Luyen Dinh Phan ’92, International Student Adviser and Associate Director of Admission first studied in Thailand as a student on the Term in Asia program, 1990-91. He lived in Thailand for five-years (94-99) working as an English teacher, managing the Thailand office of World Teach and then for Population Development International. Luyen will use the experience to better advise international students, stressing the mission of the College, as well as sharing the experience with prospective students and their families.
I write to you from the Admissions office at St. Olaf. I use to have the hardest time making the transition back to life in America, but after I realize that my permanent address is the world, and where I received my mail and bills is just a temporary one, I have had an easier time moving between cultures and society.
For all the family and friends, I want to let you know that the students are doing just fine. I actually just talked to them this morning as they just returned to Bangkok from their trip to southern Thailand. They were just about to send Vera off for her flight back to Macedonia. Linn, Chad, and Jose will all leave on Thursday for Norway or the U.S.
I arrived in the U.S. over the weekend and it was strange not being around with them. While we were together for only 3 weeks, I learned a lot about who they are and was further reminded of why St. Olaf is truly a special place by the presence of these 5 individuals.
I knew when the group was formed that the I had a good group, but they further demonstrated their kindness, care, intelligence, humour, and sense of adventure as I saw them interact with the Thai people and other nationalities we met along the way.
Perhaps a '61 alumni we met in Bangkok, Ric Nesimiuk, also an international alumni from Canada originally and currently the working in Thailand and Myanmar (Burma), had this to say, "It was great to meet you and your team of student. We (Gail, his wife, and I) really appreciated their maturity and responsiveness to questions plus their desire to seek out an understanding of what their future vocations could be."
Even though we only spent a really short time at the McKean Center and the Thai German Leprosy Foundation, I believe all of the students made some connection to one of the villagers of Taksin Village (where we lived) and/or the staff of the TGLF. In particular, many saw how one TGLF staff member, a young man named Bank, really not much older than some of them, lived a life of service to others and treated everyone with respect and diginity.
We have much more to share with all of you and the St. Olaf community.
On a final, lighter note, I want to share with you about what I learned about them:
how funny they can be;
the musical talents they have (or don't) as they sang in the vehicles, as we worked, and at an unexpected birthday party karaoke fest;
the care and sensitivity in their hearts (and minds);
how they do really wish for a better world and how they can contribute to that world.
It all seems so cliche and Walt Disney-esque but it is all very true.
Everything is good, sabaii-sabaii (a Thai phrase they picked up very quickly).
The group is doing well as we finish our last week here in Thailand and at the McKean Center. We have the weekend off so we came into town to explore Chiang Mai, a beautiful place to do so.
It sounds cliche but it has truly gone by quickly. We have been busy visiting field sites, learning more about leprosy, its causes, treatments, and the long term effects on the family and villages as well as the continual support that some of the formers lepers need. When we are not in the villages we have been helping the Thai German Leprosy Foundation, our
official sponsor and organizer, to improve the conditions of some of the disabled patients that are under their care. Tong, Chad, and I have helped with some translations from Thai to English and editing English materials. I know you have seen some of the updates. (You have seen some other
updates from one or two of the studentss, but our email access has been very limited.)
In between the works and field visits, we have met with various people to learn more about issues ranging from education and development in Thailand to individuals who truly do embody the goal of the Lilly Project, life of service to others. Our conversations come about as we visit villages, work on the grounds, or catch up on a bit of rest here and there from the heat and humidity. Including the remarkable flexibility and good humor the students have expressed, they have and continually wonder about where their lives will
lead them, and how will they go about in making their own mark in their respective societies and cultures that they will be part of. Some of the students wonder about how this experience might be integrated into their studies and future classes. I constantly, perhaps maybe too much, ask them
not only to view the experience from both a "US based college student" but also from their respective cultural backgrounds because I feel that is key as well. The issues have centered around some of these questions: what is a developing (vs non-developed) society? what does it mean when you say
some thing is Western (or not)? modern (or not)? what is the role of development organizations (be them government or not, religious based or not, or just individuals with something to give)?
On lighter notes, I have truly enjoyed being with all of them. They have made me laugh, reflective (both as some of their advisor and unofficial Thailand guide), surprised me even more of their talents and gifts (which I know that the parents of the students know about), and make Olaf a better place for their presence. (Ok, the one negative aspect is that some
sleep more or later than others.)
We will all part ways on Friday (I back to States) and they for some good down time in southern Thailand. It will be a bit quiet without them for the rest of the summer, but I look forward to having them back on-campus, and sharing their thoughts with the community.
On behalf of the entire group, thank you to the Center for Experiential Learning staff (especially Bruce and Laura), the Lilly Foundation, and both my offices (Admissions and Dean of Students) for allowing me the privilege of traveling and learning with these students.
On Friday, June 10, many of us will be flying from our respective locations from around the world and hopefully we will all meet in Bangkok late Saturday night. I'd like to say that I'm very excited, but my thoughts are more about safe arrivals and good transitions in the initial days as we begin our service at the McKean Center in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.
Certainly the country of Thailand (and Tong Tangtanaporn '09, our Thai student who's busy preparing for our arrival) will eagerly greet us. Well, not exactly but they are getting ready for celebrations honoring King Bhumibol's 60th year on the throne, www.bangkokpost.com/60yrsthrone/. It is a very auspicious time for the country and our group as we will be able to see the many projects he and his family has developed and supported to improve the lives of the Thai people. The long public holiday this weekend has altered some of our Bangkok plans, meetings with local and international
non-governmental organizations and some St Olaf alums, but we will manage.
Besides Tong, the other students include Vera Belazelkoska '09 from Macedonia, Linn Dale '07 from Norway, Chad Goodroad '09 from Minnesota, Jose Martinez Romo '08 from Mexico. Together we speak or have studied at least 8
non-English languages, traveled to most corners of the globe, and perhaps find that "home" is an ever changing concept and we think about the plural form of the word culture rather than the singular.
As many of you know, Thailand is where I worked with development organizations for 5 years. This project to explore a life of worth and service comes from that NGO experience and my desire to introduce Oles to international development work.
I've expected a lot of the students over the past many months, about 4 hours a week (like another St Olaf class but not for credit) as they had Thai language classes (taught by Tong), field trips, and meet with guest speakers and me to talk about cultural practices, safety issues, vocation and
service, the McKean Center's mission, and international development work. I don't expect that all of them will go into development work, but I hope that Thailand will become a part of their life somehow. More importantly, I hope they will constantly explore what it means to have a vocation versus a
career and how they can serve others regardless of what they do.
Bai tiew plot pai (safe travels) and choke dee (best wishes or good luck) to all!