comfortable, despite having no idea what was going on. I would feel less frustrated. Smiling is contagious. It spreads good vibes. I have spent 6 months in a mild euphoria from having a good day every day. I feel extremely relaxed.

Thailand has made me respectful. I like to think that I was successfully raised to be a respectful young man. Since coming here, I have learned different kinds of respect. I nod at everyone. I bow when I pass monks. I take my shoes off before I go inside place, especially temples. I stand at the theater to respect the king while the royal anthem is played. And I have realized the importance of learning how to say hello and thank you in the native language. Those two phrases can mean so much.

Thailand has made me independent. From loneliness to frustration, I have had to find solutions to my own problems. I am completely by myself here. I am the first student from Columbia College to come to Thailand. I am my own support system. Sure I have exchange friends, but in the end you have to make sure you have your own back.

Thailand has made me responsible. While I have always been responsible, the whole study abroad process made me more responsible. I had to do the application and get all of the necessary documents sent to RSU. I had to get immunizations by my own means. I had to coordinate my own accommodation through RSU. I had to pack. I had to make my travel arrangements. I have had to pay rent each month. But most importantly in my time here, I have had to say no to things. I have had to say no to partying on the two school nights a week. I had to say no to skipping class in order to travel. I had to say no to going on trips because it was out of my budget. Although it isn't as "grown up" as getting a decent paying job or paying bills and taxes, it has been important to my personal growth.

Overall, I love Thailand. It is hard to think about leaving. I love my new friends. I love the culture. I love the food. I love the excitement. I love the surprises. I love the islands. I love the mountains. I love the cheap prices. I love the ease of travel. Coming here was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

This has been the best semester of my life. This is probably the best 6 months that has ever happened to me. 

I do look forward to my upcoming summer and getting back to Missouri for school, but in the meantime I will enjoy my last month in the city and on the islands.

Here is to home:
Grand Canyon, Wellsboro, PA

Chase E. Barnes 
Columbia College 2016
Political Science
Study Abroad Thailand

Interested in my experiences? Check out my personal blog: 
More questions about travel in Thailand? Email me:

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


One of my big struggles for every trip is paring down the stack of books I'll be carrying along, ignoring rational baggage weight and time allowances.  So, I'll have some novel I've been wanting to read, and couldn't with all the papers to grade, and some new chunk of theory (these days, more Graham Harman and Bruno Latour), but then, some books focused on the trip itself. 

For Italy, I offered a class on Leonardo Sciascia , which, alas, no one took.  He's a (the?) major Sicilian writer, and I much admire his novels, and love his collection of stories, The Wine-Dark Sea, which offers an upclose look at village life in Sicily.  Great stuff!  Beyond just good stories, though, there is a sharp critical eye.  Sciascia has been called "The conscience of Italy. Defiant by definition" (read more in this Best of Sicily article).
A book I've started, but will continue on the plane, is Peter Robb's Midnight in Sicily: On Art, Food, History, Travel and la Cosa Nostra .  This offers a fairly contemporary look at life on the island.

But on the bus, I'll be carrying along the too-weighty, but full-of-good-stuff, Sicily: Three Thousand Years of Human History -- because there's a lot more to the history and culture of this place than pizza and godfather films.

And beause we want to be able to figure out what all this stuff is...

later, bob
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Sparks in Italy!

Greetings everyone.  A bit of info in case you are going along in the Italy trip, and haven't quite worried enough about recharging all those devices.

In general, you can't just plug in your phone or laptop or hair drier or camera battery charger or, well, anything, for two reasons.

One, the voltage is different, and way more.  220 instead of 110.  That tends to create all sorts of interesting sparks, small fires, and adventures in Rome that we'd just as soon avoid...

Two, fortunate, kind of.  Even if you ignore the voltage and want to send your laptop to the electric chamber, you can't, because the plugs are different.

So, unless you plan to be device-free for 10 days (yeah, I teach, I know how likely it is to get anyone to go even 50 minutes without that device), you need two extra bits of technology.

A plug for Italian sockets:

And, some sort of current adapter.  Read more from Rick Steve..., who does point out that some new appliances are "dual voltage," and won't need the new device.   But be sure before you plug in.  I'm more eager to see the Colosseum than Roman firefighters in our hotel...

Here's an article that says all this very patiently, with pictures:

Electricity in Italy - Plugs, Adapters and Transformers

later, bob

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