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2012 SAILers

The 2012 SAIL program includes 11 energetic SAILers who are ready to immerse themselves in Lao society (pictures and bios below). This year we are excited to have four Fulbrighters, one Luce Scholar, and one SAILer who received financial support from the Gilman and Freeman-Asia Foundations. Please follow their blog as they embark on their month-long journey.


Jordan Antonio


Jordan Antonio, 24, recently earned his B.A. in Psychology from California State University, Stanislaus. During his undergraduate years he started working with the Lao community as a volunteer at The Bridge, a Southeast Asian community center in Central California. There he gained an understanding of the complexities of the immigrant/refugee experience and the generational gap that many of the younger children encounter. Most of his work at The Bridge was directed toward helping these young people achieve academic success.

In college, Jordan minored in Anthropology and was encouraged to study abroad to experience living and studying in another cultural context. In 2010, he spent four months studying at Rangsit University in Bangkok where he had the chance to learn about Thai culture, language, history, cuisine and kick boxing! He also briefly taught at an English camp in Northern Thailand and traveled to Laos and Cambodia, including a week’s stay in Vientiane.

Coming from an ethnically diverse background, Jordan has always been fascinated with diverse languages, cultures and religions. His combined background in Psychology and Anthropology have given him a unique approach to cultural studies. Through the SAIL program he hopes to gain a strong base in Lao, which will facilitate his year in Laos as a Fulbright English-Teaching Assistant. While in Laos he also plans to study the ritual and philosophical similarities between Theravada Buddhism and Judaism, which will serve as a starting point for further research in religious studies in graduate school.

During his free time, Jordan enjoys spending time with family and friends, studying languages, trying new foods and practicing yoga.

Click here to read Jordan's blog

Bounsue Fonthavisay


Bounsue Fongthavisay, who likes to go by “Kerry,” is a Lao American, born and raised in Minnesota. She has been to Laos one time, spending three weeks there, and looks forward to the SAIL program to learn the language and experience the culture firsthand – something she has lacked while growing up in the U.S.  

In the Fall, Kerry, 20, will enter her junior year at University of Minnesota where she plans on majoring in linguistics. With a passion for dance, languages, and culture, Kerry is part of an organization called the Lao Student Association (LSA) where she hopes to spread cultural awareness about Lao people, and Hip Hope, a community that celebrates the hip hop movement. It was only recently that she has been able to fully realize these passions and move in the right direction with them.

Kerry has several goals. Her goal for the SAIL program is to learn her parents’ native tongue – especially reading and writing – as well as gain a deeper cultural understanding of Laos. Her academic goal is to achieve a Bachelors or Masters in linguistics or child psychology. Her career goal is to one day teach English overseas and to become a translator. She would especially like to translate for the Lao community.

Click here to read Bounsue's blog

Reid Magdanz


Reid Magdanz, 22, grew up in the Iñupiat Eskimo town of Kotzebue, perched on a gravel spit in Northwest Alaska. With only 3,000 people and no roads, it had few of city life’s amenities, but offered unparalleled opportunity for learning about and living on the land. He spent much of his childhood in open-air boats, behind snowmobile handlebars, in wood-heated cabins, and camped out on sandbars watching for caribou or simply enjoying the great outdoors. Reid learned from and with the Iñupiat, who have called the area home for generations.

Reid states, “Though at first glance Laos and Alaska may appear to have little in common, it is their similarities that attract me. The context may be different, but many of the challenges are the same. I plan to work in natural resource management in Alaska, and am interested in Laos for the lessons I hope it will teach me about managing resources in such places, especially developing nations.” Reid was attracted to the SAIL program because it offers a way to learn both the Lao language and the context, including history, culture and norms, in which he will be working in Laos. As a Luce Scholar, Reid will be working in resource management with Village Focus International in Laos for one year. 

