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TASIS Leadership Academy: Travels and Reflections

Students participating in the TASIS Leadership Academy traveled to Thailand during the October Break with trip leaders Mr. Ware, Mr. Bowser, Ms. Clark, and Ms. Bowden. An account of each day's events was shared with parents along with student reflections.

 

On the first day, the group started the trip with a hike. The students were tired but did a fantastic job! They were given a compass and route map and were left to get the whole group up the mountain! It was fantastic to see some of the students really step up into leadership roles. Everyone played their part; special shout out to Will S. who really stepped up as a team captain! 

Afterward, they went back to the hotel for a chance to clean up before a special traditional Khantoke dinner to celebrate the day’s achievements and the start of a great tour! You can see more photos in our Flickr album and their updates and reflections follow:

Day 2:
Good evening!  We have arrived at the Sanpatong Experiential Education Center (SEEC), operated by Tracks of the Tiger,  after an eventful day. We thought you all might appreciate reading some student reflections on our first day of the tour. Below, you can read reflections written by Harry and Will.   

I will try to share student reflections when we can, and will try again tomorrow with reflections on today’s activities, which included a visit at the PooPoo Paper Park to learn about the amazing entrepreneurial and service-oriented center that makes paper out of elephant poo, as well as our visit to one of Chiang Mai’s most famous Buddhist temples and our first afternoon at the SEEC. 

Everyone seems to be doing well and having a good time.  Lots of smiles and laughter today along with the leadership development. 

From Harry:
Our first day in Thailand was a rather eventful one; our main activity for the day was scaling a mountain on a hike.  Prior to actually setting off on the trail, we had been split into two different groups. The point of this was to teach two separate groups how to A) Navigate the trail or B) Figure out how to use the compass. This was a test of our ability to take charge and assist others with a topic or skill they don't have the same level of 'experience' as. The real goal of the trip, rather than a pretty amazing view at the top of the mountain, was to put our leadership skills and ability to problem solve for a unit to the test in a physical environment. Our journey both up and down the path was hindered somewhat by the heavy showers of rain,  but we were able to preserve as a group. I could clearly see people stepping up to the metaphorical plate when it came to leading the charge both up and down.  As the length we were walking and the steepness of the mountain increased, we in return would make sure to stop every now and then to make sure everyone was able to catch up, a display of thinking for the benefit of the whole group rather than just a select spot of individuals.

I think this first trek, while a bit difficult for the first real day of the trip, was very important. It was an immediate opportunity to showcase what physical qualities each person brought to a situation, and whether or not some people were willing to gladly accept a large role, or needed a bit of incentive or encouragement from others, which was another notable thing I spotted while on the walk. After we had finally reached the top, I could tell that everyone, while exhausted, was feeling a great sense of relief and accomplishment.

After returning to the hotel, cleaning ourselves up and, taking a short amount of time to rest, we went out for dinner, which was certainly as much of an experience as the mountain trail. As someone who had never been to Thailand, I found the meal and performance to be incredible. It gave me an idea of the amazing traditions and cultural richness that's present here. Seeing the dancer's outfits, performances, and the music was pretty eye-opening, especially to someone such as myself who had been blind to Thailand and its people. It got me thinking about the concept of cultural boundaries, and how important it is to understand that even though we're all the same at the end of the day, the same solution won't work for every variation of the problem, and it is key to look for contextual information when it comes to problem-solving.

From Will:
Today we took a hike up a mountain in Thailand, and despite having some of the best views I've seen in a while, the most valuable thing I took from it was the leadership it took to get us to the top. Before the hike, I was sorted into a group which was given a route card, so I was instructed to work with the people who were given a compass, sc we could get to the top. Naturally, I gravitated to my friend Rohan who was given a compass. Together, we would announce to the team which direction we needed to go to get the staircase. Rohan would blow the whistle that was attached to his backpack, to get the people's attention, and then I would talk to them about what's next. This was Rohan and I on the whole way up, leading our friends to the top of the mountain through the dry and wet times. For me, this is why I applied and this is where I wanted to be when I applied. When it was hard to get people's attention, I was patient instead of losing my composure, which is the main reason I applied. I was also very proud of my companions. When going up a mountain, there's naturally going to be a lot of uneven steps, spiders, divots etc. and throughout the duration of the way up, I would yell down, informing my friends to be careful. This message would be carried on through the line of all 17 of us, reaching every single person. On the way down, my knees began to hurt, so it was harder for me to learn, so I took a back seat to Edger because he wasn't struggling to go down the mountain. I think sometimes it's good for a leader to be able to do this, because there's no point in leading poorly.

