Last night at the Alumni Reception in Bangkok, several people from Walailak University joined the spirited conversation. This may not seem special, but it was. Walailak is 800 kilometers from Bangkok, roughly an hour and a half by plane. And one of the people who joined us was Walailak President Sombat Thamrongthanyawong.
With this remarkable gesture of friendship and hospitality, President Thamrongthanyawong welcomed the delegation and expressed his enthusiasm regarding our forthcoming visit, which took place today. President Thamrongthanyawong has had a long history with IUPUI, including receiving an honorary doctorate at an IUPUI ceremony in 2013.
The president’s incredible welcome continued throughout the day today when Assistant Professor Dr. Pongsathorn Dechatiwongse Na Ayutthaya met us at the Bangkok Airport and arranged for a quiet area where we could meet prior to our flight to Nakhon Si Thammarat where Walailak is located.
Upon our arrival on campus, our delegation was greeted with a formal reception line, a welcome dance performance, and a delicious Thai lunch. Each member of the delegation was presented with a phuang malai, a Thai floral garland that is a symbol of luck and respect. As with so much in life, these less formal moments—sharing food and conversations—serve to connect us to our Thai colleagues, creating a foundation of hospitality and friendship upon which we can continue to build.
After lunch, we got down to the business of building partnerships with introductory remarks from President Thamrongthanyawong and Chancellor Paydar. Then, Chancellor Paydar, Sue Babich, Mathew Palakal, Simon Rhodes, and David Russomanno went their separate ways with Walailak colleagues to discuss the specific shapes our work together might take.
With the synergies between our two campuses, conversations progressed quickly, and each group developed a set of potential areas of collaboration, including faculty co-advising students, summer student exchange programs, faculty exchange and development opportunities, and sharing programs in teaching English as a second language, among others.
Following these intense and productive conversations, we toured Walailak’s future hospital facility, which is scheduled to open in about a year. This hospital is part of a much larger planned development that will include shopping areas, a business center, and other retail and services needed to support the work of the hospital.
We also visited Walailak Park, which has been built over the past six months. I am a gardener, and I was astounded by the lush plantings that were thriving lakeside. Future plans for the park include a ferry to take people to an island in the middle of the lake and paddleboats. Parks such as this are uncommon in the Nakhon Province, and university leaders see this as a powerful way to engage the community. As if we needed proof for this, the park actually filled with people as we were leaving.
The entire day held one remarkable moment after the next. It all started with Pad Thai for breakfast. Was I dreaming? No, friends, it was real. And it ended with a dinner as the sun set over the Walailak campus.
Days like today remind me of the incalculable value of global education. I spent the day here in Bangkok with a delegation whose members come from Iran, Great Britain, India, Turkey, Thailand, and the United States. We are here in Thailand to strengthen international higher education, but we are also here as exemplars of and ambassadors for the system we believe in and seek to strengthen.
If this sounds like a mission, it should. As ambassadors for U.S. higher education broadly speaking and of IUPUI more specifically, we are, indeed, on a mission.