Reid attended Yale University, and while home had always been Alaska, not Connecticut, he supplemented his education in the ways of urban America with an academic focus on Alaska. Reid chose his courses, projects and papers such that, despite being 4,000 miles away, he learned about its natural resource policies and indigenous peoples. He intends to use this knowledge to confront the critical resource decisions that rural Alaska will face in coming decades, including the role and importance of traditional Native subsistence uses, industrial development, and conservation.

Click here to read Reid's blog

Ryan Max


Ryan Max, 24, grew up in Columbia, MD.  He attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he received a B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology with a minor in French Language. He spent 5 months studying in Nancy, France as an undergrad at the Faculté de Lettres at the Université de Nancy II.

Ryan has never visited Laos, and is very excited to participate in the SAIL program and learn about Lao language and culture. Ryan states, “I am a Fulbright ETA recipient to Laos, and I am interested in studying in Laos because it has held itself as a distinct culture during a period of global homogenization. Laos has maintained its identity to a greater extent than any country I have had the privilege to visit, and I find the prospect of learning a tonal language and living in a traditionally Buddhist country extremely exciting. Eventually I would like to use my training in science and languages to travel abroad and study the potential public health issues associated with interaction between human populations and animal habitats. Many of the areas I hope to study are in the same region as Laos.”

Ryan has worked as a chef, a summer intern at Goddard Space Flight Center, a rock climbing instructor, a student researcher and chemistry laboratory teaching assistant, and as a teacher for an after-school program for elementary school students interested in science.  His long-term career interests lie in biological research, particularly in zoonotic diseases, which transfer from animal populations to humans, and other issues relating to public health concerns in the developing world.  His hobbies include rock climbing, cooking, judo, and playing guitar.

Click here to read Ryan's blog

Samantha Noh


Samantha Noh, 20, was born in Takoma Park, Maryland and has split her time between Seoul, South Korea and the U.S. for most of her life. Her first trip to Laos was in 2006 with her father, a computer science professor at Hongik University in Korea who chaperoned an AVAN trip (Asian Volunteer Action Network) in Vang Vieng. Her family made great friendships in Vang Vieng, and she has returned three more times to visit and continue to help develop the community center and teach English classes at the local elementary school.

“Though I am embarrassed to admit it, the only words I have learned during my multiple trips have been Sabaydii and Khop Chai. I am interested in studying about Laos and the language because I believe the preservation of these traditions and cultures is crucial. I want to build a true relationship with the culture and people of Laos and spread this connection to both my home and school communities," states Samantha. 

Through the SAIL program, Samantha hopes to better understand the culture she has grown close to by learning the Lao language and enjoying an extended period of time in the country.

Currently an undergraduate student at Harvard University, Samantha is an intended Archaeology major. She enjoys volunteering as a tutor for low-income children in a neighborhood of Boston, drawing and painting, and spending time with family and friends.

Click here to read Samantha's blog

Blaine Nonthaveth


Born in Olympia, WA, Blaine Nonthaveth was the first American-born child to Lao parents. Outside his family, Blaine was not exposed to much Lao culture growing up. He didn’t live near a Lao community and was the only Lao American in school. Inspired by the history he learned from his parents, and relatives living in Laos, he decided to travel to Laos to learn more. He has returned every year since 2005 to his family’s village in the South.

During one trip, Blaine visited the local elementary school his brother attended before the family left in 1977, and where relatives currently attend and teach. Wishing to assist the school in some way, Blaine discovered they needed a floor to replace the dirt they studied on. With help from friends and the local community in Seattle, Blaine was able to gain support for a new floor and provide much needed books and supplies for the whole school. Since then, he has helped fund more renovations and works to support other schools in the area.

Blaine, 31, is excited to join the SAIL program to learn reading, writing, help enhance his speaking vocabulary and understand more recent Lao history. He is currently working on his A.A.S. in Graphic Design and hopes to one day transfer his design skills and work in Southeast Asia while balancing projects focused on education in Laos. He enjoys cooking, especially sharing Lao culture with friends through Lao food, and traveling.

