School Exchange Programs Strengthen Ties between Wisconsin and Thailand

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by Sarah Wang
Antonia Langowski (right), a junior at Lodi High School in Wisconsin, sight sees with her Thai host sister Penpichaya (Mommam) Rasinual during an exchange program to Thailand in November 2016. Image: Antonia Langowski, Lodi High School.

Thanksgiving is a time for family and reflection on all that one has to be grateful. In November 2016, 18 students and three faculty members from Wisconsin’s Lodi High School spent three weeks in Thailand, returning the day after Thanksgiving, as part of a long-standing cultural exchange program with Sa-nguan Ying [High] School in Thailand’s Suphan Buri province. The students got to interact with their Thai peers (the school has over 2,500 students), stay with Thai host families, and take in historical and cultural sites throughout Thailand. "There's no doubt that going to Thailand was one the most amazing and culturally sensational experiences of my life," said Antonia Langowski, a junior at Lodi High School who particiapted in the recent exchange. "I don't think a day goes by that I don't mention something about my incredible trip. If someone offered me a plane ticket to fly there right now, I would take it and I wouldn't give it a second thought." 

To date five student groups from Lodi High School, a total of 63 individual students, have traveled to Thailand since 2008 to visit for three weeks and get to know students at Sa-nguan Ying School. Shortly before the November 2016 trip 10 Thai educators paid a visit to Lodi High School to extend the Memorandum of Understanding between the two schools. Mr. Vincent Breunig, principal of Lodi High School, stated "We are very proud of the relationship that we have built with our sister school in Suphanburi, Thailand as it has benefited not only the students who participate in the exchange, but all of our students.  It has helped us to focus on the similarities that there are between the two schools, two countries, and two cultures.  All too often people focus on the differences, we focus on the similarities.  It helps to bring us together."

During the 2017 school year, Lodi High School will again host students from Sa-nguan Ying School on atheexchange program. The program has also featured dual distance-learning, with Lodi High School students learning Thai history from a Thai professor and Thai students learning US history from a retired Lodi High teacher over Skype.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison also boasts a strong education and exchange focus on Thailand. Its Thai Studies program is sponsored by the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington DC. Students can also study the Thai language and take advantage of multiple study abroad opportunities in fields as diverse as political science, public health, microbiology, and engineering.

In a broader effort to facilitate exchanges between Wisconsin and Thai schools, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has been involved in a partnership with the Thailand Ministry of Education since 2005. Since 2007, students and teachers from Thailand have been hosted at Wisconsin-area schools.  Last year marked the first time in the program’s 10-year history that five Thai students and a teacher were hosted by Patrick Marsh Middle School.  Many of the Thai students saw this program as an opportunity to not only learn about the United States but to also teach their American counterparts about Thailand.

Sarah Wang is the Event Coordinator and a Project Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington.