New Thai ambassador visits UCLA
Ambassador Chaiyong Satjipanon, right, addresses the group as lecturer Gyanam Mahajan, left, and Professor Shoichi Iwasaki listen. (Photo by Rebecca Kendall)

New Thai ambassador visits UCLA

Funding from the Royal Thai Government supports language instruction, cultural programming and travel opportunities for students.

By Rebecca Kendall, Director of Communications

Just 50 days into his appointment as Thailand’s ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Chaiyong Satjipanon visited UCLA to learn about the university’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies and how the Royal Thai Government’s annual gift of $50,000 is making an impact on Thai studies. Consul General Jesda Katavetin; Maleewan Chinaprayoon, first secretary, Royal Thai Embassy; and Consul Komkrich Chongbunwatana also attended the June 7 gathering.

The majority of this funding, which has been provided each year since 2009 in various amounts, goes to support Thai language instruction. The reminding funds are directed to cultural programming and travel grants for students to study in Thailand, said Michael Ross, director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies. 

UCLA is one of seven universities in the United States that are supported by the Royal Thai Government as part of its effort to expand Thai studies abroad.

“From the information given to us by the consulate in Los Angeles, we realize that UCLA is the best among all seven universities to study language at the three levels,” said Satjipanon, adding that the university is also fortunate to have Kantathi Suphamongkhon, the 39th Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand, working here as a professor in the International Institute, as well as serving as a senior fellow at the Burkle Center for International Relations

In Fall 2011, a record 28 students were enrolled in the introductory Thai language class. Intermediate and advanced level enrollment also remains strong, the ambassador was told. UCLA boasts some of the highest enrollments in Thai language classes in the United States, said Professor George Dutton, vice chair of the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, who spoke about the history of Thai language teaching at UCLA.

“Our program supports undergraduates majoring in a number of degree programs – Southeast Asian studies, international development studies, political science and history,” said Dutton. “It also provides language support to graduate students who are working in Thailand.”

Dutton’s presentation was followed by words from Professor Supa Angkurawaranon, who spoke about Thai language instruction at UCLA, and about some of the factors that motivate heritage and non-heritage learners to study Thai language.

Student interest in Thailand expands beyond language. Each year, five to 13 UCLA students travelling to the nation each year, said Danilo Bonilla, international programs counselor in UCLA’s International Education Office, who also told the delegation about UCLA’s education abroad programs at Thammasat University in Bangkok. UC-wide, 30 to 40 students study abroad in Thailand annually.

In addition, Jade Alburo spoke about her role as Southeast Asia librarian in the Charles E. Young Research Library. She explained that UCLA is one of just a dozen university libraries in the U.S. that houses a substantial collection of materials from Southeast Asia. Of the 100,000 items on Southeast Asia in the UCLA collection, which include books, microfilm, periodicals, CDs and music representing more than 30 languages, 15,000 are from Thailand. Nearly half of the Thai materials have been secured over the past five years, she said. She went on to say that the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, through funding from the U.S. Department of Education, has provided support to help the library catalogue its Thai materials, something that Alburo is grateful for. Alburo also reported that she is working with other Southeast Asia librarians in the U.S. to develop these holdings further, ultimately to  create a comprehensive national collection of Southeast Asian materials, even under financial limitations.

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