Every year, the freshmen at KKU have to go to Buddhism camp in October. It’s actually a requirement for graduation! They go to a temple for 4-5 days and meditate. They meditate 5 hours each day. I’ve been hearing a lot about Buddhism camp lately. Students had really different reactions to it. A few of the students loved it. They’ve told me that Buddhism camp changed their lives and they are really interested in meditation now. A few of the other students really hated it. They complain that they had to wake up too early, they didn’t get to eat dinner, breakfast and lunch were bad, and meditation was boring.
Most of the students at KKU are Buddhist, but there are a few Christian and Muslim students as well. These students can get out of Buddhism camp if they have a clergy member write a letter saying that they have met with them regularly. A Christian professor in the education department actually organized a Christian camp as an alternative for Buddhism camp this year. It ended up being cancelled because not enough students signed up for it. Students who aren’t particularly interested in Buddhism but have no other religious affiliation cannot get out of Buddhism camp.
Religion is deeply ingrained in daily life here. There is a Buddha image at every faculty event, and our assemblies usually begin with the dean kneeling in front of the buddha and lighting incense. I don’t know any Muslim students, but I know a few Christian students. I can tell that they’re uncomfortable with the Buddhist rituals at university events. Last semester, one of the Christian TESOL students received an award from the faculty. She had to sit in the front row of the auditorium. Everyone else in the auditorium started wai-ing the Buddha image and singing religious songs, and she just stood there, looking very uncomfortable. The other Christian students didn’t attend the ceremony at all.
Even though many Thai students have friends that are not Buddhist, many of them don’t see any problems with integrating Buddhist traditions into school events. I taught an American culture class last semester, and one of our units was on religion in America. We discussed separation of church and state issues, and it was really difficult for them to understand why someone would object to prayer in schools, singing Christmas songs in school or decorating government buildings with Christmas trees.