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ISSUE 118 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/6/2005

Cross-cultural learning

By Jaruwan Punyoyai
Contributing Writer

Friday, May 6, 2005

As an international exchange student from Thailand, I have had a chance to study at St. Olaf for one year. Taking advantage of a study abroad program is a wonderful way to experience a cross-cultural curriculum and this opportunity is essential for everyone.

During the recent annual Asia Weeks celebration, students had a chance to experience Asian culture. And for good reason: A number of students from Asia and around the world come to study at St. Olaf and more than 800 St. Olaf students leave the Northfield campus to study abroad each year. Between 50 and 64 percent of recent graduates have studied in about 90 academic programs in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, North, South and Central America and the Pacific.

The higher educational system in Thailand is quite different from St. Olaf’s. Back home, I take about seven courses per semester and generally have classes from the early morning until afternoon. Unlike the St. Olaf schedule, we spend most of our time in classes. We mainly learn from lectures, rarely lead discussions and do not have much homework.

The environment of student-centered learning in America surprised me at first. But after being at St. Olaf for about seven months, I have become a more independent learner. I know how to manage my time and how to acquire knowledge in my own way.

Participating in activities is another enriching experience I have had at St. Olaf. I am a member of Veselica, the student international dance company.

Through Veselica, I expanded my awareness of the spectrum of dance forms in the world and experienced working in a group to create quality performances through discipline and commitment.

After investing six months of practice, Veselica’s dedication resulted in the annual spring concert at the beginning of April. My long-term study abroad program provides me with the opportunity to be one part of this activity.

My university, Chiang Mai University in Thailand, and CET Academic Programs in China and Vietnam, also offer annual courses for St. Olaf students to experience a cross-cultural study in Asia. The program, called Term in Asia, extends over the first semester and the January Interim.

Over the five months of the term, courses are supplemented by field trips, home visits and homestays with Thai families. This is a great chance for students to experience academic study in the non-Western world and develop their global perspectives.

Associate Director of Admissions Luyen Phan, international student adviser and alum of the Term in Asia program, said, “What I've most appreciated about the Term in Asia is that the program allowed me and many other Oles to develop personal – and eventually professional – relationships with some of the people and cultures we met.”

Phan continued by adding the following: “Some of us still are connected to the region as a whole, currently or previously working there as educators, entrepreneurs, financial analysts, bankers, development workers and many other sectors.”

You may think: Why should I go on this program if I am not in specific major fields or a language student?

The fact is that students can explore outside their majors. There is a course in environmental issues in Japan and China offered on the Term in Asia program. In this course, science majors are introduced to historical and current environmental issues in different regions, in which readings and lectures are brought to life with a program of guided field trips.

Moreover, religion majors can participate in a meditation period in a Thai temple and learn more about the people and cultures that make up almost half of the world’s population.

Need financial aid for going abroad? St. Olaf allows financial aid and scholarships to be used to finance off-campus programs. There are a wide variety of loans and many scholarships available for students.

St. Olaf scholarships provide up to 50 awards for long-term programs in all fields and all locations of study. Contact the Office of International Studies if you need further information.

St. Olaf is among the leaders nationwide in sending the largest percentage of students off campus. Instead of sitting in a classroom in Northfield learning about cultures of the world, students can actually travel and live with the native people of the region to which they choose to travel.

After graduation, it becomes more difficult to plan and get the time off from jobs in order to travel. Therefore, it is necessary to take advantage of these opportunities during your time at St. Olaf.

Contributing writer Jaruwan Punyoyai is a junior from Muang Patun, Thailand. She majors in English.

Contributing writer Jaruwan Punyoyai is a junior from Muang Patun, Thailand. She majors in English.

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