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As we approach our final two weeks, below are some reflections from our students and staff about the students’ recent travels to Laos and northern Thailand. Our global scholars spent the first part of this month in Laos and are spending the last part in northern Thailand. We are rapidly approaching our return (April 10th!) and it’s hard to believe it has already almost been three months. And yet, when we look at how much everyone has grown it often seems as though we’ve been here much longer. 

*All of our photos in this post are from two of our amazing global scholars – Andres McDade and Amoy Tomlin. In additional to their regular courses, these two have also taken on an independent study course in photography under the guidance of one of our Co-Directors – Louis Bryant III – who in addition to being an amazing educator and world traveler is also a talented professional photographer.


Reflections from Laos: An Appreciation of Experience

By Stephanie Alvarenga  |  Thrival Global Scholar 

Laos was simply beautiful. While on the plane I could automatically tell that Laos was so much different than Thailand. When we first arrived to Laos all I felt was a hot thick breeze on my face. I really liked the way the Laos base house felt. It was very rural and it was exactly what we came for – a place for studying abroad. A few days later we were in the Elephant Conservation Center in Laos and it was the trip everyone was anticipating. It was the first time I was able to touch and feed such an enormous animal. Getting to learn about elephants and the dangers that they face made me rethink a lot about my daily actions and how I can affect that as an individual. The trips we are having in Thailand and Laos are really opening my eyes and changing my perspective.


amoy boat

“Mekong River boat ride” photo by Amoy Tomlin



“Interactions at the Elephant Conservation Camp” photo by Amoy Tomlin


A story from Laos: A Sweet Reminder about a Woman and a Smile

By: Amoy Tomlin  |  Thrival Global Scholar

There she was sitting in the dark lonely corner. I thought to myself, “why is this little old lady sitting here alone selling cotton candy where no one could really see her?” I wondered, how would she get sales? She still had a smile on her face, which indicated that she had a really sweet and humble heart. She kept looking and smiling at me and I looked deep into her small wrinkly face. This woman reminded me so much of my grandma. I felt like I have known this little old lady my entire life. It might be crazy for me to say that but I felt like I had the strongest connection with this old woman. I walked over to her and picked up a cotton candy from the top of her stick. She then looked at me and told me the price, “ten baht,” while flashing a smile. I took out a 100 baht and handed it to her. As she looked in her little coin purse to return my change I thought to myself, what am I really going to do with the money? She reached her hands out to return my change, but I lightly shook my hand and said, “no” smiling. Her reaction was priceless because her smile became wider than it did before. You could see how grateful she really was and that it made her really happy. Her reaction alone made my whole week.

amoy flower

“Contrasting color and beauty” Photo by Amoy Tomlin


Updates from our adventures in northern Thailand

By: Louis Bryant III  |  Thrival Director of Engagement & Experiential Learning

The anticipation finally met reality as the time had come to depart for the Rustic Pathways Children’s Home in northern Thailand. After a long day of traveling the kids and everyone around them only wanted one thing – sleep. The following morning started with breakfast and its deliciousness, which was followed by a tour of the Children’s Home. The students then drove a few kilometers up the mountain into a cave temple and conducted a chat with one of the monks to understand his perspective on urbanization and its impact on the community and the environment in northern Thailand. Following this, our students had the chance to participate in a hugely popular and important piece of Thai culture: Muay Thai. Muay Thai is a form of martial arts and our students visited a gym to take classes and learn about the history of the sport. Once we concluded we traveled to the local afternoon market where students got a sense of a new community in Thailand who have been deeply impacted by modernization and urbanization in Thailand, the Karen, which are considered one of the native hill tribes in the region. By the evening time the children who stay at the Children’s Home arrived back home from school. There was an organized introduction where the Thrival students were grouped with a pair of children from the Children’s Home. The goal of the activity was for each of the children to learn facts about one another. Then they presented their exchanged information to the entire group.  The night air was filled with English language, Thai phrases, giggles, smiles, and bonding.


The next day it was time for work. The students reconnected with their Summit learning platform and commenced their self-directed studying into their chosen content. The day continued with working on a new checkpoint which included socratic discussions about the impact of urbanization in Thailand.

The following day started with a US History DBQ (document based question) in the morning followed by our next checkpoint in our project, which contained the relevant information to prepare them for their next homestay/study in Loei – a small community that has been deeply impacted by the mining industry. The next day the students continued with studies by diving deeper into the political, social, historical and environmental aspects of the mining situation in this region with a specific lens on the nearby local villages that have formed organizations to resist some of the harmful work. After a night of team building games the students prepared for the final day at the Children’s Home.

The last day commenced with work being done during the school day and an evening of fun. One of our program facilitators, P’Chet, hosted the Thai and Thrival talent showcase where the students prepared small demonstrations, skits, songs, and dances. After the laughs cleared the air we all circled up and the children of the Children’s Home presented small gifts to the Thrival students. Thrival Thrival students received bags from the children whose parents sewed them by hand in the traditional Karen style.


“Flower at sunset” by Andres McDade

The next day we departed for Chiang Mai which meant we had an early start and a long drive. Once we arrived we ate, checked in, worked for a portion of the time then went out to dinner at the Night Bazaar. The night air was filled with energy as the eyes of our Thrival students open wide to fill their vision with the sensations of the vibrant aesthetic. After a night of shopping it was off to bed to prepare for the next morning’s activity – Thai cooking class. The students received step-by-step instructions on how to prepare pork satay, papaya salad, peanut sauce, white curry soup and mango sticky rice. (Parents! Remember to ask your students to make this for you when they get home!) After eating their beautiful creations the students had a short trip across Chiang Mai to meet with the representatives of Baan Dek which is a not-for-profit organization to support children of migrant workers. Once the exchange and questioning concluded the students headed to a late afternoon activity which involved touring an art museum called Art in Paradise.  Dinner followed the museum and an evening in to prepare for tomorrow’s activity, which is a visit to Chiang Mai’s most notable temples: Doi Suthep and Wat Chedi Luang. Thoughout all of this, our students are carrying their lessons and lens of this unit: the impacts of urbanization in rural Thailand.


We are down to our last two weeks! Our students have one more homestay, their final wrap up and celebration at the Ricefields campus, and a few days in Bangkok before we board our plane and return home. Stay tuned for more updates from Thailand before we enter into the final reflection and wrap up phase of our inaugural Thrival year. Thank you all for continuing to follow and support our students’ journeys. 




“Cracked earth” by Andres McDade



“Sunset” by Andres McDade