Day 3:
Yesterday was another great day in the Chiang Mai region at the Sanpatong Experiential Education Center. We left the SEEC for some excursions in the surrounding area and enjoyed a diverse array of activities. The students are all doing well, and the faculty are doing our best to keep up with them all! Our sore muscles and tired bones remind us that we are definitely not 16 anymore, but the enthusiasm and engagement of the students give us the energy we need to keep going! 

Below, I’ve posted a student reflection from Rohan from day two, as well as reflections from yesterday from Rebecca and Zoe.

From Rohan: (Day 2)

We started off our day by visiting the Elephant Poo Poo Paper Park. Here we learned the process of using dried elephant poo to recycle it and use it as paper. We learned not only the process of cleaning the poo, drying it, and then ultimately using it for paper, but also how they have been able to use this business as a way to show us their entrepreneurship and how they have made a renewable business. Our guide explained how as an organization they grow bananas and give them to elephant parks in exchange for the elephant poo. They then use that for making paper as well as teaching visitors of the park about sustainability and recycling. They use money gained from this by reinvesting into the business, buying elephant food from plantations, and helping elephant conservation. From this visit, we learned an important lesson about how they are able to teach people about recycling while having a successful sustainable business.

After that, we drove to Doi-Suthep temple where we experienced different cultures and religions. We saw how the monks served their religion by devoting their lives to learning and teaching what they believed in. We were able to experience a different culture that we never would have in England.

Then we drove to the education center where we will be staying for 2 more days. We had a presentation by Connor who runs a company that helps educate people on how to help the tourism industry in Thailand, and also helps schools provide for their students more. We learned about what we will be doing over the next few days here and learned how Connor was able to use entrepreneurship to find schools that need help and provide opportunities for people to come and help them. This also links to service as he is serving the tourism industries by educating people on how local economies rely on tourism as well as serving the local indigenous communities who are unable to legally own land or provide food for their kids. We will be working with this company for our service project in the coming days.

After dinner we took part in the confidence course they provide at the centre where we had to use teamwork to compile a certain number of points. We worked together by sharing ideas on how to complete the course and by motivating each other to try and get to the end. We also used determination to try and get to the end of the course. This provides an insight of how we can work together to reach a common goal and helps us collaborate our ideas. 

From Zoe:
Today was probably my favorite day so far. We started the day by visiting the highest mountain in Thailand and did a walk through the area. There was a small spot of holy water that is used for blessings. We then visited a temple that helped us learn more about the origins of Budda. This was a calmer moment because of the fog and the quiet inside the temple which presented a different learning opportunity. What made the biggest impact on me was when we went to the village to learn more about their economy and society. We started the visit with a tour from two local people, one of whom was the village head. What was truly inspirational was seeing the pride in these people's eyes when talking about everything their village offers. They taught us about how coffee is made, showing that the process has more history behind it than just growing and selling the coffee. The village had started around 150 years ago and their main economic profit was from opium. This was an illegal drug and they were proposed by the government to find a new way of economic profit. Conflict resolution was used when addressing this problem and so was human-centered design. While the government had given them orders to stop opium production, it also gave them an opportunity to create a new way of growth. One man had a coffee tree and this was the start of a new cash crop and agro-forestry that helped this community earn money differently. Coffee was chosen as this potential new product because the government said that if they could show the value of coffee, then they would receive funding to make this their new source of income. The locals also use every part of the berry/bean that they take from the tree. They use the outer shell to produce tea, wasting as little as possible. The independence of the village and their determination were inspiring in how they were the ones who built their temple for their deity, without outside help. They had no funding from the government and also worked together as a community because this was something that meant a lot to them. It wasn't for personal or economic profit, it was because this was valuable to them and worth their time. This village is innovative and their intelligence and pride for their community were what made this experience so engaging. They showed us the toys they had made like the bamboo gun and the ginger while showing resourcefulness because they didn't have access to toys made outside of the village. A shower-like system was invented around 40 years ago with bamboo using the nearby stream, showing the creativity and skill that these people have when it comes to problem-solving.  This was a new experience for me and I felt more immersed in the culture than I had with any other opportunity. Even though I couldn't directly communicate with some of the locals, I was able to have a conversation through actions rather than words, which can hold more value than anything else.

