Sensing the diversity of Southeast Asia by contrasting two neighbors
Our Southeast Asia program focuses on two countries, Thailand and Malaysia, which are neighbors but quite different.
- Overwhelmingly ethnic Thai people with well-integrated Chinese minority
- Overwhelmingly Buddhist
- Now ruled by military which overthrew an elected government
- 3 quite separate racial groups: Malay, Chinese, Indian
- Malays are (by law) Muslims; Chinese and Indians represent other faiths
- elected government dominated by the largest ethnic group
What we do to create a deeper learning experience
Understanding begins with experiences and human contacts that would be difficult to achieve if simply traveling alone, with friends or with a tour group
- Live in a Thai village for several days
- Trek Malaysia’s rainforest
- Meet informally with university students
- Learn about social issues from UN staff (UNICEF in Thailand, High Commissioner for Refugees in Malaysia)
- Get briefed by a knowledgeable university professor in each country
- Learn what the world is doing to overcome injustice (for example, talking with those rescuing people from human traffickers)
How to prepare
Our participants bring the following tools to maximize their learning experience
- An open, inquiring mind
- Some reading and other preparation beforehand
- Enough English to communicate effectively, as it is our only common language within our group and among those with whom we meet. (Note: Perfect English isn’t required but enough to understand and to be understood—and the bravery required to use it.)
Depart for Bangkok. Transfer from Bangkok Airport to Siam Swana Hotel
Lecture on Thailand’s current political and economic situation by Prof. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Institute for Security and International Studies, Chulalongkorn University. Informal meeting over lunch with Chulalongkorn students. Afternoon briefing on human rights in Thailand and regions by Pokpong Lawansiri, National Human Rights Officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Explore Wat Po, a much revered Buddhist temple complex on Rattanakosin island, and its famed Reclining Buddha. After lunch: a briefing by UNICEF staff on their efforts to protect children from the dangers of trafficking, HIV-AIDS, and other abuse.
Exploration of the NGO community in Thailand. We look at the “underside” of Bangkok life through the work of the Duang Prateep Foundation in the Klong Toey slum. Afternoon: Emma Van Dam of Project Issara explains its fight against human trafficking and the supply chains which uphold it.
Free day to explore Bangkok on one’s own.
Depart Bangkok for Ta Kha village in Samut Songkram province. Together with three Chulalongkorn University students, we’ll observe life in the floating market and meet our village hosts, with whom we’ll stay overnight.
In the early morning, we join the village custom of offering food to monks in order to make Buddhist merit. After breakfast, we learn the process of producing coconut sugar—the main local industry. This is a day to appreciate the pace of life in rural Thailand.
We say goodbye to our village hosts and travel to Bangkok Airport. Afternoon flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Transfer to Manipal International University for exchange with its students. On to ZON Residences.
Morning meeting with staff of the Women’s Aid Organisation, an NGO which protects the rights of women and foreign workers. Afternoon briefing by UNHCR staff on situation of refugees in Malaysia, followed by visit to an informal school for refugee children.
On the campus of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, we meet with Prof. Stephen Leong, who surveys Malaysia’s recent history and its place in the world. We join the university’s students for lunch. Afternoon: we explore new media by meeting with the founders of Malaysiakini who explain how they have tapped the power of the internet to create an alternate news source. Evening activity.
We travel to a nature preserve to trek in Malaysia’s rainforest—an opportunity to understand firsthand this important Southeast Asia feature and resource. Lunch during jungle hike. Mid-afternoon return to Kuala Lumpur; rest of day free.
Morning: Producers and staff of alJazeera’s Asian broadcast center explain their approach to comprehensive, reality-centered news gathering. Afternoon: final reflection session. Farewell dinner.
Chartered bus transfer to Kuala Lumpur International Airport for flight home.