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September 3, 2009

Here are a few of my thoughts and feelings about the study abroad program in Thailand,
and some areas where there is room for improvement. Despite the overwhelmingly
positive feedback the university surely receives from study abroad participants, there are
serious disparities between what Webster hopes its students are gaining from their
experience and what study abroad participants actually walk away with. Many of these
disparities could be largely resolved if more emphasis was placed on academically
increasing students’ cultural awareness throughout their study abroad experience.
*I should note that my opinions solely concern the study abroad program at the
Thailand campus for two reasons. First, because Thailand was my study abroad
destination in the spring of 2009; and second, because the issues I am discussing are
unique to the complicated transition experience when traveling from a western culture of
the United States to the almost polar opposite eastern/Buddhist traditions of Thailand.
Because the culture gap is far less prominent when traveling from the U.S. to another
western culture such as Europe, I feel the program in Thailand requires special attention.
Webster’s study abroad program provides students the opportunity to be a part of
today’s globalized world and emphasizes the importance of “understanding the many
cultures and traditions that shape it.” However, if Webster St. Louis is going to pride
itself on this program, a stronger commitment needs to be made to ensuring its success.
Regardless of the business oriented objectives of the administration at the Thailand
campus, I feel Webster St. Louis needs to be more active in making sure students are in
fact having meaningful experiences and genuinely “understand” the cultures they are
immersing themselves in. I am willing to bet, with confidence, that the majority of St.
Louis based students who participate in Webster’s study abroad program are doing so for
the cultural experience. Due to the significant cultural differences between Thailand and
the United States, as mentioned above, students need access to more resources and tools
for making sense of those differences while they are in Thailand. Despite this fact,
Webster Thailand cannot, thus far, offer incoming study abroad students a stable
curriculum to facilitate an accurate/educated understanding and appreciation of that
cultural experience.
Changes that need to be made (in my opinion):
1. Study abroad students should be required to enroll in the Thai I language
course at least for the semester they are in Thailand, if not the semester prior
to studying abroad. I recognize that Webster does not want to discourage
students from studying abroad and has focused on making the program
accessible to all students; BUT, by not requiring at least a basic knowledge of
the language, Webster is sending students the wrong message. The fact that
Webster allows and even encourages students to travel abroad with no effort
made to learn the language of the country being visited merely reinforces the
already unfortunate reality that few Americans recognize: the importance of
learning a language before living in a foreign country. In this way, Webster is
doing nothing to deter the uniquely American ethnocentric misconception that

“everyone should speak English” and thus the essential responsibilities of a
world traveler or global citizen must not apply to Americans.
2. Study abroad students should also be required to enroll in either the Thai
Ways course or one of the other culture/religion courses that will hopefully
one day be offered at WUT. Again, I realize Webster’s hesitation in requiring
certain courses be taken, HOWEVER, if Webster truly “knows what it takes to
succeed in today’s dynamic global environment” then surely administrators
can acknowledge the value and necessity of offering Thai culture courses for
study abroad students at the Thailand campus. I cannot express how
significantly valuable the Thai Ways course was for me and my peers during
my first semester in Thailand. Not only did Ted Mayer’s Thai Ways course
educate me on Thai culture but it gave me a framework and perspective to
carry with me throughout my experiences in Thailand. Ted Mayer taught Thai
culture holistically through a combination of total cultural immersion (for
which there is no equal substitute) and academic articles. His anthropological
background, mastery of the language, extensive understanding of the culture,
and unique network of prominent individuals involved in the Buddhist, social
activist, political, and local realms of Thai society took the curriculum of the
course beyond the mere learning of cultural values to a level where students
were immersed in, participated in, and became genuinely connected with
various aspects of the culture. (**Note: I am aware that this does not change
or help anything involving Ted Mayer’s situation, however I hope to highlight
the value of his presence (or the presence of someone with his expertise to fill
his position) at Webster Thailand, particularly for study abroad students.) The
Thai Ways course is a crucial component of a positive study abroad
experience as it offers students a lens through which Thai society, culture, and
traditions can be observed and understood.
3. Secondary to the Thai language and Thai ways courses is of course the
necessity for courses on Buddhism for obvious reasons…
Bottom-line: I know that a lot of these issues are related to and have been affected
by recent circumstances at the Webster Thailand campus but I still feel Webster could do
more to ensure that their students become positive and responsible members of the global
community. As someone who enrolled at Webster University specifically for the
opportunities advertised by its study abroad program I strongly support the program and
the principles it was founded on. The orientation process does a sufficient job of
providing guidance to students and preparing them for studying abroad but it is crucial
that this guidance does not end at orientation. If Webster is able to stabilize the situation
at its Thailand campus and provide a stronger program catering to its study abroad
students and the promotion of cultural awareness, then Webster will have fulfilled its
purposes of molding successful, responsible, and respectful global representatives.
(All quotes were taken from one of the study abroad information pamphlets)

Dana Pacheco
P.S. Although this letter takes on a somewhat negative tone, the 6 months I spent in
Thailand was truly the most profound period of my life and has since reshaped my idea of
what I want out of life and redirected the path I will take to achieve these new-found
aspirations. It is probably because of my utter satisfaction with what I gained from that
experience (outside of the Webster Thailand campus) that I am so passionate about the
experiences of other students and Webster offering those students the same indispensible
opportunities I was fortunate enough to have.