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Campus & Community

10 days in Thailand

Political science students say the summer field study in Thailand galvanized their passion for international work and has successfully set them up for life after graduation empowered them as individuals

Statue in the Golden Palace complex in Bangkok, Thailand.

The trip to Thailand has provided Rafael Tzanis, a senior from Australia, majoring in intercultural peacebuilding, with incredible insights as a person wanting to work in international development, he said.

“You can’t learn these things in a classroom. We can’t learn them from just watching videos or hearing first-hand stories. These unique experiences can’t be learned by reading a book because these are life lessons that are teaching you. They are changing you as a person.”

Emarie Majors, a senior from Montana majoring in political science, said prior to the trip, she was set on pursuing a position as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. State Department. However, it wasn’t until she was able to meet with a myriad of employees at the U.S. embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, she got a true feel for the job.

“It is fair for me to assert that had it not been for this field study experience in Bangkok, I may have wasted months, if not years, of precious time and energy chasing a career that wasn’t suitable for my talents and lifestyle preferences.

“This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that changed me. This study galvanized my passion for international development and provided me with the necessary experiences I will need to do successful work going forward.”

Preparation meets opportunity 

Rand Blimes, assistant professor in the Faculty of Business & Government, said he has been doing these trips to Bangkok, Thailand, with his students for the last 10 years. Blimes said he started the trips to Thailand because he realized there were things students need that can’t be learned in a typical classroom setting.

Students in Bangkok, Thailand.

“Deep education comes through experiences that are impactful. It creates a different kind of learning that you can never do in a classroom. The last thing students need as they’re getting out in the world is a bit of inspiration. To see people who are doing the jobs that you’ve been thinking about, whether it’s being a diplomat, working for the United Nations, or being interested in issues of refugees - when you meet the people who are actually doing those jobs, it creates a sense of positive empowerment and inspiration where you’re like: 'Oh, people are actually doing this. I can do this.'”

Before the trip to Bangkok at the end of Spring 2022, 10 selected students, wanting to work in the international field, were being taught Thai politics, cultural conducts and the Thai language. In addition to already planned visits to the United Nations, the U.S. embassy and an organization called Courageous Kitchen, students were able to reach out to organizations themselves and request visits.

In the weeks leading up to the trip, Fahina Lauti, a senior from Oakland, California, majoring in political science, said she acquired language skills as well as the information about different organizations that helped her feel more prepared for the immersive experience. Before this trip Lauti said she had never been outside the country, so she naturally experienced some anxiety about getting around.

“This trip has taught me that a language barrier should not stop you from seeing the world. At the end of the trip, I got to a point where I was comfortable enough to walk around Bangkok by myself. And after the trip was done, I felt like I could go wherever I want in the world, and I would be okay.

“As someone from a place like Oakland, where not many get to see the world and actually talk to professionals internationally, it has been a life-changing experience. I feel empowered … like I can do anything. Shoutout to Dr. Blimes and his wife, Michelle Blimes. They made this trip possible, and I was able to really feel empowered because of their guidance.”

Making a difference

Tzanis said it was extremely helpful to visit the headquarters of the United Nations and the U.S. embassy to have these important international connections, but he also found the value in the small organizations they connected with during the trip.

“You don’t have to aim super high to be able to make a great difference in the world. You just have to be the difference and positively impact the people around you. You don’t have to be in a great position to be involved in big organizations.”

Meeting Panisha, a cook at Courageous Kitchens, an organization that works with refugees and homeless people, and looking at the work she does, showed him that everybody can make a difference in their own way, said Tzanis.

“She is in her own element. She has a small team of people. The work she is doing is fulfilling her, and she is able to serve. That is something really valuable I learned. People always want to create something big, but it might be the small and simple things that create the biggest impact in your life and in the lives of the people around you.

“If everyone just had that attitude that you could influence your own individual spheres and make the smallest bit of influence, the world could be a better place. That is definitely one of my biggest takeaways from this trip.”

The beauty of Thai culture 

After a full week of visiting different organizations each day, the students had one day, Saturday, where they had the opportunity to travel to Kanchanaburi, which is a five-hour drive north of Bangkok. They were able to see the famous waterfalls, eat spicy Thai food and connect with locals throughout the trip.

Tzanis, who had lived in Thailand for five years and worked as a translator on the trip, said it was amazing to see the awe in his fellow traveler’s eyes when seeing all the old monuments and the beauty of nature.

“Watching everybody’s eyes light up as they tried the new food and seeing the excitement everybody felt when visiting these historically unique places was really cool for me. Being able to share culture is something that is really important because that’s how we keep culture alive. It helps us to be more affirmed in our identities.”

Majors said sometimes she felt she was walking back in history when visiting these breathtaking historical landmarks. “I always saw pictures of Thailand, but they don’t do the country justice. I was in constant awe with the beauty of the architecture, especially the grand palace, and the beauty of the people.”

Lauti said one of her favorite cultural memories was waking up early in the morning to get breakfast and seeing the locals in action cooking food, going to work or school and selling trinkets.

“I loved seeing the monks in their saffron robes and people praying with them. I just loved seeing a different world and culture. I would buy mango sticky rice with the very few Thai words I knew and would just watch the locals do their thing. It was a good way to start my day.”

Majors said the best part of the trip was getting to know the Thai people. Their kindness, generosity, and passion are something she will always remember, she said.

“Whenever we tried to speak our limited Thai to them, the vendors were so excited. They even gave us free food several times just because we tried to order in Thai. I’ve rarely met so many people that are so welcoming and kind."