Getting to Know All About Thailand

WLU Students, Faculty Learn About Asia

Photo Provided Seated in a riverboat in Bangkok are, front row, Vishakha Maskey, left, and Miah Runkle; second row, Jennifer Lundy; third row, Loren Hall, left, and Design Wangpen; fourth row, from left, Ronald and Melissa Bane and Kevin Stryker. Below, seated at a Cambodian temple are from, left, Rickard Briggs, Jennifer Lundy, Vishakha Maskey, Loren Hall and, behind, Kevin Stryker.

Business students at West Liberty University got an up-close look at business practices and cultural customs in Southeast Asia plus a close encounter with Asian elephants during a two-week trip this summer to Thailand and Cambodia.

The trip, arranged by Gary E. West College of Business faculty members Vishakha Maskey and Rickard Briggs, included visits to temples, museums and palaces, a cooking class, a riverboat tour and a visit to a tiger reserve.

Maskey’s family hosted a Thai high school student, Design Wangpen, two years ago, who provided the group with the opportunity to tour Bangkok with a local who knew her way around the bustling city. In addition, Briggs had firsthand experience in that city, where he formerly worked in the health care industry.

Maskey said the business school had never hosted a trip to Thailand, and she felt it was a good choice because it boasts a newly industrialized economy. The addition of Cambodia to the itinerary gave the students a glimpse of life in a less developed country.

“In addition both Thailand and Cambodia have very different cultures, customs and religion. I thought this would be an opportunity that has never been offered before and could greatly benefit an understanding of cross-cultural business for our College of Business students,” Maskey said.

“As an initial study abroad trip to this region, it was a tremendous success,” Briggs said. “Students interacted with local culture, came to an understanding of the political, social and cultural circumstances present in both Thailand and Cambodia.”

Maskey noted the students learned to appreciate the opportunities available to them in the U.S.

“Both Thailand and Cambodia offered valuable lessons in how lives are complex and different in other parts of the world. They saw income inequlity from extreme poverty to wealth,” Maskey said.

Maskey is a native of Nepal, and the trip was “a refreshing reminder” of her Asian roots. The group visited Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world, as well as other sacred places.

“Especially visiting all those religious Hindu and Buddhist temples reminded me of all the religious stories I was familiar with. It was like a reverse culture shock to some extent.”

The trip was open to all students in any major and therefore drew a “dynamic mix of students from different disciplines,” Briggs noted.

Miah Runkle, 20, is majoring in tourism and event planning, and she found the trip valuable for several reasons.

“Being a tourism major, going to different countries is important because you see different cultures and learn about global cultural norms,” Runkle said. “We take small things for granted here in the U.S., things that not everyone has over there, like cars and other things. Another thing I noticed is that religion is huge in Thailand, plus they have a more laid back, relaxing culture — a calmer culture.”

Ronald Bane who is majoring in entrepreneurship, said “we talked to lots of local people and learned so much. The Thai temples were educational, but what I found really valuable was talking to the many small business owners.” His wife, Melissa, a 2010 WLU alumna, joined him on the trip; it was the couple’s first journey outside the U.S.

Briggs said one of the highlights of the trip was an overnight train excursion to Chaing Mai, “where we spent a day with native hilltop villagers and elephants.” They interacted with and even rode the elephants.

Additional travelers with the group were Loren Hall of Kenova, West Virginia, Jennifer Lundy of Pittsburgh, and Colleen Dorsey and Kevin Stryker, both of Wheeling.

The students received three credits for the trip and have to complete a graded final summary paper describing cultural differences between the United States and Asia.

Maskey said if she had to pick her favorite parts of the trip, it would be the food “and quality time with my students. I learned so much about each one of them and it was such a joy.”

Next summer, Briggs is planning a study-abroad trip to the Middle East, including Turkey, Morocco and Egypt.

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