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Many languages, one voice: as told by Arun Prakash Sharma
There are over seven billion people in the world and that number is just growing every day. From the tranquility of the Blue Lagoon of Iceland to the swarms of pedestrians that zip across the Shibuya Crossing Tokyo, our differences manifest into diversity. One of these distinctions being how we communicate- as Ethnologue reports, there are 7,111 languages spoken across the world today.
Asia is exceptional when considering the code of linguistics. With a population of 4.2 billion people who speak over 2,300 languages, the continent personifies how the spoken word has evolved with time. The Walailak University Language Institute celebrates the many dialects around the globe as they organize a week-long excursion with over 200 students from over 26 countries across 5 continents this year. Arun Sharma, an Undergraduate of the Computer Science Major in Webster University Thailand’s Bangkok Campus, attended the Walailak University Cultural Camp (WUCC 2019) and shares every syllable of his escapade.
Arun considers this one of the most memorable trips of his life because he had never seen so many cultures assimilate in one place, “The camp takes place every year to promote a global youth network and cross-cultural friendship with the theme was ‘Cultures without Borders’. He welcomed the chance to explore a new part of Thailand, “My time reminded me of one of the reasons I joined Webster- I wanted to immerse myself in the many cultures across the world. We spent the first five days in the Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, a part of the country that I had never been to. I would like t to thank the Webster's Global Citizenship Program for supporting and providing me with this opportunity.”
The Institute promotes this opportunity through 4 ‘E’s’- explore, exchange, engage, and enjoy. Arun believes that they should include ‘enrich’ to this mantra: “The second day started off with an opening ceremony that included a cultural performance from each of the countries. Everyone was adorned in their national attire and it made me realize that our background takes shape in every part of lives.” He admired how the camp also dedicated time to ancient Thai culture, exploring the historical city in the southern region- “I took the chance to take in the fresh air which seems like a luxury in Bangkok. We visited the Khiriwong Village and learned to make the local jewelry. We participated in the entire process which starts from generations of master craftsmen to one-stop shop for all kinds of trinkets of the Local Product Centre.”
Meeting new people can be daunting especially when they come from different regions but Walailak University uses the universal language of music as the ice-breaker. “The ‘Wonder of Walailand’ started with dances in the traditional Thai costumes and learning to play Thai musical instruments. Most of us had only watched some form of musical performance so learning a new artistic expression really build companionship,” recalls Arun. After a day of energetic activities, the students set up tents by the lake and continued the night of conversation by a campfire.
The Nakhon Si Thammarat Province end of the trip concluded with a tour of one of the oldest temples in Thailand. Arun reflected on the transformation of a region over centuries, “The Phra Mahathat Woramaha Wilharn Temple is one of six primary royal temples in Thailand. The chedi is believed to have been built over 1,500 years ago around the precise center of the original city.” The enthusiastic photographer also witnessed the history of cultural merging throughout the temple, “The Srivijara temple is said to contain Sri Lankan relics that are over 2,000 years old. The chedi of the edifice was constructed in the Sri Lankan shape around 1200 A.D. When the guide detailed the history I realized the various cultures coming together have shaped the world and we were doing the same throughout the week.”
The eclectic group then took a sleeper train from the South to the capital city. “I think the concept sleeper train would not apply during our night trip because we spent most of our time sharing pictures and getting to know one another. I realized that we were not only participants during this trip but representatives of a unique globalized world,” expounds Arun. The Bangkok portion of the excursion included visits to the National Museum, National Theatre, Wat Phra Kaew, and Grand Palace. Arun took on the role of a tour guide, “Some of the students lived in other parts of the country like Chiang Mai and Songkhla so this gave me a scope to show them the city that I have been calling home for the past two years. I am used to expressing myself from behind a lens but I was sharing Bangkok through my eyes for the first time.”
“A closing ceremony was held at the Montien Riverside Bangkok with Walalilak University’s President, Dr. Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, and University Committee. I was bidding farewell to my companions but with a sense of knowing that I had made friends from around the world,” postulates Arun. The zealous photographer reminisces about the trip being one of building friendships and breaking stereotypes, “I now comprehend that we are all similar and the best way to really appreciate a heritage is through its people. Embracing the idea of cultures without borders made me realize that each and every one of the thousands of languages across the world serves a universal purpose that unites us- the enthusiasm to communicate with each other.”