Earlier this summer, Debbie and I joined University Chaplain and Vice President Mike Safley on an extraordinary trip to Thailand. Two years in the making, we were not disappointed in any aspect of the journey.
Many members of the Methodist family are unaware of our deep roots in Thailand. Since the 1970’s we have attracted students from this beautiful country – a tradition that continues today as one of our current students, Noon Kantapasara is benefiting from a Methodist education. Noon was home for the summer, and we had the pleasure of meeting her father and sharing stories about Methodist.
The Thai people are known for their hospitality, and our hosts for the visit, two Methodist alumni, Kreetha Matitanaviroon ’74, and Kittinant Cholwibul ’74, far exceeded our expectations. We had an opportunity to meet other alumni and friends, including Suthathip “Benz” Suanmali ’02, who was our first United World College graduate and presently serves as Assistant Professor at Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology (SIIT) in Bangkok. Benz hosted a meeting for us with the leadership of the Institute, and we shared information about our two universities.
A highlight of the trip was a dinner held with our alumni and friends and hosted at Kittinant’s (Kit’s) restaurant. It was so wonderful to have traveled half way around the world and feel so much at home.
During one of our many excursions hosted by Kreetha, Mike Safley asked his former roommate why he had such strong feelings for Methodist University, which were so clearly evident, as he shared story after story of his undergraduate days on campus. Kreetha’s response was, “Heart of a Monarch.” He went on to talk about his transformational experience here, as everyone at Methodist was so welcoming, even though his language, food, and culture were so different. This had such a profound impact on him that he coined a phrase that has stayed with him to this day, as he feels it is his duty to “give back” and continue the tradition of the Heart of the Monarch.
This morning I greeted the new group of approximately 50 international students joining our community, and as they introduced themselves and mentioned their country of origin, I couldn’t help but think of Kreetha and how some 40 years ago he was sitting in a similar place, experiencing Methodist (and the U.S.) for the first time. We hope they will all have transformational experiences and leave with “A Monarch Heart.” Hopefully, they too will make a difference in this world based on the education, perspective, and life-long relationships they will develop here at Methodist.
As a result of our visit to SIIT an agreement is being developed between SIIT (as a part of Thammasat University) and Methodist University that will include faculty and student exchanges. We look forward to moving forward with this program once the memorandum of understanding (MOU) is finalized, creating opportunities as early as the 2014-15 year for our two institutions to benefit from this partnership. And through our outreach to our alumni and friends in Thailand, we will expand our recruitment efforts to attract future Thai students to Methodist so they can benefit from an MU education. We look forward to these partnerships and all they will do to further our university-wide commitment to global education.