By Anna Naran, Foster Undergraduate who participated in an exchange with Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand
I can only imagine a child having to share a room with four siblings. I can only imagine a child secretly wanting a cookie, but knowing not to say anything because his parents could not afford one. I can only imagine a child happy to go to a school that required school uniforms because that meant he did not have to reveal his poverty through the way he dresses. I can only imagine a child wearing worn out shoes lined with rubber from an old discarded tire because he could not afford new shoes. I can only imagine my father, living in poverty, in Rhodesia, Africa (modern day Zimbabwe). My father has shared with me what it was like growing up in poverty. Listening to my father’s stories is the main catalyst for why I chose to study abroad.
After my classes ended in Bangkok, my parents flew out and we spent three weeks exploring Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. In these three countries, we saw cities where new merged with old, urban merged with nature, and the west merged with the third world. But we also saw cities where it was just old, just all nature, and just all third world. It was in these rural cities, where I became instantly closer to my father. Seeing him walk down the road to escape the instant visual of poverty gave me a glimpse at what those stories he told me growing up were all about. It’s one thing to hear stories from someone, but it’s another to see them. My father, one who always makes it a point to be the loudest, most childish in the room, became instantly reserved. Scenes of barefoot kids finding joy in rain puddles, kids finding pure bliss in the simple exchange of a smile, kids happy to just be alive, brought him to a place I had never seen. Walking into classrooms with no electricity, brought him to a place I had never seen. Being bombarded by kids trying to sell merchandise in order to make a living, brought him to a place I had never seen. Perhaps it was hard for him to relive something he worked so hard to forget. Perhaps it was hard for him to have the stories he once told me come to life. Or, perhaps it was a little bit of both. Regardless of the reason, simply put, it was hard.
Seeing my father’s reaction made it ever so clear. These past 5 months spent abroad; I couldn’t have done without him. These past 21 years; I couldn’t have done without him. So, as he walked away, choking back tears, and muting his thoughts, I couldn’t help but come to realize that he was one of those kids. He was the kid that giggled uncontrollably as he jumped into a puddle. He was the little girl that could not stop grinning every time someone looked her way. He was the kids that sat in a classroom with no lights. He was the kids that despite it all, never took what they had for granted. He never lost that smile and because
he never lost it, I have what I have. Because he never lost it, I am able to see what I see, and do what I do.
Studying abroad does a lot for students; the list is never ending. But what it did for me was it gave me the ability to understand and empathize on a level I never knew I could. Seeing is powerful. Seeing allows you to connect. Seeing allows you to grow. Seeing allows you to appreciate. I’m glad I got the opportunity to study abroad, but most importantly, I’m glad I got the opportunity to see.