Click here to read Blaine's blog



Susan Phay


Born in Long Beach, California, Susan Phay, 26, is a first generation Lao born in the U.S.  Her family came to the U.S. in 1980 after their escape from the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.  Her family is ethnically Lao, but her parents and grandparents were born in Cambodia.  Her great great-grandparents emigrated from Laos to escape political persecution roughly 200 years ago.  As a young child, Susan slowly began to learn of her family’s ancestry, history and survival from the genocide in Cambodia.  Here grew her desire to visit both her homelands, to learn more about the countries and their cultures. Susan sees SAIL as a great way to learn about her heritage and hopes to share what she has learned in Laos with her community.  She hopes to become fluent in Lao, learning how to read and write so she can communicate better with her elders, help bridge the gap between generations, and teach the younger generation about Lao culture. Susan is one of four Fulbright scholars joining the SAIL program for the first time, and will be teaching English in Laos until 2013.

Susan earned her B.A. in Sociology at CSU San Bernardino in 2009 where she also became a Ronald E. McNair Scholar. In Fall 2009, she attended San Diego State University for her M.A. in Sociology.  She continued her research on Southeast Asia with her thesis, “Traditional Southeast Asian Funeral Practices: A Study of Cultural Maintenance, Environmental Adaptations, and the Effects of Western Mortuary Practices in the United States.”  

Upon her return, Susan hopes to help empower her parents’ generation by helping them read and write English, since many of them rely heavily on their children for this. She hopes to show them that one can learn at any age.  In her future career goals, Susan hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in Sociology and begin teaching at the college level.  She will continue her research and studies in Southeast Asia, race and ethnicity and gender, while helping with her community locally and worldwide. This will be Susan’s first trip to Laos.

Click here to read Susan's blog

David Pick


David Pick, a 22-year old Florida native, is interested in agricultural pest management and learning about biological interconnections that can be used to develop strategies for growing food faster, healthier, and safer.  David believes that the U.S. needs to be proactive in protecting its food and water sources by finding other ways of producing crops that best protect these resources, and preventing or being prepared for new exotic pests that may come to the U.S. David states, “One way we can do this is to have scientists and students who will learn the language, agricultural practices, pest management strategies, and natural enemies from people of other countries who have successfully dealt with these ‘new’ pests for thousands of years.”

David plans on being one of these students by studying the Lao language and culture through the SAIL program, for which he is able to participate through generous support from the Gilman and Freeman-Asia scholarships. David chose to study in Laos because the language and culture is underrepresented in scientific circles, and because biologically it is largely unexplored. Learning a new language and culture is a long process, one that he expects to continue into the future. He knows that learning Lao will not be easy or quick, but if he is going to help find agricultural practices new to Western science, he must learn from farmers who have yet to be influenced by the West.

David’s goal is to have a research career in applied entomology, and will be applying to Ph.D. programs in the Fall. He also plans to apply for graduate fellowships to go back to Laos in graduate school. David enjoys hiking, canoeing, camping, gardening, herbology, photography, and insect collecting, and if possible, hopes to add some new specimens to his collection from Laos!

Click here to read David's blog

Santi Soumpholphakdy


Santi Soumpholphakdy, 38, was born in Savannakhet, Laos and raised in Savannakhet and Vientiane. At the age of 7, Santi’s entire family immigrated to Utah. Santi was briefly taught to read and write Lao but it was never consistent. Growing up in Utah and being Lao was challenging because learning English and acculturating to Western culture took precedent. Furthermore, minimal contact with family in Laos resulted in Santi yearning for a deeper connection to Laos and what it meant to be a Lao person living in the U.S.

When his mother passed away in 2007, Santi felt his connection to Laos fading, and that it was time to become more involved with the Lao community and learn more about the culture and people. He started by volunteering with the International Lao New Year festival as well as with the Center for Lao Studies’ Lao Oral History Archive project. Through these experiences, he started to build a stronger connection to the Lao and Lao American community in the Bay Area and today remains involved in serving his community. Through the SAIL program, Santi hopes to gain a better understanding of the Lao culture, past and present, and reestablish roots back in Laos.

