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November 21, 2002

Indiana State and Rajabhat Institute:
Building a better understanding

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. The basis for international education hasn’t changed since Saiyut Champatong came to Indiana State University from Thailand 50 years ago or Otto Shipla began going to Southeast Asia nearly 40 years ago.

“For honest understanding,” Shipla, Indiana State University professor emeritus, said recently of his motive for traveling halfway around the world to teach. “The learning and the teaching isn’t much different between peoples. The whole world would be better if people understood one another.”

Champatong graduated from ISU with a bachelor’s degree in 1956 and a master’s degree in 1961. He returned regularly to work on projects in business education.

Shipla went to Thailand to teach in 1963. Under a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) project, he taught in Laos from 1970 to 1973 and in Thailand again from 1975 to 1977. After the UNESCO project ended, Shipla returned to ISU but went back to Thailand for three months each summer, even working for free after his retirement from the School of Education in 1986.

“I saw more of Thailand than most Thai people,” Shipla said. “I still have friends there.”

One of those friends is Champatong, former secretary general of the Rajabhat Institute Council, which oversees 41 higher education institutions, including 36 former teacher’s colleges that are making the transition to universities.

Building upon the pioneering efforts of people such as Champatong and Shipla, ISU now has formal exchange agreements with two of those schools. An agreement with Rajabhat Institute-Suan Sunandha in Bangkok has been in place since 2000. An agreement with Rajabhat Institute-Surat Thani in southern Thailand was signed in October.

Those involved in today’s international exchange efforts say economics has added another reason for such ventures.

“It opens up the rest of the world. If we don’t know anything except Indiana, then we’re limited to Indiana and in business you’ve just cut out 99 percent of the market,” said Al Czyzweski, ISU associate professor of accounting. It’s a market that industries in Indiana and the United States could be selling to, but if we don’t understand it we’re not going to do very well selling there.”

Czyzweski visited Thailand in May 2001 and again in December and January. He plans another trip in 2003 as part of a study abroad program. Czyzweski is working to develop a master’s in business administration program with Rajabhat Institute-Suan Sunandha.

As part of the new agreement with Rajabhat Institute-Surat Thani, seven educators from that school traveled to ISU for two weeks in October in a program that focused on “cutting edge issues in business and business education,” said Arthur Sherwood, assistant professor of management.

The program consisted of sessions on management, ethics, accounting, finance, management information systems, quality and decision sciences and marketing, said Sherwood, one of the instructors for the program.

“A program such as this opens significant research and learning opportunities for me as a professor and for ISU as a whole,” Sherwood said. “Our interaction over the two weeks increased our understanding of one another and began the trust building that is needed for a long term, productive relationship. Opening this international road promises much for ISU, its members and the Wabash Valley.”

While there may be a new focus on business programs, exchange efforts with Thailand remain true to their cultural roots.

English Professor Keith Byerman visited Rajabhat Institute-Suan Sunandha in July and said “a key part of the visit was the opportunity to experience an ancient culture very different from that of the United States. If we are able to set up both faculty and student exchanges, I think Thailand will both provide a wonderful opportunity for study abroad in a friendly and beautiful location and enable our students on campus the chance to interact with faculty and students from a very different culture and thus enhance diversity at ISU.”

Psychology Professor Jean Kristeller called her five days in Bangkok “both fascinating and stimulating.”

Kristeller presented research on meditation as a therapeutic tool and found several members of her audience had “strong professional interests” in the research. Rajabhat Institute-Suan Sunandha has a program in which freshmen take part in a 10-day meditation retreat and faculty there are interested in collaborative research, she said.

The new agreement with Rajabhat Institute-Surat Thani “represents another important step on our campus in continuing to advance our interest in global awareness and international curriculum and creating opportunities for faculty and student exchange, as well as to advance research projects that are global in compass,” ISU President Lloyd W. Benjamin III said in signing the agreement.

Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation that was never conquered by a European power, Benjamin noted.

It is “a country that is trying to undergo significant transformation to help care for its people, to stop the brain drain, to grow itself and to be a good competitor in the global economy,” Benjamin said. “Those things are appealing to us. They provide a wonderful opportunity to be more active with that country and to be both students and teachers.”

In partnering with ISU, Rajabhat Institute-Surat Thani chose a known quantity, Pranee Petchkaew, the school’s president, said after signing the exchange agreement.

“Indiana State University has a great reputation in education. It is a great opportunity and great honor to work together.”

Study abroad in Thailand

The Gongaware Center in the ISU School of Business and ISU’s International Affairs Center are sponsoring a two-week study abroad program in Thailand for 2003.

Anyone interested in the program should contact the Gongaware Center at (812) 237-2442 or the International Affairs Center at (812) 237-2440.


Gaston Fernandez, executive director, ISU International Affairs Center,
(812) 237-4391 or

Dave Taylor, ISU Public Affairs, (812) 237-3743 or

ISU Public Affairs:
(812) 237-3773 or