From Rebecca:
Today was a very exciting, interesting, and busy day. We started by going to the highest point in Thailand; it was so beautiful and magical with all the mist, despite being quite cold for some, who showed great resilience. It was interesting to see and read up about some of the biodiversity of the area, and to explore the swamp forest. We then went to the twin pagodas, and were able to see/ read about the origin and the importance of the Buddha. Being amongst the clouds and seeing the golden pagoda and flowers surrounding it was beautiful to see, and gave a greater understanding and appreciation of the culture in Thailand. We then had lunch at a local restaurant, once again being able to immerse ourselves in the local culture. The highlight and most interesting and inspiring part of the day was the coffee walk. We went to a small village where we were able to get a real understanding of the entrepreneurship the village had. We walked around with 2 guides from the area, one who was the village chief, who through Seamus was able to tell us some stories and history of the village, like the elephant who lived there and the water spot we stopped at, as well as answer questions, like explaining how the people there make money; through tourism, agriculture, specialties and odd jobs. We were able to learn and see a great example of how they developed and used their skills to make money for the village to survive and grow. We saw the temple they built 9 years ago, and were inspired by the hard work and initiative they took to make it. We saw how resourceful they were, whether it was using a plant to blow bubbles, or utilizing the coffee plant to make and sell coffee. It was so interesting to see how creative and resourceful they were, adding value and how they were able to create things out of something with so little value, like using the coffee berry shells to make tea. We were able to learn how they make coffee, and the backstory behind how it started, about how they utilized diplomacy in the conflict resolution needed during the push/ shift from growing opium to coffee, as well as how they were able to adapt and evolve their agriculture. It was so interesting to see this other perspective of how people live, and to see the passion and excitement of the people who live there. We then went to this big waterfall (that also sprayed us a lot), and it was so awesome to see more of nature in Thailand. After dinner we did archery, which was a great opportunity for many to learn and develop their skill in archery, and some fun, friendly competition demonstrated working as a team to encourage each other and try to strategize.
 

Day 4:

Yesterday was one of the most powerful days I’ve experienced on tour. Our most important mission as a leadership program is to help our students see their own potential along various pathways of leadership. The Sanpatong Experiential Education Center, under the leadership of brothers Conor and Seamus, is a truly inspirational example of an organization that has fused service, entrepreneurship, and conflict resolution into a system that utilized both tourism and education as a means of fulfilling their own mission.  So, yesterday, students engaged in a day of service, but this was service in context, having already spent the preceding days learning about the whole organization. Over the course of yesterday, our students put their backs to the sun and their faces to the ground in the service of a local school. They built an entire raised vegetable garden, and prepped two more gardens. Most impressively, they mixed and packed 1,140 mushroom bags that will be used by the school to feed their students and to sell the excess to market to further fund the school. This was a truly inspiring, powerful, and encouraging thing for us to watch. We truly could not be more proud to see our TLA students giving all they could to be principled, open-minded, compassionate members of the global community.  To all the parents, we hope that yesterday is one that you can engage and reflect with your children about, and we hope that you will be as proud of them as we are.  And now, student reflections from Poppy and Duncan. 

