My Journal June 11, 2011 Today, I am leaving my home in Virginia and moving thousands of milesaway to Thailand- a country that speaks a different language than I do and has adifferent culture than I am accustomed to. This is my senior year and was supposedto be the “perfect” year. Instead, I am forced to become accustomed to not being ableto communicate with people in Thailand, being laughed at because I do not correctlyspeak the Thai language, and being talked about behind my back in Thai. July 27, 2011 I have now lived in Thailand for over a month now, and living here has notbeen as hard as I thought. Yes, I have been laughed at by Thai people and have notbeen able to communicate with many of them, but my attitude has changed towardthe Thai culture and language from disdain to curiosity. My experience with Thaipeople has made me wonder if Thai culture is related to the Thai language or viceversa. One instance that caused me to ask this question was my summer work at theArmed Forces Research Institute of Medical Science (AFRIMS). At AFRIMS, I had towork with Thai people who spoke little or broken English. In order to communicateand work effectively with these people I had to learn nit noy (meaning “a little” inThai) Thai and combine it with the English words that my coworkers knew.As Ipracticed the language, conversed with the Thai people, and got to know their lifestyle, my assumption that there was a correlation between their culture andlanguage was strengthened immensely.I observed that the Thai language does notcontain any verb tenses and that the Thai people I worked with put little importance
on punctuality. Using these observations I reasoned that. there must be a connectionbetween the Thai culture not emphasizing the importance of time and theirlanguage having one verb tense. Either their language having one tense causes theirculture not to stress punctuality, or their culture not emphasizing punctuality causestheir language to have one tense. Still, I cannot decide whether the Thai languageaffects their culture or if it is the other way around. August 15, 2011Today, I started school at the International School of Bangkok. It was the first time Ihave ever attended an international school. When I came to school, I was surprisedby how many different languages were spoken and by how many students werefluent in at least two languages. In America, most students struggled to learn anadditional language in class and very few were completely fluent in anotherlanguage. Also in America, many people criticized or shunned people who spoke adifferent language than English. At this international school, things are different.People are actually proud of their bilingualism and everyone accepts it; in fact, it isencouraged to know more than one language here. This difference in the attitudetoward languages and the number of languages spoken at the International Schoolof Bangkok has slightly altered my way of thinking and understanding. I wonder ifmy hearing and communicating in a variety of languages affects my global identityand presence in this greater community? August 31, 2011
Today, my family was having a dinner-table discussion about our experiencein Thailand. In this discussion, we talked about the Thai people, especially how theylived, how they spoke, and the difficulties that their way of life and speaking causedus. As we were conversing, my younger brother butted in and asked if the Thai wayof living and way of speaking were related because they both caused our familyobstacles. Although his reason was false, he made a good point and got the rest ofmy family thinking. My dad stated that culture must affect language becauselanguages were developed specifically to communicate a certain community’s ideals,culture, and thinking. On the other hand, my mom argued that language must affectculture because usually if people no longer speak their native tongue they will losemajority of their cultural heritage and practices. Weighing both of these argumentsin this discussion, I have concluded that language affects culture and that cultureaffects language. My thinking is as follows-if the English language becomes extinctand American citizens speak another language then the American heritage andculture would significantly change. On the other hand, if American culture weredifferent, then American English would be completely different as well. An exampleof this can be seen in the contrast between the language/culture of America andEngland. Although America’s culture is closely related to English culture, they areslightly different. The difference in culture is evident in the difference betweenEnglish spoken in Britain and that spoken in America. September 15, 2011
Today, a conversation between two of my friends spoken partly in French and partlyin English reminded me of my experience at AFRIMs when I had to communicate inboth English and Thai. As I was pondering this experience, I remembered that I hadlearned a term in my language and literature class called code switching thatmeanscommunicating by mixing two languages.The topic of code switching hasspurned within me the question of whether the use of language affects a person’sidentity; I have finally reached a conclusion. I believe that my move to Thailand andacclimation with Thai has affected my identity. My use of code switching at my job atAFRIMS and communicating in Thai has changed who I am. There are parts of myidentity, like being an American, that will not change nor do I want them to change,but there are aspects of my identity that will change as my global perspectiveincreases. Coming to Thailand and becoming immersed in its culture and languagehas increased my viewing optic of the world and has helped me to betterunderstand my presence in it, thus changing my identity.