Title: Student Exchange in Thailand for Intercultural Learning
Seventeen Parami University undergraduate students joined the Learning Across Borders program in Thailand early this month. For many of our online program students, this is the first time they participated in an in-person study program abroad. They immensely enjoyed a wide spectrum of intercultural learning and global perspectives not only from the program itself but also from their fellow participants from Japan and the individuals they met during the trips in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Learning Across Borders program is a 10 days program that brings Japanese and Taiwanese students to learn and interact with students from Myanmar and learn about the country. The program was designed to help the students become more internationalized, interculturally competent, and better equipped to help build a world of tranquility and mutual understanding.
Pone Nyet said it was simultaneously learning of two cultures, Thai and Japanese cultures, and the program provided her with an essential insight into the organization and individuals along the border area.
"We had to deal with different people from different cultures, both Japanese and Thai people, every day and listened to their different perspectives on different issues throughout those 190 days. Those experiences have had a lot of impact on me. I learned more about Burma, Thai, and Japanese culture and politics, including Japanese students' engagement in politics. Mae Sot was an important part of the trip as I learned how NGOs and NPOs work on borderlines. There are a lot of people who are trying to help us. They also have challenges to overcome." ⸺Pone Nyet
The individuals they met during the exchange program helped students better understand intercultural perspectives and encouraged them to reflect on their experiences and situations. Kelvin highlighted the importance of not taking privileges for granted and realized the significance of helping others, eventually contributing to a better world. The program went beyond his initial expectations.
"I discovered how compassion, empathy, and a belief in human dignity have the power and transformative potential to transcend national boundaries and identities. I deepened my understanding of what sustainable leadership takes. Interacting with remarkable and passionate individuals making meaningful impacts on the communities left a profound impression. I was thoroughly gratified by the knowledge that there are people who are working so hard, either significantly or modestly, to contribute to underserved communities. While significant challenges remain, I found solace and inspiration in the knowledge that we have many comrades and are not alone in this fight against social injustice." ⸺Kelvin
Thanthip is one of the Parami undergraduate students from Chiang Mai who joined the LAB program. She expressed how grateful she was to join the exchange program, especially to meet with her classmates from Myanmar for the first time, and how her classmates inspired her.
"Through the program, l learned more about my classmates from Myanmar and the situation in the country. The Myanmar students have inspired me to look at the world through a wider lens and open the door to new opportunities. Many children struggle to access education, although when the opportunity is in front of them. I learned to stay positive and appreciate the opportunities I have. After the LAB program, I started thinking of contributing something to the people in Myanmar after I graduated from Parami University." ⸺Thanthip
As she had never traveled to any country outside of Myanmar, Khaing described the trip as a life-changing experience and a lot of 'first-time' for her and shared how the trip has changed her global perspective.
"First time flying and meeting with people outside of my country. This trip is not only about learning about the people and crises in Myanmar and other participants from other countries but also about yourself. Learning across cultures is important. When we met with Japanese students, I thought our cultures were similar as we are from Asia, but not quite similar. Like, there are some factors that should be taken into account and should be respected. I wouldn't know what factors should be respected if I did not get to talk to the Japanese students. By just reading, you might learn something; to be more pragmatic, you need to talk to them as they are from the culture, and they know about that." ⸺Khaing
Apart from learning from experts and meeting with individuals and organizations who positively impact society, students visited different communities in Thailand as part of their learning. Parami student, l a i x e n, discussed sustainable development using his analytical and critical thinking skills.
"Rather than what I learned, it is more like a perspective that keeps lingering on me even after the program. We visited some community-based tourism villages where we savored the scenery, local products, and trekking. But, as I went along, I got that very personal feeling that that place lacked soul. There were new cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops for tourists. Now, only a few people worked on the local farms and traditional businesses, while most just relied on tourists for the village economy. So, the villagers focused on creating their selling points for the target audience through tourism and what they would like: organic food, local products, and locally owned cafes, all of which are good in their own right. Following the mainstream, however, can make it harder to sustain cultural values in an indigenous group. So, I see that the path to progress will not end with initial development; we need to carefully evaluate long-term sustainable development at the initial, community, and national levels." ⸺l a i x e n
The key takeaways students learned from the exchange program include the essence of compassion, effective communication, and how intercultural learning can help widen one's global perspective, an essential skill in addressing global issues.