From Poppy:
Today was one of the most memorable days yet, and one of the most life-changing experiences I’ve had. For some context,  we helped a local school out today by cutting up bamboo for the garden bed we then set up. We then helped mix and bag the mushroom mixture. While it may not seem like much, it was quite tedious and difficult. There were many moments that stuck out for me today from the thank you certificates, given to us by the school’s president,  to the amazing ten kids who came in during their mid-term to help out. Our initial thoughts when we were doing this were that we were going to show up to the school, work hard, do the tasks they ask, then leave. However, the presence and participation from the kids were so important to both us and them. They were able to learn how we make these mushroom bottles, practice their English, and be able to make a connection with us. Firstly, these children, along with us, will now have absorbed all the knowledge and skills that were shared today from these tasks today. Secondly, the innocent curiosity and drive to practice and learn about the English language was so genuine. This “aura” made the atmosphere incredibly heartwarming and everyone had a smile on their face. Finally, one of the memories I will cherish, and hope to remember for the rest of my life, is when all of the TASIS kids and the local school students got into an ice cube war. None of us could speak the same language but we were able to nonverbally community to start a massive ice war. We had all just been working for hours and were tired, in physical pain, and some of us were grumpy. But the pure joy this chaotic game brought to us was able to lift our spirits above and beyond. I personally had not felt this type of genuine and innocent happiness in ages. We, the TASIS students, learned how to carry out - and learned to appreciate - skilled labor. We learned about how the community worked and how big of a difference we were making in this community. But if the local students had not been there, we would have never truly understood what we were doing and would not have been able to connect to what we were doing. Whilst there were many other incredible points of diplomacy, entrepreneurship, and service today, the TASIS students and teachers were given something no money could ever buy, and that is the satisfaction and joy of knowing you made a difference in the lives of other people. 

From Duncan:
Today, we went to the boarding school near the education center. My first task of the day is to hoe the farmland. It is to dig a long trench as the basis of a planting zone. While I was digging it, due to the hot weather and humid climate, I felt exhausted and tired; however, from that experience, I had learned the difficulty of labouring in lands during the summer period. This brings up one of the essential elements in TLA, which is service; in this circumstance, the service that we do for the locals can increase our empathy for the locals, and therefore think about what we can do for them in the future. Later on in the day, I learned how to cut bamboo with a saw correctly; we are cutting them for building the fence for the farmland. During that short period of time, I have actually learned new matters; which is learn how to cut bamboo efficiently. At first, I insisted on cutting the bamboo by myself; but later on, when a person helped me to hold the bamboo, I got my work done faster compared to me working alone. From this incident, I have learned the importance of team collaboration; team collabs can lead to better problem-resolution methods, which applies to many matters in real life. At last, while I am packing up the products that we had made for the mushroom house; the local students are helping us to pack the products. This fact does not only show they are willing to help us to reduce the amount of work that we have, it also demonstrates their eagerness to change their community for themselves, not only relying on others to wait for changes. During my TLA trip, one of the important quotes is: “You can’t give other fish; you need to learn how to catch them.” Us, as leaders in the school, had demonstrated how a good leader can influence others.

Day 5:

Yesterday was a day where we actually were able to sleep in a little bit after such a wonderfully exhausting day helping build the mushroom house. We were sad to leave a place that so perfectly aligned with our human-centered design processes, but excited about our next adventure which was getting to know more about Chiang Chill Elephant Sanctuary. Our guides Whit and Mai offered to share with us some of the story concerning the transition of elephants as entertainment in Thailand into the service-oriented framework it is moving towards. They also informed our students about the conflict resolution challenges between elephants and villages in northern Thailand. 

Here are Edgar and Lily’s reflections from today. 

From Edgar:
On the 18th of October we went to an elephant sanctuary where we were able to see four elephants. We learnt that the sanctuary was a place where elephants could live freely with the minimum amount of contact with humans, to be more specific the belief was to limit the human contact and to allow the elephants to roam freely (within the sanctuaries boundaries) without causing complications returning them to a more free and wild life. The guide explained to us that there were many complications, chief among them being the issue of keeping the elephants. The elephants had been exposed to domestication and had been separated from their kin hence were prone to being "low" and "sad"(Mein the sanctuary guide). What is extremely important to understand is that Thailand's symbolic animal is the Asiatic elephant; it holds great importance in social and cultural aspects everywhere in Thailand. Elephants were used as gifts, for wars, for rituals and festivities and therefore crucial to Thai culture.This is among the reasons why elephant riding was/is still common practice. The issue arises is whether or not elephant riding is morally acceptable. Mein explained it as a lack of knowledge and henceforth why elephant riding is still done in Thailand. The second great concern is how to care for these majestic creatures. Elephants on average weigh up to 2,000 kg and need to eat 10-15% of their body weight every. day in order to live. The problem lies where there isn't enough food that the land can produce for food (as the area of sanctuary is ~8 acres) where the caretakers must look outside of their own land in order to provide the necessary food required to feed the elephants. Despite these challenges we learnt that the locals are looking for new ways to better support the sanctuary through tourism and expand the sanctuary itself in order to be able to take in more elephants. 

