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Written by sophomore Chad Enwright, marketing and multi-media student associate

  At Olivet College, student and professor bonds extend beyond the classroom. In December, Areerat “Poy” Lertchaipitak, Ph.D., assistant professor of business administration, and Eakamon “Andy” Oumtrakool, Ph.D., assistant professor of business administration, led students on a trip to Thailand, their home country, to experience local culture, visit mountains and markets, and even meet elephants at a sanctuary in Chiang Mai.

Originally, a group of students presented the idea of a class trip to Professor Lertchaipitak, eager to explore global diversity.

“To arrange this trip into a business class seemed odd at first, but with the help of Professor Mike Oyster, chair of the Business Administration Department, who said to me, ‘Anything is possible at Olivet,’ we made it happen,” Professor Lertchaipitak said. “The class ended up meeting once a week to do research on Thailand and Thai cuisine before leaving on their trip, and they finished by writing a 10-page essay summarizing their experience.”

As none of the students had ever been to Thailand before, they began the process with lots of questions.

“We all went in with questions, since it was a side of the world none of us had ever been to before,” senior Stuart Magnes said.

The students’ curiosity for the unknown was well worth the wait, after nearly 24 hours of travel from Olivet to Chicago to Tokyo to Bangkok. Once they landed, an overnight train took them to the city of Chiang Mai where they spent the next five days.

The first section of the trip covered one main topic — how authentic Thai cuisine varied from American food. The students had the opportunity to try a variety of different foods, and quickly realized that authentic dishes were must tastier than American versions of Thai food. Senior Andrew Todd even tried khao soi, a dish that you can only get in northern Thailand. The class also experienced an assortment of fried crickets, chicken feet soup and an entire steamed fish.

“Street food is a massive part of the Thai food experience. Plus, we had roti, which is an Indian dessert. It’s like fried bread with filling in the middle of it,” Benjamin Coughlin said.

Students also dove into cultural history and religious studies, focusing on the influence outside cultures had on Thailand and Buddhist practices.

“Thailand is known as the land of temples,” Andrew said. “Temples are called wats in Thailand. We went to a lot of wats, and at the entrances of the wats, you see piles of tourist shoes because it is a Thai custom not to wear shoes in the temples.”

Students also learned about privileged seating on public transportation, the Thai monarchy, squat toilets and the Royal Vacation Palace early on the trip.

“I’ve never taken more modes of transportation in my life than on this trip,” Stuart said. “We took planes, cars and trains, and we took a lot of subways and bikes to get around the city. The most unique mode of transportation that we used in Thailand was the tuk tuk. It’s kind of like a covered motorcycle where we all had to pack in on top of one another. We also took boats everywhere. We took a boat to the floating market and also to the Icon Siam Mall.”

In addition, the class visited Bangkok Night Market, Warorot Market, Nan Night Market and a 3D art exhibit. Students described being the only non-native people at the biggest, most crowded places in Bangkok as an unusual experience, but they enjoyed it greatly.

Finally, the class learned about the landscape and nature of Thailand. Students were initially nervous about their allergies or some of the insects and creatures they had heard about.

“There were a lot of cool insects. Every time I saw an insect, I was getting a picture of it,” Andrew said. “I didn’t get pictures of any giant centipedes, but there were very interesting bugs everywhere.”

“One of my favorite stops was a coffee shop at the top of a mountain,” Stuart said. “You could sit and look across the mountains while drinking coffee. It was an absolutely breathtaking view.”

“It was more beautiful than any National Park I’ve been too in America,” Andrew added. “It was more beautiful than Yosemite or any of the other parks I’ve visited; it was just one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to.”

The markets, authentic Thai food, local history and culture, and natural environment gave students a deeper understanding and appreciation of the world around them. However, students agreed on one special highlight — an interactive visit at an elephant sanctuary.

“We visited an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, which is practically elephant country,” Stuart said. “It was run by this amazing man who really cared about elephant conservation and the environment. Tourists would come in to feed the elephants, bathe them and take pictures with them. We wore special garbs to wash them in and fed them giant pieces of sugar cane. The elephants grabbed them right out of our hands with their trunks. My biggest takeaway from Thailand was a quote that the owner of the elephant sanctuary gave us when we got there, ‘To see, to learn, to try, that is our philosophy.’”

This quote embodied the entire Thailand experience for the group of students, and it empowered them to try every new experience the country had to offer — a lesson that will carry over into the rest of their lives as well.

Learn more about Olivet College by contacting the Office of Admissions at 800-456-7189 or admissions@olivetcollege.edu.

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