Myanmar? What happened to Burma?

Trip Start Oct 20, 2009
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Trip End Nov 29, 2009


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Flag of Thailand  , Khon Kaen,
Friday, November 20, 2009

When I rolled out of bed this morning, I called Grey for my nightly telephone call (it's 12 hours earlier in D.C.). Hearing his voice never fails to put a smile on my face. He's starting to sound so grown up on the phone: "well hello, Mommy!" Seeing him again is going to be amazing - this is the longest I've ever been away from him and I'm missing Grey and Kathy like crazy. But don't get me wrong: I'm having a fantastic time in Thailand and I am enjoying every moment here.

As I walked to work this morning, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of Thailand, I ran across what appeared to be the victim of a pigeon heart attack. A totally perfect pigeon, looking hale and hearty in appearance (aside from the not-breathing part), lay lifeless alongside the walking trail. Its little pigeon eyes were closed, giving the pigeon a "hey-don't-worry-about-me-I'm-just-napping" look. No apparent cause of death. Very strange. (And no, I did not attempt mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. I'm an animal lover but performing mouth-to-mouth on a pigeon is just plain fowl. Sorry - couldn't resist the pun. Get it? Fowl? OK, maybe not all that funny. But I haven't heard one of Grey's jokes for 5 weeks so I've been jonesing for some childish humor).

When I stopped by the Faculty of Nursing minimart to get my morning Pepsi's, the jewelry vendor was waiting for me with an orchid bouquet and his name and phone number on a pink satiny business card. Jakkrit handed me the flowers and the card and told me he wanted "senteemental Kimberly" to remember him when I returned to the U.S. I was so touched - people in Thailand are so kind and generous, and Jakkrit is no exception. He has been so friendly to me throughout my visit and I have bought many souvenirs for friends and family back home as a result.

Shortly after I arrived at my office, Dr. Niramon stopped by to get additional help editing her article on social mobilization efforts to reduce adolescent smoking in rural Thailand. She brought her revised draft on a thumb drive and when I opened up the file, I was so touched to see that she had added me to the acknowledgements section. Once again, the kindness of the Thai people never ceases to amaze me

When I went to teach my 6-hour workshop on developing online courses and programs, I found a very tiny class in attendance - one person (Dr. Siriporn). She and I talked about why faculty might not have been interested in attending (KKU set the topic, not me). She had a really good insight about this: some faculty are nervous about speaking English with an American but she thought the real issue was that many faculty are intimidated by the IT aspects involved in something like distance education. They have finally become comfortable with Powerpoint - the thought of developing online courses might be a little uncomfortable for this. This led to one of my favorite conversations I've had since I've come to Thailand: an open and honest conversation about pedagogy, andragogy, and heutagogy (although I didn't use those terms while we were talking because they don't translate well. For example, androgogy - Greek for "man-leading" - is unlikely to translate eloquently (or accurately) into Thai).  I went out on a limb and shared - gently and with a bit of trepidation - my observation that faculty seem to love Powerpoint maybe a little too much, clinging to it as a teaching tool despite the fact their students are clearly bored. Rather than offend Dr. Siriporn, this seemed to energize her. She said she's long wondered why English classes are so much fun and nursing classes have to be so dull. I told her they don't have to be dull - the teacher is what brings the subject to life, not the technology. I showed Dr. Siriporn Blackboard and how courses are structured but it quickly became apparent to both Dr. Siriporn and I that what KKU needs right now isn't an online program - at this point, faculty members would be tempted to just upload powerpoint and then the online courses would be as lecture-driven as the on campus classes. The first step towards infusing innovation into nursing education at KKU is breathing new life into the teaching strategies used for the on-campus courses.

I walked Dr. Siriporn through how a faculty member might use innovative teaching strategies to engage learners and empower them to take responsibility for taking a more active role in the learning process. We talked about specific strategies for bringing content to life in the classroom and talked about ways to convey complex clinical concepts to students without relying solely on lecture. I showed her Merlot (a learning object repository) and demonstrated for her how a faculty member could use learning objects like the Auscultation Assistant to give students the opportunity to actually hear certain heart sounds they might normally never have a chance to hear until they're out in the field. As I browsed through Merlot, I could see Dr. Siriporn's eyes begin to twinkle - she asked, "is this site free?" When she found out there was no charge to use it, she was overjoyed. She asked questions about how we evaluate student learning at GW and I showed here some of the fantastic resources available through GW's CITL. Then I showed her some of the rubrics I use for grading more complex written assignments. She loved the rubrics but wanted to know how one learns how to make one. I showed her Rubistar, one of my favorite (albeit basic) free sites for making rubrics, and together we made a sample rubric for master's thesis presentations.

Dr. Siriporn was interested in my thoughts re: how to encourage faculty to use more innovative teaching strategies in the classroom. I suggested incentivizing innovation in much the same way the Faculty of Nursing incentivizes excellence in research and publication. Why not give a substantial cash award each year for the educator using the most innovative teaching strategies in the FoN? She liked this idea so we started talking about how to catalyze a culture change in terms of teaching strategies used by ajarns in the Faculty of Nursing. Mandating innovation from the top down is like yelling at a ballerina and telling her, "dance, damnit, dance!!!" Not the best way to inspire creativity and passion for teaching. Rather, a peer-based approach to changing the culture seems to be a better starting place. Dr. Siriporn and I talked about ways to do this and together we decided that starting with a core group of 3-4 innovators would be a good approach. The core group of innovators will meet with me next week to learn a few simple innovations to begin using in their classrooms - namely, interactive (non-Powerpoint) teaching strategies. Dr. Siriporn thought perhaps that each month, the FoN will put together something like a brown-bag lunch and someone will give a presentation on an innovative teaching strategy they're using in the classroom. Dr. Siriporn's enthusiasm was infectious and our time together left me feeling energized and excited about KKU's future.

