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2013 SAILers

Introducing our 15 SAILers in this year's Summer Study Abroad in Laos (SAIL) program (June 27-July 31)! In our biggest group yet, we are proud to have a diverse group of talented and bright participants, which consists of four Lao Americans, one student from Malaysia, ten females, and five males. The Center for Lao Studies is excited to continue our relationships with the Fulbright and Luce Scholar programs, growing the number of this year's participants to six Fulbright Scholars and two Luce Scholars. Laos's popularity is growing and so is the SAIL program's!

This year, for the first time, CLS will arrange a separate class for 22 students from the Lao Heritage Foundation to take Lao language courses at the Lao-American College in Vientiane. The youth will be part of a Summer Cultural Exchange, the primary goal of which is to bring Lao traditional music and dance students to learn from masters at the National School of Music and Dance alongside peers from the school, as well as learn about their heritage, life in Laos, and Lao language.

With the assistance of our in-country Program Leader, Mr. Athith Pathoumvanh, our participants will experience the language and culture of the country through daily language classes with top professors from the National University of Laos, a history and culture class taught by Professor Grant Evans, and real-life Lao experiences outside the classroom where students can create a better understand of the country, its peoples, and society.


Andrew DuangdaraANDREW D.

Andrew, 24, from Oswego, Illinois is currently studying Finance at Northern Illinois University (NIU). Andrew's family is from Vientiane, Laos and he is the first generation to be born in the U.S. Andrew grew up surrounded by Lao culture - his grandparents only spoke Lao, his family cooked Lao food and he grew up surrounded by pictures of famous Lao landmarks in his house. He first went to Laos when he was 7-years old, but only remembers the mosquito bites from that trip!

Andrew spent 4 years in the Air Force as an Aircrew Life Support Technician. The monk that blessed him before he entered the service asked him to become a monk and introduced him to Lao Buddhism. However, because he couldn't read or speak Lao, Andrew couldn't benefit as much as he wanted. With the lack of any Lao classes locally, he enrolled in an intensive Thai language class taught by Professor John Hartmann (Center for Lao Studies advisory board member and CLS co-founder). When his parents took notice, they began to teach him Lao again.

Andrew learned about SAIL when CLS Executive Director Dr. Vinya Sysamouth spoke about the program at his class at NIU. Andrew felt SAIL was the best chance to see Laos, and learn the language and culture. Andrew is excited about SAIL so he can understand his family's customs, and can see relatives in Laos he has never met. In his free time Andrew likes to read and is very adventurous. He has flown a plane, scuba dived, and sky-dived and likes to try everything at least once! Click here to read Andrew's blog

Angelique P.ANGELIQUE P.

Angelique, 20, grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and will be entering her junior year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this Fall. She will be majoring in Theatre/Drama with an emphasis on Production Management. Angelique is currently studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea as an exchange student at Yonsei University. The experiences she has had so far have only made her more excited for Laos.

Angelique is half Lao and a first generation American on her father's side. Having never been to Laos, Angelique is looking forward to the SAIL program to connect her with her Lao roots, learn to speak Lao and to break down the language barriers between herself and her Lao relatives. Angelique regrets not being able to fully communicate with her Lao-speaking grandmother before she passed away. She wants to ensure that she is able to speak Lao with her grandfather and looks to SAIL to establish a strong Lao language foundation.

Angelique plans to minor in Teaching English as a Second Language and would like to teach English in Laos or neighboring countries. In her words, "I think access to education is very important for young children and it would mean a lot to give that to the places where my father grew up." Angelique is very experienced in carpentry and hopes to volunteer with children or in an arts venue while in Laos. Click here to read Angelique's blog

Brendan Walsh BRENDAN W.

Brendan, 25, from New Haven, Connecticut is one of the SAIL program's Fulbright Scholars, who will be an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) for one year after the SAIL program. He just completed a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Southern Connecticut State University, and was a Writing/Literature major from Hartwick College. Brendan has an eclectic blend of interests and talents including acting and public speaking but his primary obsessions are poetry and writing in general, extensive travel, food and drink, human physiology, and anything that makes him laugh.

