“This is your world, go find it.” My father said these words to me every night as he’d take me outside to gaze at the stars.

I wanted to “go find it” but living in the Midwest and being a first-generation student, I was not sure how. Ball State was my first choice university because of the College of Architecture and Planning. At the end of my second year at Ball State, I heard about the CAPAsia field studies and the opportunity to spend three months in South East Asia visiting Thailand, Malaysia, and Myanmar. I will “go find it,” I told myself, and I signed up.

Our home-stay family took us to an old kingdom in Thailand, Phitzonlauk.

We stayed in Thailand two months and lived in a home-stay in Sawankhalok. Our home-stay parents made us amazing Thai meals for dinner, teaching us to cook fried rice, and taking us on trips to amazing places around Thailand, teaching us about their culture and history.

We only visited Malaysia for a week, but we experienced exciting aspects of their culture and architecture such as The Clan Jetties, a small Chinese fishing community in Penang  with five communities of homes built out over the coast. We stayed in a Chinese Shophouse which is a building that allows commercial use on the first floor and shop owner residences on the second. Each day we explored temples and parks.

At last, we ventured to a country I had never heard of, Myanmar. It was different than anywhere I had been. Built on the sad past of a brutal military regime, Myanmar transformed to a democracy in 2011. During the years of military rule, Myanmar was a closed society that had few visitors which insulated their culture. We learned about the culture by observing and by talking to the Myanmar people.  One interesting aspect is a “longyi” which is a skirt wore by both males and females.

Wall art in one of Doh Eain’s alley gardens in Yangon, Myanmar.

In Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, we met Doh Eain, a social enterprise restoring heritage buildings and creating community spaces. Their work was interesting, and I volunteered with other classmates to help with community engagement work. A few days later, I asked if they had any internships. To my delight, they made an offer for the fall semester of 2019.

In August I was on another plane to Myanmar for an internship. This experience helped me find my direction in architecture. I helped to design renovations and restorations of heritage buildings, helped to examine whether renovating heritage buildings was more economically and environmentally friendly than new builds, and even helped to plan the deconstruction of a historic teak wood home that we then transported 200 miles south and rebuilt as a school.  On another project, I helped Save the Children create safe play spaces for children. We met with communities and worked with young members to design an alley garden park. I met people from all over the world – France, Australia, Britain, Switzerland, and of course Myanmar – who I keep up with today.

Bugs being sold as a snack in a market in Is Satchanli, Thailand.

It amazed me how different the world seemed on the other side of the planet. The experiences I gained during CAPAsia and the internship it helped make available taught me to understand people, cultures, and architecture. My time there brought out a passion in me for building science and for communities around the world. Each country we visited had beautiful markets selling fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry and other meats, and even bugs. Trying and tasting all the cuisine in each country inspired me so much!

Insects are a popular dish sold in South East Asian countries. They are sold fried or grilled  at a variety of events. In typical markets around Thailand, Malaysia, or Myanmar we could find insects being sold and eaten. Unique experience like this stuck with me and provided  inspiration for future projects. This experience sparked the genesis of my thesis investigation. I became interested in how these markets operated and why people ate insects. How could it be so normal there, but so unconventional in the United States? My thesis for my final year at the College of Architecture and Planning at Ball State University is investigating the contributions eating bugs can make in our diet and our environment and how architecture can create a bug-eating movement in the United States.

Story by
Ellie Morinville, ’21, Architecture
Ball State University
Estopinal College of Architecture and Planning