01 April 2013

The Generation Exodus

In America, it is fairly common for young adults to move away from their parents during their young adulthood, either to go to a university or get a job. But after a certain age, it is frowned upon in American culture to still live with your parents. While it does happen, it is seen as immature and not successful, living in your parent’s household. Oppositely, in Thailand, it is considered noble and encouraged, for the children to eventually come home and take of their parents and the family farm, with Thailand being a mostly agricultural country. It is almost considered tradition within Thai communities. But in many of the communities that the CIEE Thailand: Development and Globalization students have been staying in for home stays over the past month, this tradition seems broken.
Many of the communities we have stayed with are going through a younger generation exodus. Many young Thais graduate from high school and either continue their studies at a university or move to the city, mostly the nation’s capital, Bangkok, to work. Usually the children will send money home to their parents, but that is not what their parents need anymore. Many of the communities we stayed in have a missing number of young able workers; these communities have become mostly older adults and young children, the kids of the parents who are still working in Bangkok. Boone Kod, also known as John, a 29 year old villager the CIEE students exchanged with while visiting The Learning Center, a place where villagers can come and educate themselves about the Rasi Salai and Hua Na dams were recently built near their villages massively effecting the crop yields of hundreds of villagers, said, “Children send money home [to their parents] for the first two years, the third year they send home a baby.”
John believes this exodus has become a trend over the last ten years because the Thai education system has taught students to leave home, to move to the city and become laborers; it is encouraged in school. Additionally, the parents usually support this migration, at least initially, because they want their children to have a better life than they did. They want them to possibly get a better education or make more money than they were able to as farmers. Eventually, parents realize their mistake, but at that point, their children might never come back. The parents get older and have a harder time farming the land that their family has farmed for generations.
A common theme throughout all the communities we stayed with was the remaining villagers figuring out ways to keep the younger generation in the community. Some villagers have suggested using technology and social media outputs, such as Facebook. This is what the younger generation wants, so the community will do anything to keep them engaged. The Learning Center is considering building a social media room, where students can come and create interactive videos and be able to use technology possibly not available to them elsewhere.
Interestingly, the only community we stayed in that did not have a generation exodus was a community close to the Tongkum Limited Gold Mine (TKL), which had numerous numbers of environmental and health effects on the 6 villages nearby, including many villagers becoming sick from cyanide poisoning. Even with possible detrimental health effects, children stay in their village and help support their parents. There is “no place like home, where you were born,” says Meh Bun, a villager. Even though this issue is affecting many communities throughout Thailand, in some tight-knit villages, the children have no desire to abandon the land that their family has been farming for generations.
 Emma Balmuth-Loris
Brandeis University


Avery Ches said...


What a great piece. It really hits the nail on the head. This is a major issue that Thailand is facing right now and one that needs addressing in all communities here. It may be a western ideal that is pervading Thai culture, and one that needs reconsidering. It is true that education is very important for personal growth and success, but at what cost? The question Thais need to ask themselves is, what kind of sacrifice will they make in order for their children to have a "proper" education? Will they be able to sacrifice a whole way of life when no more young people ever return to home to keep the local wisdom alive? It is a serious question that needs serious answers, and fast. With less and less young people returning home, one might ask what the city life offers that the life at home does not. For many, including John at the learning center, city life is one full of anger, fast-pace and despair. Where one gets caught up in materialism and un-natural living. He said to us that living at the learning center was all he could ever ask for. He seemed truly happy there. I just hope that Thailand can find some kind of balance in this exodus, as you call it, before much of their culture and wisdom is lost to this fast-paced western lifestyle that is taking over many countries in our world.

Ben McCormack said...

I find this phenomenon really interesting as well. I wonder if it will last though because it doesn't seem very self-sustaining. So far I met four late twenty early thirty something year olds who all came back from the city lifestyle. They seemed to feel like it was boring, disillusioning and unhealthy. I thought it was really interesting that my host sister in Na Nong Bong could actually make more money farming her rubber trees than what she was making managing part of a company in Bangkok. The thing I find the weirdest about it is how the grandparents are raising the children that are sent home to the villages. I wonder why the parents are having children in the first place if they dont want to raise them at the time. It seems to just add more stress to the whole situation. I wonder if suburban sprawl will begin to take place in Thailand if it hasnt already. It would be an interesting thing to look into.