Thailand educational trip provides students with cultural diversity
Nonclassroom experiences open minds
William A. Woodard Jr.
July 22, 2015
UPPER BURRELL, Pa. — Would you believe Penn State New Kensington student R.J. Hines rode an Asian elephant in Thailand? Would you believe he rode a horse while sword fighting in Chonburi? How about a Ferris wheel in Bangkok?
Actually, Hines did most of it. The junior business administration major was in Thailand as a part of a summer business class at the campus. It is true that he did ride an elephant through the streets of Thailand and a 200-foot Ferris wheel that overlooks Thailand’s capital. And he did get into a sword fight. As for the horse, that is too unbelievable.
Building on Chancellor Kevin Snider’s vision to expand student experiences and embrace diversity for the campus community, eight students, accompanied by three faculty members, spent two weeks in the Kingdom of Thailand in southeast Asia. The student contingent was an eclectic blend from three campuses (New Kensington, Beaver and University Park) and five academic programs (business, engineering, global studies, information sciences and technology, and psychology). The summer excursion was the capstone of a global marketing and international studies classes taught by Rujirutana “Dr. A” Mandhachitara, associate professor of business administration at the campus.
“Although each student had a unique academic background and interests, they fully cooperated and participated in every trip activity,” said Mandhachitara, a native of Thailand. “They demonstrated open-mindedness and a willingness to experience new things.”
The trip was a mixture of learning opportunities and leisure activities designed to provide an overall educational experience. Students attended presentations on how Thai companies attract foreign customers and the differences between Thailand and the United States on cultural norms and values, educational systems, and social structures. For Hines, it was an experience of a lifetime.
“The idea of traveling to another country gives college students an opportunity to not only gain experience they won’t find in the classroom, but also experience they won’t find it within their own country,” said Hines, an adult learner from Brackenridge, Pennsylvania. “Students get to experience a different culture; how they live, how their economy works, taste the food and how the locals live.”
The group spent a week in Bangkok and a week in the Sattahip district of the Chonburi province. On-site educational visits included Museum of Counterfeit Goods; Jim Thompson Thai House; the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, where two former U.S. Presidents were the past guests; and the Eastern Seaboard Industrial Park; also known as the Detroit of the East.
“We met Dr. A’s grad school friend who resides in Thailand, and he talked to us about the retail business in Thailand,” said Hines, who carries a 4.0 grade-point average. “Dr. A also set up meetings with top executives at these visits. They educated us about their business, and we got to pick their brains about their marketing strategies.”
“At Museum of Counterfeit Goods, the students learned the differences in the intellectual property laws and enforcement in Thailand and the United States,” said Mandhachitara, who joined the campus faculty in 2006. “Our visit was led by an intellectual property lawyer who spoke about how to distinguish between genuine and fake items, including medicine, cosmetics, perfume and apparel.”
The students visited three state universities: International College at Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University, International School of Culinary Art at Suan Dusit Rajabhat University and Thammasat Business School. The International College offers baccalaureate degree programs in the airline business, tourism and hospitality management and international business. All degrees focus on the practical and specific skills required in the industry. Suan Dusit Rajabhat is Thailand’s renowned culinary school. Graduates have won many international awards. Thammasat offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The business school enhances students’ learning through several international exchange programs and business case competitions. Mandhachitara holds a doctorate in marketing from Thammasat.
“Each university had a unique positioning strategy to recruit prospective students,” Mandhachitara said. “All three universities aim to create highly trained graduates who can compete in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Economic Community.”
“The culinary school fed us until we exploded, then fed us desert,” Hines said. “Every person we met was very kind and welcoming of us. The education portion was important and fun.”
It was not all business for the students. Tourist excursions were on the itinerary. They visited some of the country’s top attractions, such as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Grand Palace, the Vimarnmek Mansion and Sanctuary of Truth.
“We got to see a floating market, which is a market with vendors, shops, restaurants and convenience stores split down the center by a lake,” said Hines, who serves as a campus Lion Ambassador and orientation leader. “Locals can get to the market by land or water.”
Leisure time was spent riding the aforementioned elephants and Ferris wheel, feeding bananas to the only residents of the aptly named Monkey Island, and watching a Thai sword fighting demonstration at the Sanctuary of Truth, which is a temple filled with sculptures based on traditional Buddhist and Hindu motifs. Hines participated in all the activities, even drawing a sword at the fight performance.
“I was picked out of a crowd of people to join the sword fighting performance,” Hines said. “These are activities that not everybody can say they’ve done in their life.”
For the final project, students were required to choose a brand available in both the U.S. and Thailand, and analyze the brand’s global operations and strategy. As a class project, the students produced a short commercial to promote a product from Thailand that they will market in America. They also produced a video presentation for the campus community. To view the video, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihVtdr7KbJA.
The two upper-level courses satisfied one of the program requirements for a Certificate in International Studies. Offered at only two Penn State campuses — New Kensington and Shenango — the undergraduate certificate is intended to provide students with a broad and deep understanding of a diverse world.
To view photos from the trip, visit http://psnk.smugmug.com/.
For more on global programs at the campus, visit http://nk.psu.edu/Academics/InternationalPrograms/intlprograms.htm.