Frog in the well
Editor’s note: Mr Napha Khothphouthone went on a “student mobility” in the summer term 2019 in the Erasmus+ Mobility programme (2018 – 2020) between Savannakhet University and the University of Education Karlsruhe. He studied at the “PH Karlsruhe” for his Master’s degree for six months, together with Mr Thaithanawanh Keokaisone.
“Frog in the well” is Chinese’s story that describes an individual who cannot or refuses to see the big picture because of being sheltered and close-minded. It was always told by my mom and the story is not that far from me.1
When I was young I always believed that my home village and my family is the warmest and the best place in the world. Moreover I believed that Laos is wealthy of lives and landscape. My house was the great shelter of mine.
I was very scared and confidentless in the larger context, however. In my life I had never left my country when I knew that I had trip to Germany I was very happy, excited and nervous. I had never travelled by flight I did not even know how to check in the air plane so there were a lot of fear on me. Fortunately, I were taught by my father that “fear” is like a fire that can be light when we are in the dark, it make us warm when we get cold, It can cook us food when we are hungry. Nevertheless, it also burn us if we use it in the wrong way or out of our control. So thank you to the fear that forced me to read and learn how to get on the plane and overcome any fear.
Being in Germany was not that easy for me because everything was totally different such as food, people, weather, or really everything about the whole culture. For example in Laos I do not know what I am going to do next week (even tomorrow) but in Germany I have to plan everything and carry my calendar all the time. When we meet people by chance on the way we know (without an appointment) we spend time to talk, but not in Germany because everyone wants to be on time and will just say “hi” walking by in the corridor. In Laos, in flat or house people willing to talk to their Neighbor, and doors are always open. In Germany the door is closed.
Fortunately, in the first few week there were many people help. My “buddy” (a student helper provided by the International Office) Christine Blersch to help me to settle in. I could consult Julia Friedl and Silvia Karnutsch from the International office for everything. Prof. Dr. Isabel Martin always kind to me and gave me advices and helped me to adapt to the new world and also Ms Beate Pinisch (Dr Isabel’s friend) lived in Laos 20 years and was also kind to help us settle.
But luckily I am a biologist and have read the quote of Charles Darwin “It is not the strongest of the species that survives but the most adaptable” so I did not not refuse to apply this in my life’s new challenge. The best way of adaptability is observation. For example, in Laos we do not have train (tram), so it was not that easy for me to use them I did not even know how to open the door, I did not know where I should sit.
In the restaurant I did not know how to order food, in the market I did not know how to pick up the things that I need and did not to how to pay (currency was very confuse as well). So how could I survive? Of course I blended in and observed what people do.
I realised Prof. Martin has experienced the same only other way round when she came to Laos first. In my point of view it is nature of human have to survive by this way.
Every time I always keep in mind I am a student and I am now learning the life lesson I will take this six months to gain as much knowledge and experience as I can for new attitude. I tried my best to be kind with other people because I believe in the law of attraction: if I am a kind person I will meet a kind people, if I need a good friend I should be a good friend, if I want people smile to me I should give smile to them first. It seemed everything went very well with me. I success both inside and outside of university. At university and in my international student dormitory I met new friends from over the world (for instance France, Italy, Pakistan, India, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, USA. Iraq, and Mexico).
I knew so many cultural and kind of people and still keep contact with them.
When I was in Germany I did not only learn from my partners but I also shared my culture, knowledge, lifestyle, thoughts, and experience with them for getting more global understanding and intercultural learning. For example the “Baci” (thanksgiving and well-wishing) ceremony is the most important ceremony of Lao people that is held in so many events for example: in wedding day, birthday, Lao and international new year, when someone in family leaving home or travelling… we do this to get the blessing from elder who passed. I brought this to share in the class and it seemed people like it.
The Lao good Baci example that I brought to the class:
Important words are part of the ceremony:
Last but not least, on August I had holiday, so I went to France, Italy and Switzerland it was the biggest trip to travel alone in my life and it was great. I swam in the sea was diving in mediterranean in southern part of France (Le Brusc. It is part of a bigger locality called “Six-Fours les Plages”) visited The Gothic Duomo di Milano and Eiffel tower, visited friend’s fimily (Mr. Julien Nignifo).
It was very funny how we became friends. On June 2016 I was travelling from Savannakhet to Tharkhek by bus and I saw him, he was reading a book. I wanted to practice my English so I suddenly came to him and began conversation. He is very nice guy we talked almost one an hour. Yes, he went to Tharkek to travel and I asked him to visit my rice field and he achieved. One day afterward, we worked together on my rice field. I showed him every process in producing rice:
He enjoyed it and he told me that he would like to come again to harvest the rice he had planted. Then 4 months later we meet again we still keep contact and the third time we met in Laos was in my wedding day, he was invited by me and my wife on May 2017.
Every time we met I said to him “ I will visit your family one day” and it finally happened in France in August 2019. We had very good time together and ate French breakfast.
In Laos, I can not leave my hair long. But in Germany I never cut off my hair, so it can tell how long I were there, how much that I learned:
I was also very surprise when I saw the tale (Frog in the well) in Ms Martin’s office on her notice-board. Because I had never known that what my mom told in me in my childhood is spread over the world. Prof. Martin took photos, and I called and told my mom about that next days afterward.
Now I can say: “I am a frog out the well”
Post by N. Khothphouthone, note by I. Martin
Photos by N. Khothphouthone, S. Khothphouthone, M. Kuehnel, I. Martin & J. Nignifo
Video by I. Martin
Note by the editor
1 We are all “frogs” until we venture into a completely new world.