What to expect

What should I expect in Thailand?
Expect the unexpected.

Yeah, right. I mean, like, will there be Thai food?
Yes, plenty. And plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Rest assured, no Italian restaurant, KFC, or Pizza Hut is on the itinerary.

What if I am Vegetarian? Do Thai monks eat vegetarian?
Thai monks are not vegetarian. They accept and eat what is offered to them. But anyone in our group who is vegetarian will find a most satisfactory selection of food wherever we are.

Do I need to be some kind of Buddhist to participate?
Not at all. No particular religious orientation or faith is either required or excluded. You will of course be learning much about Buddhism in Thailand during our time there. And while many of the meditation techniques and contemplative practices that you will be learning throughout the whole program, including during the retreat, come from the Buddhist tradition, they are all equally secular in application. Buddhist meditation practices have been widely adapted and applied in many secular contexts, such as in medicine and therapy, and in athletic training, as well as in other non-Buddhist spiritual traditions. 

Must I be an experienced meditator?
The course has no prerequisites. Whether you are new to meditation and contemplative practice, or want to build upon and extend your knowledge, the program has much to offer. For more details, see the relevant information on the syllabus and the page on mindfulness.

Do I have to know any Thai?
All of our discussions, seminars, and tours will be conducted in English. There will be ample opportunity to interact with local residents and Thai monks, when translation will always be available. Among your faculty for the program, David Ambuel speaks fluent Thai, and Patinya Ambuel is a native speaker of Thai, not to mention Isan, the Northeastern Thai dialect, and Lao. You will certainly also be able to practice as many (or as few) Thai phrases as you wish. If you wish to become acquainted with some Thai phrases in advance, we suggest you visit the website thai-language.com, which is a marvelous online resource with numerous audio clips.

What time is it?
The time in Thailand is 12 hours later than Eastern Standard Time (and therefore 11 hours later than Eastern Daylight Savings Time).

How much stuff should I bring with me?
As little as possible!! We will be traveling a lot. The less baggage you take with you, the easier your life will be. So pack light! You might find it practical to pack in one backpack – but, whatever type of bag you bring, bring only ONE! Here are some guidelines to help you as you decide what to pack:
* Dress for the entire trip will be relaxed, but not overly informal. You should be prepared for very warm weather! Leave your sweaters and coats at home. You should be aware, at the same time, that we will be visiting many temples, where very informal dress, that is, shorts or anything skimpy, is inappropriate. Plan to dress with a sense of modesty.
* You might want some comfortable walking shoes for the national park visits; otherwise you are likely to find good sandals (with good soles and heel strap) preferable for day to day wear. In Thailand shoes are always removed before entering homes or temple buildings, so don’t bring shoes that are complicated to put on or take off. 
* For your own safety, don’t carry expensive watches or jewelry with you, and use a wallet rather than a pocketbook. 
* The electrical system in Thailand is 220 volts, so American hair dryers and electric shavers won’t work unless you bring a transformer and adapter with you. If you can do without electrical gadgets, so much the better.
* Bring basic toiletries for the duration of the trip. If the need arises, toiletry items, personal necessities, and non-prescription medications are readily available in Thailand. 
* If you use prescription drugs, it is essential that you bring a copy of your prescription with you, and be sure to carry part of your supply in your hand luggage in case your bag gets lost. Please remember that, although many prescription drugs are available over the counter in Thailand, some are very tightly controlled and cannot be dispensed unless you consult with a medical doctor in person–Ritalin is an example of such a drug. If you use an essential medication which falls into this category, please bring with you a letter from your doctor explaining what you are being treated for, and what drugs are being used. This will make it easier to obtain replacement medications if you have to. 
* If you plan to buy gifts, books, or souvenirs, figure out ahead of time how you will bring them back. One way is to pack a small fold-up bag and in with your luggage. You can then fill it with your purchases and bring it back with you.
* Bring a swim suit and thin shawl
* Bring your sunglasses
* Don’t forget your camera

Did I hear warm? How warm is warm?
In the areas where we will be spending most of our time, average high temperatures in July are around 90 degrees (about 33 celsius) and lows around 75 (about 24 celsius). Humidity can be high. 

And rain?
We will be in Thailand right at the beginning of the rainy season. There will likely be some rain every day, and a whole lot of sun every day. During the rainy season, it is common for showers, occasionally a heavy-raining-cats-and-dogs downpour, to come, pass through quickly, and the sun will be out again in a few minutes. So your light jacket should be a rain jacket.

Why aren’t we also going to visit… and…and…?
Thailand is an extraordinary destination, and, while we will be seeing more than you can imagine, we will not see everything. You might, for example, want also to escape to Chiang Mai in the north, or see Phuket island and the far south, or visit neighboring countries. So, though we will be seeing some extraordinary beautiful sights, learning much, and having the experience of a lifetime, we cannot go everywhere. But if you still want to go visit destinations not on the schedule, you can plan to do that on your own after the course. And if you want to do that and want advice or recommendations, we’ll be happy to help. For all who wish to travel from and return to Washington D.C. as a group together, we will be glad to help you arrange flight reservations.

Do I have to be a UMW student to participate?
No, although you do have to register for the program through UMW. Contact the UMW Center of International Education for details and registration information. 

Will we fly to Bangkok as a group?
No, we have a rendez-vous time for pick up at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok. Independent travel arrangements will allow any students who wish to travel elsewhere in Thailand or Southeast Asia to do so prior to or after the program. We will be happy, however, to help you selecting a flight and making reservations, and, if it fits with all participants wishes, helping to arrange for you to travel as a group.

Will I need a passport and visa?
No visa is required for US citizens for stays under 30 days, so, if you hold a U.S. passport, your will not need to obtain a visa, unless you intend to stay in Thailand beyond the end of the program.  Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your date of entry in Thailand. Come spring when we are attending to pre-departure arrangements, we will help you with any visa questions you may have.

Do I need any immunizations or malaria pills?
We will not be travelling to any areas where malaria is prevalent, so there is no need for extra precautions. You should check that your regular immunizations are up to date. You may also wish to consult your personal doctor and current recommendations from The Center for Disease Control.

What if I get sick?
Health care in Thailand is very advanced. Should anything arise during the program, there are nearby hospitals at all locations where we will be staying.

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