We had two great opportunities to interact with young monks (ages 20-30) at Wat Suan Dok (temple) and University. One was through the daily "Monk Chat", where anyone can come to Wat Suan Dok and speak very candidly with monks in English. They are encouraged to ask anything about Buddhism or their daily life. This is also an opportunity for them to practice their conversational English. The other interaction was being invited as a guest speaker at one of the English classes held at the university.
The following day we were asked by our friend Steve E., to come to his class along with our friends who are visiting from Misawa, Japan to speak with the monks and let them have the opportunity to ask us questions. This was all part of their assignment for the day. In the coming weeks, they will have to complete an oral report on what they learned about us. I hope they took good notes.
Before I go any further, I have to share something that Lori and I both observed very quickly during our guest teaching visit. Our preconceived notions of what a monk was and acted like were completely contradicted. I think we had the idea that they are naturally (or through strict training) calm, pious, methodical, and humming "ohhmm" all day long. Maybe we've seen too many kung fu movies growing up. Anyway, this was not the case at all.
When this group of about 35 monks came streaming into the classroom and were waiting for it to start, we felt like we were right back at Edgren High School teaching our former students. They were laughing, cutting up, using their cell phones, and playing jokes on each other. They were naturally curious and inquisitive about seeing new faces in their class and a few of the braver monks even shouted out "HELLO! How are you? I am pretty good!" to us from across the room while the others laughed and cheered him on. The humor and laughter really caught us off guard, as any stereotype we had was quickly replaced with the jarring reality that these were, in fact, just normal college-aged guys. We realized that these monks were still just young men finding their way in life and enjoying every moment that it presented.
Since we have been to Thailand many times in the past, we've visited a variety of temples. We assumed the monks we observed were either Thai or at least spoke fluent Thai. However, out of this entire class, there were only about five monks that were actually from Thailand. Most were from Myanmar (Burma). Others were from Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Laos, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Most could not speak Thai very well at all. They actually said our Thai was much better than theirs.
They shared stories about being taken advantage of by songtheaw (red truck taxi) drivers charging them exorbitant fares, just like tourists. Some found it very hard to live in Thailand, not being able to speak the language. I guess that is why many of them are learning to speak English , so they can at least have a common language to communicate with.
This is a three year program where they will earn a bachelor's degree in Buddhist Studies. Humanities classes are required as well, just like stateside universities. I guess the monk university would be similar to going to a seminary college back in the U.S. Most monks told us they will pursue a master's degree before they decide either to leave the order or stay.
We also posted a video on our https://www.facebook.com/freetirement of the monks chanting in the Pali language. This language is used in many countries.