Study Abroad

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Friends World Program of Long Island University

Dear Religious Studies Students Stuck in Rhodesland,

I, Matt Wilson (′05), have been living it up in Thailand and I hope this message will encourage you to participate in this program or something similar.

"Friends World-Comparative Religion and Culture Program" is a yearlong study abroad that goes to Thailand, India, and Turkey. In each country we spend 10-12 weeks studying their Religions and Cultures. Most of the learning is experiential based which is reinforced, challenged, enhanced by in class study and readings. Yada, Yada, Yada.

To the good stuff. I have been in Thailand now over 8 weeks. In class, we have been doing in-depth study of the history/theory of Theravada Buddhism, Thai history and culture (politics, art, social change, act). We then spent considerable time (more than half of the scheduled events) in contact with these things. This means direct interaction with monks, nuns, local people, temple visits, cultural exchanges, festivals and social outreach.

In Thailand, orange robed monks and nuns seem to be running around everywhere, doing all sorts of crazy stuff. Seeing Buddhism in practice, both religiously and socially is far different than one might think or understand from a book. Here is a shot list of the trip′s highlights:

  • An 8 day meditation retreat at a Temple where we lived like the monks. Waking at 4am, two meals a day, daily Dharma talks with the Abbot, and lots of meditation.
  • A spirit festival at a Buddhist temple where the local spirits are welcomed out of a cave in which they had retreated during the rainy season. The spirits re-enter the bodies of mediums who becomes "possessed". Yes, seeing spirit possessions is quite the experience. FYI- Thai Buddhism is only the veneer over spirit worship.
  • Loy Kratone festival (Mardi Gras meets 4th of July)...CRAZY. -"The Sangha Metta Project"--Monks who actively promote the education of HIV/AIDS awareness/safety and help relieve the suffering of victims. A very successful program.
  • Lectures and work with victims of the "sex slave industry". Very powerful experience.
  • John Butt, the organizer of the Thailand curriculum, who has been a Professor of religion in Thailand for 20 years. Coincidentally, he is a Rhodes Graduate, class of 1960, his picture is on the "wall of fame" in Palmer (so he says).

Next week we travel to Bangkok for 12 days to finish off the semester. Then we have a much needed break. I am off to the turquoise waters of Thailand′s beaches and Islands for some outdoor activities while some people are going further south to explore the Islamic nations of Southeast Asia. It′s a tough life.

My next email will come from India in a couple months. I would love to give you more info if you are interested, visit http://www.southampton.liu.edu/fw/crc/

Living it up for all you captives,
Matt Wilson