What we can take from this is the idea of supporting our peers and the people that look up to us through means of which require critical thinking and overall help us succeed in becoming better leaders ourselves.

From Lily:

Today was one of the more relaxed days of this trip. We started the day off by checking out of the Track of the Tiger Education Center after having a late breakfast. We then drove to the main event of the day, an elephant nature reserve called Chang Chill. This is a place that is meant to give “retired” elephants a chance to live in wildlife environments. Many different places in Thailand use elephants as a source of entertainment for tourists which most of the time means they are abused. This place buys elephants from abusive areas and retires them from working so they can live in nature. At the moment the reserve has four elephants and hopes to obtain more in the future but because of a lack of money and space, this isn’t possible at the moment. Since all these retired elephants have worked before either in labor or tourism they are all domesticated which means they can’t be released in the wild so this place is meant to mimic those conditions. Many tourists come to Thailand in order to see elephants so it is a tough balance between tourism and caring properly for the elephants. These dynamics taught us a lot about the diplomacy element of this industry. We also were able to talk to people who work there about their initial plans for starting up this business and how they are able to support the elephants. They explained how the place sells the elephant dung to businesses to use as fertilizer which can cost 5 pounds for every kg. They also receive money from doing tours around the sanctuary for tourists which lets tourists see elephants in a non-abusive way. Overall the sanctuary is set up over eight acres of land where the elephants supposedly can roam around. One downside of this place is that the elephants aren't completely free and have to be chained up at night to sleep. At face value, this seems like a great idea but I am not sure if they executed it to its full potential. I believe that this place could be great if it had more money to reinforce buildings so it was safe for the elephants to roam around the park freely. This was still a very interesting experience that taught us about diplomacy and entrepreneurship which are skills we will be able to apply to both our capstone project and real-life interaction.
 

Day 6:

Yesterday was another great day in the Chiang Mai region. We headed back to the Chang Chill Elephant Sanctuary to continue our experience and exploration into the relationship between tourism and elephants in Thailand. The students were able to have the rare opportunity of talking with one of the mahouts that works for Chang Chill. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that even our Thai tour director had never had the chance to experience. Though a bit tired, the students are all doing well and finally coming to the realization that a “walk” in Thailand normally involves a few steep hills, beautiful scenery, and lots and lots of mud.

Below, we share reflections from Will and Rachel about yesterday at Chang Chill, and Rebecca has reflected upon the trip as a whole so far, with a mid-point synthesis

From Rachel:
It just crossed my mind that in just a couple of days our TLA trip will come to a close. This time feels as though it has passed incredibly quickly, but also as though we have gathered a wealth of diverse experiences during our brief but eventful time here in Thailand. Today, our TLA group started off the day by returning to ChangChill, the elephant sanctuary that Lily and Edgar both wrote about yesterday. However, today’s experience at the sanctuary was very different from yesterday’s as our group was given the unique opportunity to speak with a mahout. A mahout is someone who shares a deep bond with a certain elephant and cares for them, oftentimes for the duration of the elephant’s life, and is chosen by the elephant as a companion. The mahout we spoke with today was nicknamed Cherd, and he was the mahout of one of the first elephants ever to come to ChangChill sanctuary, Mae Too. After hiking a little through the ChangChill area, we were able to meet and speak with Cherd, and to ask him many of the questions which had been foremost on our minds. Cherd has been Mae Too’s mahout for over thirteen years, starting when he was still a high school student like us. Cherd’s father was Mae Too’s original mahout, and he acquired ownership of Mae Too after she was purchased from her previous owners, who had worked her in the logging industry. When Cherd was asked about his opinion on the involvement of elephants in the logging industry as a source of labor, Cherd was strongly against it as he felt that the rampant exploitation and abuse of elephants in this industry was morally wrong.

