I consider myself to be very lucky to have received two Fulbright Scholar Awards to Thailand (2006-07 and 2010-11). Both awards allowed me to bring contemporary psychology, especially my field of behavioral neuroscience, to the students of Thailand’s best universities. Additionally, I was able to assist Thai faculty with curriculum development, best practice pedagogy, and advice on scholarship and publication practices. My Fulbright stays also helped me to research the development of professional psychology in Thailand and how it impacts the mental health needs of Thai people.
As I reflect upon those experiences, I am reminded of what I consider to be the most important aspect of my time in Thailand: getting to know some wonderful Thai people who helped me to grow as a person and as an educator.
I was very fortunate to have Porntip Kanjaniyot as the Executive Director of the Thailand-United States Educational Foundation (TUSEF) during both of my Fulbright stays in Thailand. Her expertise in managing this binational organization made life much easier for all Fulbrighters to Thailand during her tenure. This was reflected in so many ways but especially in her knowledge of Thai culture, her ability to make everyone feel welcome and important and her effectiveness in solving small and large problems. Since that time, we have become good friends and I have sought her counsel on a number of important decisions in my life. She is a great representative of her country and what it means to be a helpful, caring and compassionate Thai person.
Dr Soree Pokaeo at Chulalongkorn University is considered to be one of Asia’s leading Buddhist psychologists. As someone who came to Thailand a number of years ago with little knowledge of Buddhist practices, I learned a lot from Dr Pokaeo. He opened my eyes to forms of counseling that involved Buddhist mindfulness techniques. He convinced me that this could become the next great breakthrough in therapy for those suffering from anxiety-based disorders. Our relationship progressed slowly because we presented opposite ends of the psychology continuum; I was centered in evidence-based experimental work while he represented more theoretical approaches. We reached common ground after having several long lunches together with students. I was impressed with the depth of his thinking and his firm belief that Buddhism could be the answer for many but not necessarily all who were suffering from anxiety. We acknowledged that one size does not fit all and that different, more evidence-based approaches, might be the best answer for some. I will always be grateful to Dr Pokaeo and the time he spent with me helping me to understand Buddhist psychology. He is an unselfish Thai person whose gift for explaining difficult concepts won me over. My time in Thailand would not have been as meaningful without his mentorship in all things related to Buddhism.
I was also fortunate to spend time with Dr Rana Pongruengphant, Dean of the International College at Burapha University. I have never encountered such a warm, generous and gifted administrator in my life. She taught me how to build a new college from the ground up, staff it with solid faculty, and bring good students from Thailand and other Asian countries. The networks she established are still thriving today and students receive solid instruction in both English and Thai. The International College at Burapha is the pride of Thailand and has been copied by other universities.
A young student in my first class at Chulalongkorn University, Non Pornpattananangkul, invited me to his home for dinner one evening. Little did I know that this large family would soon become like my own family. They treated me like their son, invited me for outings around Bangkok and introduced me to Thai culture. They taught me that family is everything in Thailand, that generosity and hospitality is the key to life, and that a smile can turn an uncomfortable situation into a happy one. We have become very close and I owe them so much for extending themselves in such an unselfish manner. They personify cultural pride and I benefitted so much from this wonderful family. This is an especially happy part of my involvement in this country because their son Non received his doctoral degree in psychology at Northwestern University and is now on the faculty of the University of Otago in New Zealand.
Lastly, the core of my existence in Thailand has been the many students I have taught through the years in my behavioral neuroscience class at Chulalongkorn University. I owe them so much for what they have given me in their curiosity, diligence in studying, and their helpful ways. Gift,Non, Nan, Punpun, Ploy, Pay, Lot, Wan, Kat, May, Prim, and so many more. They taught me where to go for the best food, the best electronics purchases, the best views and markets in the city, and the best hidden gems of Thai life. I return to teach my behavioral neuroscience class each summer and have pictures of every class hanging on my office wall. When I look at those pictures I realize that they taught me more than what I taught them. They have changed my life.
As we celebrate 75 years of the Fulbright program, there is much to praise about the premiere international exchange program in the world today. During these turbulent times, the Fulbright program continues its legacy of promoting mutual understanding and cultural exchange. For this, we will continue to be inspired by J. William Fulbright’s vision which is captured in his words about the purpose of this important scholarship program: “to see the world as others see it.”
Note:Dr. Bruce B. Svare received Fulbright Scholar awards in 2006 and 2010 to the Faculty of Psychology, Chulalongkorn University. Through him, we developed a strong and supportive network with the faculty and was able to welcome Narun (Non) Pornpattananangkul to our Fulbright Thailand family as 2009 Open Competition Scholarship awardee. Ajarn Bruce himself has been one of our great supporters who never says no to our requests and always visited us whenever he came to Thailand. In 2010, he initiated and coordinated a fundraising campaign with American alumni to help celebrate our 60th anniversary, making it a real meaningful event with everyone included. He also raised fund to help us publish “To Seethe World as Others See it”, a collection of Fulbright Thailand cross-cultural stories in part as a retirement gift for Khun Porntip, our former Executive Director, and in part as donations to schools and universities around Thailand.