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Thai Government Gift Backs Language Courses Through Tough TimesDamrong Kraikruan, the Consul General of Thailand, speaks at a luncheon organized to thank his government for a generous $45,000 gift supporting language instruction at UCLA. (Photo by Christine Larson)

Thai Government Gift Backs Language Courses Through Tough Times

Because of the generous gift, UCLA remains the only campus in California offering Thai language instruction at all levels. On Nov. 23, the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and the International Institute hosted a luncheon in honor of Consul General Damrong Kraikruan.

By Barbara Gaerlan

Roughly 100,000 people of Thai origin live in Los Angeles County, the largest such population outside of Thailand.

On Monday, Nov. 23, 2009, the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) and the International Institute hosted a luncheon in honor of the Consul General of Thailand, the Honorable Damrong Kraikruan. The occasion was to thank the Royal Thai Government for its generous gift of $45,000 to the UCLA Foundation to support the teaching of Thai language. Before taking up his current post in Los Angeles in July 2009, Consul General Kraikruan had been Charge d'Affaires at the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington, D.C., and was therefore involved in the award decision.

The gift enables UCLA to ensure, in difficult budgetary times, that it will continue to offer Elementary, Intermediate, and Advanced levels of instruction in Thai language and indeed to remain the only university in California to do so. As Consul General Kraikruan observed in his remarks, roughly 100,000 people of Thai origin live in Los Angeles County, the largest such population outside of Thailand. Currently, 34 students are enrolled in Thai language courses on campus, including a minority whose parents speak the language.

Nicholas Entrikin, vice provost of international studies at UCLA, gave opening remarks at the event, thanking and welcoming the Consul General and expressing his hope for an expanded relationship between UCLA and the Royal Thai Government. Professor Entrikin also thanked Dr. Kantathi Suphamongkhon, a senior fellow at the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations who served as the 39th Foreign Minister of Thailand, for his assistance in securing the gift.

While introducing the Consul General, Dr. Suphamongkhon also spoke of his own pleasure in being able to teach and do research at UCLA, where he obtained his B.A. degree in Political Science. He expressed his enthusiastic support for Thai Studies here, and his hope that it would continue to prosper and grow.

In remarks to the audience, Consul General Kraikruan credited Dr. Suphamongkhon and the current ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Don Pramudwinai, for taking the lead in arranging for the gift to UCLA. Ambassador Pramudwinai received both his B.A. in Political Science and his M.A. in International Relations from the university, a fact known to few present at the luncheon.

The Consul General mentioned that the Royal Thai Government was particularly interested in supporting Thai language study in Los Angeles because of the very large population of people of Thai origin who live in Los Angeles County and whom the Consulate serves. He also said that it was his hope that closer collaboration between the Royal Thai Government and academic institutions in the United States would expand other Americans' appreciation of Thailand beyond the widespread interest in Thai food.

CSEAS Director Michael L. Ross added his thanks to the Consul General and to the Royal Thai Government, on behalf of the Center, which was the direct beneficiary of the gift. The Center is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year and looks forward to continuing its commitment to Southeast Asian Studies at UCLA in the years to come. Professor Ross also introduced the other UCLA participants in the lunch, who represented the wide involvement of UCLA with Thailand and with Thai Studies in the United States:

  • Supa Angkurawaranon, Thai Language Instructor, Asian Languages and Cultures. Dr. Angkurawaranon, who hails from Chiang Mai, Thailand, and who received her Ph.D. at Northern Illinois University, is in her tenth year of teaching Thai at UCLA.
  • Robert L. Brown, Professor of Art History, and South and Southeast Asia Curator, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Professor Brown, a former Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, led a recent faculty team evaluating the systemwide University of California Education Abroad Program based at Thammasat University in Thailand. He pronounced the program a great success. It previously had been noted that Consul General Kraikruan is an alumnus of Thammasat University.
  • Shoichi Iwasaki, Professor of Asian Languages and Cultures, who does research on Thai linguistics. Iwasaki was the founding Director (in 1999) of the South and Southeast Languages and Cultures Program in what is now the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures.
  • Walter Ling, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehaviorial Science, and Director, Integrated Substance Abuse Programs. Professor Ling attended Medical School at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, and continues his long interest in Thailand.
  • Cathryn Dhanatya, Director of Research Development and Financial Administration at the UCLA Art | Global Health Center. Dr. Dhanatya is a recent Ph.D. in Education from UCLA, having written a dissertation on youth education in Thailand having to do with HIV/AIDS. At the UCLA Art | Global Health Center, she is participating in a new research project which includes Thailand as one of a number of countries being studied regarding the situation with HIV/AIDS.
  • Mann Bunyanunda, Graduate Student, Political Science
  • Abigail Cooke, Graduate Student, Geography and currently a recipient of a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education to study Thai.
  • Melody Rod-Ari, Graduate Student, Art History
  • Andrew Chomchuensawat, Co-President of Thai Smakom, an undergraduate club at UCLA   
  • Leslie Chanthaphasouk, undergraduate student and former officer of Thai Smakom. Chanthaphasouk later gave the Consul General a tour of the UCLA campus.

   
All of the students present had studied Thai over the years with Dr. Angkurawaranon, and expressed their great appreciation for her skill as an instructor and her genuine interest in all of her students.

Also included in the party was Consul Nipa Nirannoot, Consul for Political and Economic Affairs, Royal Thai Consulate; Dr. Barbara Gaerlan, Assistant Director of the Center for Southeast Studies; John Peralta, Executive Director, External Affairs, International Institute; and Elsie Walton, External Affairs Director, International Institute.

Finally, Dr. Angkurawaranon, UCLA's Thai language instructor, reported on the UCLA students currently taking Thai language classes, the ultimate beneficiaries of the gift from the Royal Thai Government. She reported that 20 students, most of them undergraduates, are taking Elementary Thai, while 14 students are at the Intermediate and Advanced levels. There is a significant percentage of Thai heritage students in the classes, making for a diverse student population.

Center for Southeast Asian Studies