Brendan has traveled throughout Asia and Africa, and after completing his undergraduate degree, lived in Masan, South Korea for a year as an English instructor. For the past year he has developed an increasing interest in Theravada Buddhism and is ecstatic to explore this interest in Laos. Brendan has studied about Laos extensively through books and TV shows, but has learned that "when one inhabits a place fully - physically, mentally, sensually, emotionally - it can be truly understood." In his words, "rather than limit myself to the standard backpacker's experience of Laos, I hope to form solid, trusting relationships with fellow instructors, students and citizens."

Brendan has won several awards and prizes for his poetry and has been a featured reader at the New American Writing Festival in New York among others. Brendan's first poetry manuscript is based on his time in South Korea (titled "Kimchi and a Good Beer") and he has published these poems in several wonderful journals. He hopes to develop a second manuscript based on his time in Laos. Brendan hopes to continue the pursuit of languages and cultures the rest of his life, and the SAIL program enables this. Brendan’s new blog can be found at: http://jockzenpoet.blogspot.com/.   Click here to read Brendan's blog

Christine FungCHRISTINE F. 

Christine, 22, from Beavercreek, Ohio, is currently a senior at Ohio State University (OSU), where she is studying Biomedical Science. Since both of Christine's parents are Chinese Lao she was raised in a mixture of Chinese and Lao cultures, which made it difficult for her to distinguish the difference between the two cultures.  With few Lao in her hometown or college town, Christine has had greater exposure to Chinese traditions, and is therefore interested in learning more about her Lao heritage through the SAIL program. As Christine says "I feel that I am locked out of a significant part of my background because of my lack of knowledge in Lao culture and language...I wish to learn the Lao language so that it will not die out in my family."

During her time at OSU, Christine has worked as an organic chemistry teaching assistant and has helped plan educational events for other college students. Most of her time is spent working in a neuroscience research lab studying the effects of social support on recovery after stroke. After graduation, she intends to continue to medical school and dreams of one day working in academic medicine.

To tie in with her medical interests, Christine is hoping to learn more about the healthcare system in Laos. She also hopes to use the connections she makes with individuals on SAIL to further her goals of working with diverse groups and helping the underprivileged. In this way, SAIL will be fulfilling both her personal and professional goals. In her spare time, Christine enjoyed exploring Columbus, OH and finding new restaurants.  Click here to read Christine's blog

Eryn EbyERYN E.

Eryn, 22, grew up in Anchorage, Alaska and the surrounding mountains. She graduated in May from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington with a degree in International Relations and an interdisciplinary emphasis in Global Development Studies. Eryn has always loved to travel and learn about different cultures and ways of living. After high school Eryn planned a gap year of volunteering internationally before college. She taught AIDS education and basic first aid at a public health clinic in Zambia and taught second grade for five months in Ecuador. She returned the following summer to help run the teaching program in Ecuador.

After returning to the U.S., Eryn interned with the Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services program in Alaska where she negotiated differences in beliefs about gender roles, viable work opportunities, and financial assistance in order to devise culturally acceptable and financially feasible solutions to help refugees adapt to their new lives. During her internship she worked with a number of Hmong families, thus peaking her interest in Laos. She is looking forward to exploring the country that she has heard so many stories about and learning a new language.

All of her volunteer experiences have taught her the importance of sustainability in organizations and community-led solutions. They have shown her the importance of taking the time to learn the history, culture, and language of a community in order to more effectively collaborate with them, so she is eager to participate in the SAIL program to learn more about Laos. Eryn will be spending the next year in Laos as a Luce Scholar working with World Education on their public health projects. In her free time Eryn loves to be in the outdoors - backpacking, kayaking, and skiing wherever possible.  Click here to read Eryn's blog

Gennie GebhartGENNIE G.

Gennie, 22, recently graduated from the University of Washington with a B.A. in International Studies and Economics, with a focus in International Energy Politics and Environmental Economics. During her undergraduate years Gennie got the chance to study in Istanbul, Berlin, and Rome; studied Italian, Latin, and French; and raced for the Husky Cycling Team for four years. Gennie's greatest passion lies in increasing equitable access to information in international contexts. After working at several libraries as well as holding seats on student and faculty library councils on the University of Washington campus, Gennie is hoping to extend her fields of study into a career in information justice and international librarianship.

