University Honors Program

Honors Students in Thailand

One of the most emotional days during the trip was the day I met some of my relatives in the village of B52 in Laos.

When I went to Laos in 2012, I was thrilled to come into contact with the little details of Hmong-Lao and Lao culture. I had removed myself from that culture, physically and psychologically, so that the thrill of Hmong-Lao culture was both personal and external. My family’s way of life is rooted in the traditions and ways of life of the Hmong in Southeast Asia, but living half a world away, I felt that Hmong culture in Laos was not truly relevant to my life.

It wasn’t until I visited Laos this year that I reflected on my perception of Hmong culture in Laos as a Hmong-American. Growing up hearing short stories about the Vietnam and Secret Wars, and learning that people still live in poverty today, I had compartmentalized those stories it into a box labeled The Past. When I visited Laos the first time three years ago, it was as if I saw everything through a long telescope, with distance between myself and the reality I witnessed. This is the way my parents lived back then, versus, This is the way the people here in Laos live right now.

My cousins prepared a khi tes for me, a celebration in which my wrist was tied with string to bless and strengthen my soul. It’s a spiritual celebration I hadn’t expected, as it’s one that requires the work, time, and sincerity of many people. Seeing and hearing my cousins welcome me, feeling the love they gave me, eating with them in their home was all a part of an irreplaceable experience. It hit me harder that I was doing myself and my world a disservice when I avoid the realities different from mine in order to go about my day-to-day routine more easily.

Our group had scheduled a short day in B52. I spent less than five very fortune hours with my cousins. They deepened my understanding of family. They opened their hearts to me in a way that compelled me to keep my mind and heart open. This experience shook my reality in the most liberating way.

- Bao Lee
Graduate Assistant
University Honors Program