By Rachel Tritter, USA, Intern 2008
As I stepped through the sliding glass doors of Chiang Mai airport exhausted from a 36-hour trip across the world, I stepped into another world of thick, humid air smelling of tropical fruits, street food and smog. The sense of wonder, awe and fear that I felt on arrival in Thailand never quiet subsided, and in the three months that followed I learned more about myself, the world around me and others then I ever thought possible. Thailand was a world away from my home near Boston, and one that definitely took some getting used to. Learning to live in conditions that didn’t require a ski jacket was difficult enough, but the addition of “squat toilets” and the need to bargain for anything and everything made for an interesting first few weeks.
As a BABSEACLE intern, I spent most of my days working in the office with students from Chiang Mai University and my fellow interns to develop comprehensive CLE lesson plans. However, unlike my previous internship experiences, with BABSEACLE I was able to conduct my work while learning about the culture around me and seeing my lessons in action. We spent time learning beginner language skills, cooking, meditating with monks at the local Wat (Temple), and volunteering in orphanages and villages in the area. We spent a week living with host families teaching English in a local village, and we travelled overland to Cambodia for nearly a day and a half to monitor the 2008 elections.
The most memorable moment of my trip, however, was the time I spent at the Chiang Mai Women’s prison. The work I did with BABSEACLE was primarily focused on prisoner’s rights, and when the opportunity arose to teach the lessons I had developed in prison, I jumped at the chance. Unexpectedly, when I entered the prison gates and proceeded to the classroom, I was met by the eager, smiling faces of 35-40 young women. They all followed the lessons with a sense of excitement and gratitude that I had never witnessed before or since. I left the prison that day with two special gifts: a small hand-made paper mache’ pig given to me by the prisoners and sense of accomplishment greater than I can describe. That day I realized that the work that I, and all the people at BABSEACLE, was doing was not only important, but appreciated. The people we were trying to help wanted us there, wanted to learn, and truly valued what we were trying to do. This immense appreciation for legal education has been my driving force since that moment, and the smiling faces of the women at the Chiang Mai women’s prison have forever altered the way I view the world around me.