The aspects of leadership which we have discussed in TLA, those of service, entrepreneurship and diplomacy also organically came up in the conversation as we delved deeper into the work of the sanctuary and the relationship between the mahout and the sanctuary. The diplomacy of this entire relationship was also brought up as it was made clear that the sanctuary itself does not actually have ownership of the elephants, but rather the mahouts do. However, the mahouts are incentivized to stay through the salary provided by the sanctuary, which is their source of income, and also through the more humane treatment of elephants at this sanctuary, by which the sanctuary follows the guidelines of the World Animal Protection Agency, which is in fact preferable to the mahouts of the sanctuary as they are able to better treat the animals which they share such close bonds with. When asked about what Cherd thinks he may do in the event of Mae Too’s death, he grew somber, but told us that he would hope to open his own kind of elephant camp, where he could educate other people and mahouts about the better and more humane treatment of elephants which these animals are very much in need of. The goal of Cherd and the elephant sanctuary to further educate both locals and tourists of the ways to treat elephants is an example of service, but also of diplomacy. It is diplomacy because many of the elephant tourist locations need to find a way to both satisfy the expectations of tourists (such as to be able to ride, feed, and generally have close contact with the elephant) and to still respect the rights of their elephants (who are often quite unhappy and even traumatized by these experiences).

From Will:
Despite being a short day for the TLA activities, only lasting from around 9am to 1pm, there was still a lot of impactful and important information to take away from today. On our second day of our elephant excursion, we met the caretakers of the individual elephant, known as a Mahout. As being a Mahout is an obligation for life our Mahout, Cherd, made his decision very young, only just after he had left high school. Cherd’s job as a Mahout ensures that he serves the elephant, specifically meaning he makes sure that the elephant doesn’t have any wounds, is being led to the right food, and is generally safe. This directly correlates to service leadership, because when we were asking him questions he had this power and aura, simply because of the fact that he services an elephant. Similarly, the owners of the company lead as well, but a tad differently. The leadership being used at the owners can be described as service, similarly to the Mahouts, but also as entrepreneurial leadership. Despite having to face many different changes, especially involving the ethics around elephants like riding them, washing them, feeding them, and just overall human interaction with the elephants. When tasked with this conflict, they decided to resolve it by trying to turn into an ethical business involving the people and elephant interaction. Despite not being 100 percent ethical, because the elephants are still being rented to them, they are still more ethical than most of the elephant businesses in Thailand. Them deciding to change their business model is a great example of entrepreneurial leadership.

Midway Reflection from Rebecca:
We’re already about halfway through our trip to Thailand! Already, we have had so many amazing opportunities to learn, grow and experience Thailand. We have been able to really see and apply what we learnt through our weekly seminars, and have also had the chance to experience Thailand’s natural beauty, culture and food. 

Every day has been incredible, but I think specifically one of the most memorable, valuable and important days so far was yesterday, participating in the service project at the school. So many valuable lessons were learnt, and seeing what a difference we were able to help made it even more impactful. Talking to Connor, who runs Track of the Tiger, with his brother Seamus at SEEC, was enlightening and truly demonstrated the lessons we strive to learn, apply and embody in TLA. We have been able to see how the human-centered design, which we focused on a lot during the seminars, is used in real life and how important it is in problem-solving. Connor and Seamus really showed us this through their actions and how they spoke about the projects they have done. It provided us with a window into what we have learned, and how it can be applied, both with the capstone project and in our futures. 

Beween Connor’s talk, and when I chatted to him at the school, there were 3 main points I took away that also highlight some of the steps in human-centered design. He spoke about the process of working with people in the area, not just providing a solution, but really digging deep into what the people really need, emphasizing only providing what they actually need to benefit them. For example, planting raised beds at the school, as they already had some and knew what to do, and this would also help to provide food and some revenue for the school. He also emphasized the autonomy they try to give to who they help, and ensuring the value of the project is worthwhile and has the best outcome for all. This parallels the empathy step, empathizing with the user in order to truly understand what they need and/or the core issue trying to be solved. He then talked about the process part/prototyping ideas, constantly looking back at their mission to ensure that what they are producing best helps their user, and adds value and ability to grow. Finally, an important aspect of the human-centered design which he talked about was evolution, about how vital looking back at our initial/ current solution is in order to adapt and evolve, and how critical that step is to providing the best solution to the initial problem/pov statement
 