Santi completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Utah and graduate studies at the University of Southern California in social work. He currently lives in the Oakland, CA and works as a clinical social worker for a non-profit agency.

Click here to read Santi's blog

Anna Yacovone


Anna Yacovone, 22, grew up at the foothills of the Smokey Mountains in East Tennessee. She recently graduated from Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) with degrees in Global Studies and Organizational Communication, and volunteered for the Honors Students’ Association, Rotaract and Global. She is currently the Post-Graduate Advisor for MTSU’s Office of Education Abroad. Anna is one of four Fulbright Scholarship recipients joining the SAIL program to Laos.

Anna is very passionate about advising students about studying abroad, and has participated in two study abroad experiences: in Rome and Florence, and in Bangkok at Thammasat University. In Bangkok, Anna took classes in the Pridi Banomyong International College’s Thai Studies Program. She also did a cultural exchange in central Laos, specifically Vanghin and Bangkhong villages to teach English to local schoolchildren, which made her love for Lao culture grow infinitely. During her program, Anna experienced life as an American expatriate and broadened her understanding of Southeast Asia.

After her return, Anna interned in the Office of Education Abroad, and previously served as the undergraduate representative for the Vice Provost of International Affairs search committee. These experiences coupled with her study abroad programs led her to eventually pursue a career in international education or international affairs. Although not certain of her life goals, Anna would like to pursue a Master’s degree and eventually work towards her doctorate. Ideally, she would like to work for a non-governmental organization overseas or in higher education in the U.S. “It is difficult to clearly envision what my life will look like once I complete my Fulbright grant. Nonetheless, for now I can at least attest that I avidly want to learn more about the world while serving others and fostering cultural awareness and tolerance” says Anna.

Click here to read Anna's blog

Victor Yang


Born in Laos, Victor Yang, 52, came to the U.S. in 1976 with his older brother, and settled in Omaha, Nebraska where he grew up and eventually graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with a B.A. in Industrial Technology. When his family relocated to Fresno, Victor followed and later attended California State University, Fresno and National University, where he received an M.A. in Educational Counseling.  He also received a Certificate of Completion in Police Academy training from Fresno City College's Police Academy. In Laos, Victor’s father had only attended school for two months, while Victor completed 7th grade prior coming to the U.S., and was the first person in his family to go to college – something he has felt very blessed and honored about.

In college, Victor worked evenings and weekends while taking classes, and attributes his work experiences, from blue-collar to white-collar jobs, to helping him reach his goal. He is currently an Academic Counselor at Fresno City College, a position he has held for fourteen years. He has also been Student Services Coordinator with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a law enforcement officer, social service case manager, and an employment training and development specialist. He has always enjoyed helping students in higher educational settings. “I am very much interested in their success,” says Victor, “especially the educational success and advancement of Hmong and Lao American students in higher education.”  

Victor believes the road to success is endless and that by participating in the SAIL program, he  will enrich his cultural and educational experiences and be able to strengthen his services to serve and meet the needs of students in higher education.

Click here to read Victor's blog

Ms. Daosavanh Phouangkhamsao


A native of Vientiane, Laos, Daosavanh Phouangkhamsao or "Dao", 32, will be the in-country Program Leader for the 2012 SAIL program. Dao has nearly 10 years experience managing offices and financial processes for non-government and private companies, where she has had experience working with foreigners and using her English. The Center for Lao Studies is excited to have Dao as the Program Leader this year, as she will be an excellent resource for participants through cultural and language translation.

Dao has a Bachelors in Business Administration from the Lao-American College in Vientiane, a Masters in Business Administration from the National University of Laos, and has studied English in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. From 2000-2007, Dao was an office intern, then finance and administration assistant at Norwegian Church Aid in Vientiane. From 2007-2011, she worked in administration and accounting for Sodexo Laos PVT Sole before becoming Office Manager where she assumed more finance duties. Her career goals are to obtain a challenging career as an Office Manager, and be responsible for managing administrative, financial, and purchasing activities to support stand alone projects. She speaks Lao, English and Thai.

Click here to read Daosavanh's blog





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