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Public Affairs : Thailand AIAD

Teaching in Thailand provides cadets a wealth of learning experiences

Submitted by Cross-Cultural Solutions

Eight West Point cadets conducted volunteer work in Thailand this summer through an Academic Individual Advanced Development with Cross-Cultural Solutions.

Class of 2013 Cadets John Asbach, Claudia Caso, Anne Lee and Nicholas Qiu joined Class of 2014 Cadets William Carson, Saulius Gauronskis, Jonathan Mejia and Michael Mims on a trip to Bangkok July 14-Aug. 4, teaching conversational English to local youth ages 4-12 at four different elementary schools and preschools.

CCS helped develop short-term volunteer placements based upon each cadet’s skills and interests to provide a tailored opportunity to work side-by-side with local people on community-led initiatives—in this case increasing English language proficiency.

“I feel like I learned more than I taught,” Asbach said. “Specifically, how to work through language barriers to capture the student’s attention.”

In addition to approximately 30 hours of volunteering each week, these cadets received Thai language instruction, Muay Thai (kickboxing) training and cultural education about Thai history and customs, among other cultural activities.

Lee found that the “activities with CCS provided the necessary tools to expand our engagement with and understanding of the Thai people each day.”

The West Point Society of Thailand—led by Thai Royal Army Col. Natee Wongissares (Class of 1989)—also hosted a dinner with the group, where cadets met several distinguished members of the Thai Military, including retired Gen. Pichit Kullavanijaya (Class of 1958), the current Privy Councilor to the Thai King Rama IX.

On the weekends and between volunteer assignments, cadets traveled to six other provinces in Thailand, trekking the northern mountains and jungles on elephants, exploring national parks along the coast in southern Thailand, engaging with cadets at the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, walking the ruins at the historic capital in Ayuttaya, shopping at floating markets and paying tribute to Allied prisoners of war buried near the famous “Bridge over the River Kwai.”

“It’s crazy how a country smaller than Texas has such diversity within its borders,” Mejia said. “Each place we visited had its own distinct foods, history, culture and beautiful scenery.”

Beyond the satisfaction of conducting worthwhile service for these neighborhoods in Bangkok, the cadets gained a unique insight into the Thai people, their melting pot culture and their delicious cuisine. More importantly, this AIAD—among several sponsored within the Conflict and Human Security Studies office of the Department of Social Sciences—directly contributes to these students’ holistic and empathetic lens, which will help them better understand the human aspect of other security environments they may encounter upon graduation.

“I am thoroughly impressed with how this unique AIAD provided these students with a rare glimpse into both the challenges and satisfaction of working through cultural and language barriers to achieve common objectives,” Maj. Keith Benedict, a SOSH instructor who served as the officer-in-charge for this mission, said. “West Point and CCS provided them with the tools they needed to succeed; and in just three weeks they each developed strong relationships with their fellow teachers and ultimately contributed to the needs of the local community.”
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Eight West Point cadets conducted volunteer work in Thailand this summer through an Academic Individual Advanced Development with Cross-Cultural Solutions. Class of 2013 Cadets John Asbach, Claudia Caso, Anne Lee and Nicholas Qiu joined Class of 2014 Cadets William Carson, Saulius Gauronskis, Jonathan Mejia and Michael Mims on a trip to Bangkok July 14-Aug. 4, teaching conversational English to local youth ages 4-12 at four different elementary schools and preschools.                 Courtesy Photo