Day 7:
Yesterday, the students had the amazing opportunity to learn from Pi Kat, the co-founder, along with her husband Josh Morris, of Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures (newly renamed as Progression). Kat took us on her and Josh’s amazing journey from start-up to present day as they formed their company and evolved. Along the way, they branched out to form Black Diamond equipment sales, and two service organizations for local youth. What was essential was the core values and beliefs they started with and staying focused as they faced many political, legal, environmental, and economic challenges. Along the way growth of her team and support for local communities were key to long-term growth. In July 2018, when 13 young members of a soccer team became trapped in a cave in Northern Thailand, CMRCA was a critical component in their ultimate rescue, devising a plan to assist with carrying the boys through the dry portions of the cave and serving as a crucial bridge to success between competing political and cultural interests in the rescue. In 2020-22, Covid was a serious challenge to the survival of CMRCA; they only really survived thanks to equipment sales. 

After lunch, the students were given a unique team challenge, called the Bridge to Success, in which the entire TLA student team had to work together to build a rescue bridge modeled after the one used in the cave rescue. Each student was tasked with clearly identified and unique roles and the students rose to this brilliantly. It was awesome to watch them utilise their skills, cooperate together, and ultimately meet with success. The team at CMRCA were incredible mentors and coaches and we are really looking forward to spending time with them tomorrow.

Below is a reflection from Harry. We are exceptionally proud of Harry, whose commitment to the program is reflected by the fact that he was not feeling his best, but insisted on still contributing his reflections on the day.

From Harry:
Today we had returned to the Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Association / Progression team, and we arrived at their Rescue Park facility. The initial "meat" of our time there was something that personally grabbed me. I think the actual sit down with the teams behind successful projects are some of the greatest parts of this trip. Never in my life have I gotten an experience like talking to Conor about the Track of the Tiger, asking lifestyle questions to the Mahout from Chiang Chill, or discussing the prospect of turning Elephant poop into paper. I felt that again hearing Kat, one of the heads of Progression about the company's long and varied history. I personally found Kat's linkage of her own growth with mountain climbing to the growth and success of the company to be an amazing example of a perfectly blended work and personal life, something Progression seems to handle quite differently to most other institutions. 

The frequent mentions of the importance of high worker morale and keeping a friendly atmosphere during work hours. The example given by Kat also stuck out to me, morning conversations that exist to welcome employees in, rather than dumping or reminding them of work they have to do. It comes across as far calmer and more reserved, rather than aggressive, which is important when it keeps to making sure everyone is working at their full ability.

Kat also talked lots about the importance of roles in the workplace, talking about how everyone wants to play their equal part to keep the metaphorical gears of Progression turning smoothly. The shift from everyone having one job that they do well, to the promotion of overlap amongst employees means it's less likely for a worker to be out of action at a certain point of a plan. It's a minute detail that, to me, helps show that a leader, or head of a project is willing to unify resources to make sure everything moves as smoothly as possible. It also showcases a very positive kind of group work, with everyone being able to help at multiple things.

Following this talk, we would go on to tackle our OWN group project, which involved the construction of a bridge, akin to the one utilized in the famous Tham Luang cave rescue. We were given different tasks in producing the bridge which outright demanded our cooperation as a group, I could clearly see people working together, with specific kudos going out to Will, who was eager to take charge and was helpful in getting most of the work initially started, and Edgar, who's previous experience came into play here, as he seemed to know a little something about the construction of every part of the bridge.
 

Day 8:
It’s hard to believe we are so close to the end of our TLA Thailand adventure already. The penultimate day has turned out to be a real highlight for our students. It was our final day with CMRCA/Progression, with the morning focused on cultural immersion and the afternoon focused on synthesizing their learning and reflecting on leadership. For the cultural immersion, students spent the morning in a small village with a group of women, learning about weaving, making Thai desserts, and embroidery. Students made their own treats and had a chance to design and embroider their own small purse/pencil case, and finished up the morning with a discussion with the women, learning about their lives and how they navigate the tourist industry and modernization in ways that serve their community and preserve their traditions.

In the afternoon, CMRCA took us to a nearby karst crag called Crazyhorse for a short hike up to a cave. It was in this cave that students had their group discussion and reflection activities on leadership.

We now only have one final day left. Students will have a chance to engage in conversation with a group of monks about their philosophy of service and leadership, followed by an ‘amazing race’ style Market challenge. We will round out the day before our flight home with a visit to the Elephant Parade, where students will learn about the efforts of this shop to raise awareness and funds for elephant conservation and they will each have the chance to decorate their own elephant statue to bring home.  

