Global mindset takes effect in Thailand

By Abhijit Chakrabarti ’12 / Thailand


I awoke to the sounds of a pleasant voice on the plane’s PA system. “Good morning. The captain has turned on the fasten seatbelt sign.” My watch said it was 2:00 p.m., though I had no idea which time zone I was in at that point. As I gathered my thoughts, excitement began to build. Looking out the window I saw a white thread of coastline snaking across a crystal- line clear turquoise sea. Small islands dotted the water, like signposts reading “Thailand, this way!” As sunlight filtered through the layers of cumulus clouds, my mind, still groggy from sleep, wandered back to the recent past. I had just completed two intense trimesters at Thunderbird, where the summer heat of the Sonoran desert had finally set in, sending the mercury soaring. A week into the summer break I was making plans for what would be the three most adventurous months of my life. 
  Now, here I was about to disembark in Thailand, the land of smiles, an internship in hand and a global mindset in my heart. The flight had crossed thousands of miles on its way to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, a name that means “Golden Land” in Sanskrit. When I stepped into the customs section, the true distance I had travelled struck me.

“Sawasdee khaap,” said a female customs officer in the immigration department.

“Yes, please,” was my erroneous reply in English.

“Yin dee dtan-rup su Prathet Thai (welcome to Thailand),” she responded in the country language, a smile in place across her face.

Unsure of what she wanted, I handed over my passport along with an equally generous smile, assuming that one of the two would meet her requirements. Either because of my nonresponsive manners or the large queue of travelers building up behind me, she decided not to pursue the conversation, for which I was thankful.
  After collecting my luggage, I worked my way out of the unfamiliar airport maze in search of the person who was supposedly waiting for me somewhere outside. Chaotic traffic, a sea of humans, and intense heat and humidity were the first few mental snapshots I took of the place. With a nonfunctioning cell phone in my hand, and no idea how to find my greeter, I was wondering what to do next, when suddenly I heard my name uttered within a string of unfamiliar Thai words.

“Khun Abhijit, chan ma rup khun ti bahn bai sawng (I have come to pick you up at 2 p.m.),” a young man said, grinning ear to ear.

“Beg your pardon,” I said, only just making out my name from the sentence spoken to me, but smiling at him for good measure.

“Chan ma rup khun ti bahn bai sawng,” he said again, still smiling broadly.

The words sounded similar to the ones he had just spoken, but the result was the same—total incomprehension. Unnerved, I smiled again, this time matching his wide welcoming expression. It was only after he pulled out a paper with my picture and my name on it that I realized he had been more vigilant than I and had spotted me among the multitude of travelers, and was ready to take me to my destination.

The drive to my apartment was made at breakneck speed—my introduction to driving in Thailand—and led through lush green countryside and green meadows, the landscape flying past in a blur. The twelfth floor view from my apartment, with the sea on one side and hills on the other, presented a complete contrast to the desert vistas that I had become accustomed to in Arizona. Clouds gathered on the hilltop, threatening to burst, bringing torrential rains. The gentle breeze was gaining strength, shaking the trees and promising a storm. The sea was glittering silver, vivid sparkles reflecting off the crests of gentle waves.

My first real global mindset test came when I got hungry. Would I have to exchange my usual diet of vegetables and chicken for mussels and squid? I had seen a fast food restaurant around the corner from the apartment, and, grateful to Colonel Sanders and his secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices for frying chicken, I set out to get some KFC for dinner. Walking the few steps to KFC was challenge number two. Between overzealous vendors and jaywalkers on the crowded sidewalks, it took skilled maneuvering to make my way to the restaurant and avoid being run down by pedestrians and drivers. It was a completely unlike the empty sidewalks and lifeless streets of Glendale, Arizona.

“Sawasdee kha,” said the greeter at the doorway. This time, I did not respond, “Yes, please,” as I had with the female customs officer. Guessing it was a welcoming phrase; I managed to blurt out something similar amid peals of laughter from the people surrounding me. Sheepishly looking around, it did not take me long to realize that I had made a mess of my first attempt to speak Thai. I suddenly understood: English was a big no-good and I would either have to learn Thai or sign language.

“Khun yak gin arai?”asked a smiling Thai from behind the counter. By this time, my cheeks were beginning to hurt from constant smiling and my ears had become unresponsive to anything spoken to me.

I had guessed that I was being asked what I would like to eat. “I could do with a bit of English please, or else I need to see the menu card,” I said. Fortunately for me, the restaurant had a menu with pictures alongside the Thai names of the items available. A jab and a point later I had managed to place my order and knew then I wouldn’t starve.

By the time I had finished and stepped back outside, the blue skies had turned gray. The sun was lost behind the clouds and the wind was picking up. As storm clouds rolled in, the evening sky darkened. Streaks of lightning scarred the skies followed by the boom of thunder reverberating in the distance. The wind now blew at near gale force. The searing heat had begun to recede; the winds were, perhaps, harbingers of impending cool.

The trees swayed in the wind, windowpanes rattled, and roofs creaked and groaned. Banners on the roadsides whipped about wildly. I could smell the rain in the distance, and soon the pitter-patter started. The first few drops hit the dry ground and formed a perfect medley of light and dark. The rain increased, and the surrounding concrete began to lose its color as a steady downpour followed. Finally torrential rains swept across the landscape. The weather cooled considerably.

As I stood outside the restaurant, drenched from my first Thailand monsoon storm, I felt a sense of relief. This was going to be my home for three months, and everything was going to work out fine.

That first day is best described as a dream—the dream of a wannabe globetrotter, a dream that hovers on the border between reality and disbelief. The two trimesters at Thunderbird were working their magic. The global mindset had begun to take effect. As I lay in bed later that night, staring up at the ceiling, I broke into a smile, and thought, “Sawasdee khaap,” welcoming myself to Thailand.

Abhijit Chakrabarti graduated from Thunderbird School of Global Management in 2012. He is from India and has a Bachelor of Engineering degree from Visvesvaraya Technological University in Karnataka, India. Besides English, he speaks Bengali, Hindi and basic German. He also speaks beginning Thai.