Photo: Apisom Intralawan and Panate Manomaivibool (left) from Mae Fah Luang University translate a discussion between UW-Whitewater assistant professor Andrew Ciganek (wearing Warhawk T-shirt), a village leader in Thailand, and students Melanie Fuller, Chu Nou Xiong, Kristie Hansen and Tommy Lee.
As the airplane landed in Bangkok, Thailand, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater student Tommy Lee could only think about the details his parents had told him about his Hmong heritage, tracing back to the land he was now visiting.
"This is a place that I've always only heard stories about, and this time it was becoming a reality," said Lee, a senior math major from Milwaukee. "The experience of stepping into this different culture was surreal."
Lee, along with 30 other UW-Whitewater students and three faculty members, traveled to Thailand Jan. 2-16 to study international models of economic, environmental and social sustainability.
The trip followed an intensive, fall semester course about freshwater and sustainability, and Thai culture.
As part of the requirements, UW-Whitewater students completed research projects on topics geared towards interactions with the students and faculty members at both Assumption University in Bangkok and Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai.
"The project that I worked on was called 'Hmong People in Thailand,' " said Lee. "I was able to create a small video blog on everything we did. The project had an emphasis on the standard of living and everyday life in Thailand for the Hmong population."
While overseas, students and faculty members stayed in the universities' residence halls, as well as a small hotel in Chiang Kong and a 5-star hotel in Pattaya.
Aside from conducting research projects, they visited several famous attractions, including the Grand Palace, the official residence of the monarch; the Hall of Opium, a museum chronicling the fight against illegal drugs; the river walk in Chiang Khong; and a village market.
While making their way through Thailand and all of the historic monuments, travel study participants met with Hmong natives of Thailand and gained a broader perspective on their culture.
"The people were absolutely wonderful and beautiful," said Rebecca Kohl, a business administration graduate student from Monona. "Many people could understand English or at least get what we were asking. We were with local people most of the time who could translate if necessary."
"Having that firsthand international experience looks great to future employers, and also benefits the person experiencing the new culture as a whole," said Andrew Ciganek, assistant professor of information technology and business education. "Being in a different country for only two weeks encouraged us to see everything we could."
"The world is a small place," said Kohl. "Experience life, go visit other countries, see how the other side of the world lives, and see what you can do to help our global neighbors."
To explore UW-Whitewater's travel opportunities, visit the Center for Global Education at http://www.uww.edu/international/globalexperiences.