Please find reflections for today below from Rohan and Edgar. 

From Rohan:

Today we started off the day by visiting a village with CMRCA again. We started off by learning how the villagers use entrepreneurship to hold on to their old traditions as well as earn money by giving tourists the chance to experience this culture. We learned how they turn the cotton plant into a string and then ultimately use it for fabric through multiple steps. They also use string blessed by a monk to wrap it around their house and protect from spirits. After learning how to make string we moved on to desserts. We learned how to make a local dessert called “cat poo” due to the fact that once cooked it is rolled in coconut shavings to resemble cat poo. Our final activity before lunch was sewing designs on purses. They told us about the meaning of some embroideries, for example, the fish which is special to them gets sewn on lots of their clothing. This is because the fish provides a lot for their diet and gives them lots of nutrients. From this experience we learned how these people have turned something they are passionate in (holding on to their culture that has been passed down for 200 years) to a business that they can use to sustain their lives.

After lunch we went to visit a local cave that CMRCA works at a lot as it is also a spot where avid climbers go to climb. We were taught about 5 types of leadership, modeling the way, inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process, enabling others to act, and encoring the heart. These 5 different methods can be used effectively for different tasks. We were allocated into 5 groups of 2 and assigned one of the 5 leadership methods per group. We were first asked to think of a famous leader who used our specific leadership method to make a change. After this we were given scenarios and had to figure out how to solve them by using our leadership method. This activity helped teach us leadership methods we can use for our capstone project and allowed us to work together with our partner to solve our issue.

From Edgar:
On the 21st of October in the morning, we went to a village. The local Mae (mothers in Thai) took us through their history and heritage and how they came to be and do what they are now doing. We learnt how they make their own clothes out of cotton and sell them as well, we also learnt how to make kat-poo a delicious dessert made from sticky rice flour (similar to Japanese mochi), lastly we also learnt how to do embroidery. During the activities we learned how there was much difficulty in terms of food and business and after an appeal to the royal project the village was able to receive aid. This is where the village built a reservoir so that the locals could obtain a longer cultivating period and make a thriving fishing farm. The village was also able to go into the nearby forest to cultivate fruits and mushrooms as well as hunt game. 

In the afternoon we went in a cave that was situated in Crazyhorse climbing site (the site was provided by CMRCA). We were able to go into the deepest 3nd of the cave where we participated in a leadership activity. We were given five different types of leadership style and reacted to some prompts of which then we decided in pairs what the best course of action was. 

What can be taken away from this morning and this afternoon is that through the right support and guidance (such as the village and the royal project) we can achieve a great number of things. What we also need to consider is what kind of leadership style we choose to exhibit in order to succeed. The burden of being a leader is a great one but not all bad. Yes sacrifices will be made, compromises chosen, and difficult decisions will have to be made/taken. However this provides a learning opportunity where we are able to learn from our own mistakes and can only better ourselves for the next challenge.
 

Day 9:
Reflection from Zoe:

Today was the day we left Thailand. We started the morning with a visit to a temple in the city of Chiang Mai. We were given lotus flowers and were able to fold them so we could put them on the display for offering. Then, a monk talked to us about what exactly Buddhism is and what his role is. I genuinely really enjoyed this talk about Buddhism because it made me feel closer to Thai culture and more understanding of their lives. I learned that Buddhism is not a religion to the monks, but a way of life. This experience made me feel like less of a tourist and has given me a deeper understanding. After this talk, I think I had more empathy for the culture around me. Our group moved on to painting elephants at the elephant parade organization. I really liked this activity because it was more relaxed than other things we had done on this trip. They told us about what their organization was doing and why it started. They raise awareness for elephants and emphasize the need for their conservation. We had previously gone to an elephant sanctuary and this was adding to our own learning of elephants in Thailand. They showed us how they made a prosthetic for an elephant and this was something that had never been done before. They used human-centered design to solve a problem in the long run instead of just fixing the problem once. I really enjoyed this calmer slower-paced day. After all of this, we headed to the airport and checked in. Saying goodbye to Jing was also sad but I was grateful that she was our tour guide.