The Wai

Describe a setting in which you have collaborated or interacted with people whose experiences and/or beliefs differ from yours. Address your initial feelings, and how those feelings were or were not changed by this experience.

We climbed out of the van and into the lush Thai jungle, overgrown and wild, unlike anything in America. The soothing trill of the locusts was met by complete silence, aside from the deep breaths of the colossal creatures across the road and the occasional gasp from an amazed service member. The thick, damp air that was hung like blankets over the treetops wrapped us in the scent of an organic mixture of musk and grass. I soaked in the atmosphere, mesmerized by the elephants, who seemed gentle and serene despite their daunting stature.

The first few moments of my service trip to Thailand to volunteer with endangered Asian Elephants were filled with beauty and wonder. But as my service group and I returned from our awe-induced state, we got to work caring for the elephants. The group leaders introduced me to my Thai mahout, Pun, who would be helping me care for our elephant Tantawan. I reached out my arm to shake his hand, but his palms were pressed together in a wai, the customary greeting in Thailand. I was taken aback and filled with panic; for the first time in my life, I was in a situation where I did not know how to properly communicate. Pun barely even spoke English, and I knew the next week would be challenging. I would...

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