|From left to right: Thai guide Peter; Fordham students Perry Petrich, Kyleen Wolfson, Katrina Villaneuva, Rachel Leib, David Graver, Meg Keaveney (behind), Deena Sadek, Megan Minturn and Erin Scott (in front); Lincoln Center Global Outreach coordinator Diane Carter; Thai guide Andy
Fordham’s Global Outreach (GO!) experienced a global expansion in more ways than one with its year-ending project in Thailand. The two-week December trip marked the program’s first foray into an Asian country, and it was the first time students taught English as their service project.
The 10 students departed on Dec. 27, the day after the tsunami devastated coastal communities in Thailand and other countries. Just before the students headed to the northeast farming village of Ban Nong Hoi Yai, a thousand miles from the disaster site, Diane Carter, the faculty chaperone and director of Lincoln Center GO!, and student team leader Meg Keaveney (FCRH ‘06) polled students on whether to make the trip.
“The decision wasn’t that difficult in the end,” said Carter. “We checked with China Air, and there were no flight delays. The U.S. State Department website showed no travel restrictions for our area. And no parents of team members expressed concern. The decision was unanimous.”
Inspired by the Jesuit mission of service to others, Global Outreach students have worked on projects in Florida migrant labor camps, Appalachian mining towns, Navajo reservations, and in such countries as Mexico, India and Africa. Expanding into an Asian country has always been on the agenda, according to Carter, and Thailand was the logical choice because it is affordable—students pay their own way—and there is a strong desire among the Thai to learn English.
“There were 15 schools in the area that would have welcomed us,” said Carter, “though we only had enough students to staff three. Ability in English is seen as a great advantage for Thai people looking to work in industries such as tourism.”
The Thai students were shy but eager to learn, according to Erin Scott (FCLC ‘07), who taught 14 to 19 year olds.
“But what made the trip for me was the home stay. That’s when you really get to know the local people.” Scott and her fellow students worked side-by-side with their host families, cooking dinner on small burners and hauling water for cleanup. “Our hosts treated us as if we were their own children.”
The Fordham team was far from the tsunami, but it was never far from their minds. Back at Fordham, the students held a silent auction to benefit tsunami relief using handmade crafts they had purchased in Thailand. And according to Keaveney, the team is now planning a drive to gather school supplies. “We want to give something back to the Thai people and the schools where we taught.”