Dr. Siriporn and I went to lunch at the vegetarian restaurant in town and had a delicious meal along with a continuation of our conversation from the morning. 

After lunch, Dr. Niramon (nickname: "Tim") stopped by to bring me a present - a beautiful gold and green turtle brooch with rhinestones and pearls, with a note that said, "Turtle: Means symbol of long live. It's so beautiful like you, ka."  I was speechless (a rare sight to see, I know). What a sweet note and a gorgeous pin. And talk about perfect timing - the universe clearly heard my desperate pleas for something green and fancy for tonight's party.  

I worked on editing all afternoon (since my 6-hour class turned into a 3-hour class) and left at 4pm to head back to the dorm to get ready for the party. The van would pick everyone up at the dorm at 5pm so I wouldn't have much time to shower and get ready. Before I left work, I double-checked with O again about attire - she confirmed that "green fancy" - "very dressy" - was the dress code for the evening.

I met the students from China and Bhutan in the lobby of the dorm at 5pm. The students had all, like me, gotten dressed up in their dressiest clothes. We were all excited about the party and were looking forward to meeting the other international students and faculty from across the campus. Imagine my surprise when we piled out of the van at the site for the party, only to discover that everyone was wearing casual clothes. Like t-shirt casual. The girls from China were a little self-conscious of this at first but I reassured them that they looked fabulous. (They were comforted by the fact that at least they were wearing green while being inappropriately dressy. I, on the other hand, was flying my formalwear freak flag proudly in an outfit that wasn't even green.)

Once we got over the initial shock of realizing we were WAAAYYY too dressed up, we had a blast. I met a guy named Dave, Director of the C.I.E.E. program at KKU, and we had a great conversation about GW and the many, many students we send to Thailand through C.I.E.E. each year. Dave has lived in Thailand for 20 years since first coming here with the Peace Corps and talking with him was a lot of fun. When Dave commented about the large number of students that GW sends every year, I told him about the latest data released by IIE a few days ago (showing that at GW, 46% of undergraduate students study abroad). [The only reason I knew about the data is that I have a Google news alert set up for GW so that every time we're in the news, I read the article. Dorky, I know, but I love keeping up with what folks at GW are doing...] Dave talked about the experience of students visiting KKU with the CIEE program and after hearing a bit about the program, I totally understand why interest in the program is so high. The students learn to examine social, economic, and public health issues through an integrated, holistic approach to learning - for example, doing homestay experiences with families living in the town dump and in areas affected by invasive mining and damming practices.  When I go back to GW, I will definitely encourage students - especially students in public health, since this is an emerging focus area of the CIEE program in Thailand - to consider studying abroad at KKU.

During the party, we ate fantastic Thai food (of course!) and watched a series of dance performances by the students. I've uploaded my favorite for your viewing pleasure. At the party, I met many, many students from all over the world. I had the opportunity to speak with a student from Myanmar (the country formerly known as Burma) and he immediately asked me what I thought of Obama's plans for health reform.  We talked US politics for a bit and then he told me about Myanmar. I wish I could say I knew tons about Myanmar before he and I spoke, but quite honestly, my knowledge of the country could have filled a thimble. Barely. So when the student started telling me about life in his country, the information and insights he shared were really new to me. He was so well-informed about the politics in the United States....my ignorance of politics and ethnic conflict in Myanmar was quite embarrassing. What does it say about me (and about America in general) if a guy in a country with censored media outlets still manages to be better informed about politics in the United States than I, living in a country with free access to information, am about politics in Myanmar? And quite frankly, what does it say about me that I totally didn't know the country wasn't called Burma any more? When the student and I parted ways, I made a vow to myself that I can't keep being a small-minded American - I need to learn more about politics in other countries.

After the party, we came back to the dorm and the physician group visiting from India was sitting in the lobby. They said they'd been waiting for me- they need me to fix their internet for them. A student was sitting with them in the lobby. From what O and I could piece together, the doctors had cornered this poor student and commandeered his services. The student had done a good job getting the connections set up but the docs were unsatisfied with the wireless signal. Watching their interactions with their Thai hosts has been quite uncomfortable, I have to say, because the visiting docs are exceptionally forceful about getting their needs met immediately and to the standards they require.  The visitors from India are bright, lovely, kind-hearted clinicians, but I see my Thai hosts working so hard to keep them happy and my heart goes out to them for their efforts. Hosting international visitors is very difficult, regardless of their country of origin or discipline, and the faculty at KKU go way above and beyond what is required to make sure visitors are welcomed, happy, and comfortable while they're here in Thailand. I feel lucky to have had a chance to be here with such kind and compassionate hosts.

Tomorrow morning we leave for Lao PDR so I won't be posting blog entries for a few days. Leaving the laptop back home so I won't have to worry about lugging it around Vientiane. I don't know if I'll have cell signal or not so please don't text me (Dad, this means you) and then freak out when you don't hear back from me. I'll be fine....seriously.  And don't worry - I won't get into a discussion with anyone in Lao about the "D" in PDR.  And I won't photograph bridges. Or buildings. Or UXO. Or people with guns. Not that there are any people with guns or UXO in Lao - I'm just saying, just in case there are I won't take any photos. 

Looking forward to posting lots of great photos on Monday of flowers and happy people and children reveling in their Democracy-infused, idyllic childhood.....
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james soe on

walk with God

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