Gennie is one of the SAIL program's two Luce Scholars. During her Luce year, she will intern at the Central Library at the National University of Laos. Gennie is especially interested in Laos for the lessons it has to teach about managing public information via a constantly evolving balance of policy, technology, and literacy. Additionally, she is very attracted to the prospect of learning a tonal language and living in a Buddhist country.

Having never visited any part of Southeast Asia before, Gennie is immensely looking forward to exploring the region. Gennie is attracted to the SAIL program because of the strong foundation in Lao language, history, and culture that it provides. She hopes that her SAIL experience will kick-start her immersion in Lao culture and give her the skills to be a more effective Central Library intern.  Click here to read Gennie's blog

Jason SinthasomphoneJASON S.

Jason or Lon, 40, was born in Laos but has spent the last 33 years in the United States. He is married and has 3 children. Jason has attended schools in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and graduated from Milwaukee Area Technical College in 2013 with a degree in Civil Engineering. Since leaving Laos at the age of 6, Jason has always been interested in learning all he could about his Lao heritage. In college he established a club for Lao students to help keep the culture alive within the families now living in the Milwaukee area.

Jason has been to Laos several times in his life. He shares with his children the pieces of the culture and language that he knows so that they cherish their Lao roots. He looks forward to the day when he will bring them to Laos and immerse them in the Lao culture. Jason's goal for the SAIL program is to deepen his knowledge of the Lao culture, history, and language. He is especially hoping to learn how to write in Lao so that he can better communicate with older family members in the U.S. and relatives that remain in Laos. He also looks forward to sharing his deepened knowledge of his Lao culture and history with his children and friends in Milwaukee.  Click here to read Jason's blog

Jesse WashburnJESSE W.

Jesse, 34, was born and raised near Seattle, in the Pacific Northwest. In 2006 he graduated with honors from The University of Montana where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Shortly after graduating, Jesse moved to the West African nation of Ghana where he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 2007 to 2009. As an education volunteer, Jesse taught art at a regional school for the deaf in the Upper East Region of Ghana where he was able to do two things he loves: teach, and live in and experience other cultures.

In 2010 Jesse was awarded a Peace Corps Fellowship at the University of Arizona where he began his studies as a graduate student in the Art and Visual Culture Education program. While working on his Masters Degree, Jesse became an AmeriCorps volunteer, working with a local non-profit dropout prevention program whose mission was to assist the homeless youth of the area with their goal of high school graduation. In 2012 Jesse received his Masters Degree as well as his K-12 teaching endorsement from the University of Arizona.

Jesse is one of the Fulbright ETAs who will be joining the SAIL program this year. His career goal is to teach either Art or English at international schools around the globe.  Click here to read Jesse's blog 

Leah ZaniLEAH Z.

Leah, 26, is a second year graduate student in the Anthropology Department at the University of California, Irvine. At UC Irvine she works with scholars studying politics, technologies, and identities in Southeast Asia and Asia more generally. Before coming to Irvine, she studied Anthropology and Religious Studies at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. Her research is supported by the National Science Foundation, the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center, the UC Irvine Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies, and UC Irvine Center for Asian Studies.

As an undergraduate, Leah became interested in Buddhist Studies, which led to her current research in Laos. Using her training as an anthropologist and a religious studies scholar, her current work examines how people are living with unexploded ordnance in parts of Laos affected by the Secret War. In particular, she studies how concepts of disability and rehabilitation may be changing to account for the increased presence of people with maimed, missing, or prosthetic body parts. She is particularly attuned to how religious beliefs about bodies may be changing in these contaminated areas. She is excited about joining the SAIL program as learning the language will enable her to conduct research fluently in the most places, reaching the most people.

Leah grew up in a very diverse community in the San Francisco Bay Area. Several of her classmates were political or war refugees whose families had fled conflicts in Asia and elsewhere. Leah, herself, experiences another kind of diversity: She has a learning disability. As a teacher and future college professor, she aims to create classrooms that are inclusive of all kinds of student backgrounds and learning styles.  Click here to read Leah's blog

Megan McGregorMEGAN M.

Megan, 22, grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York and received a B.A. in Physics and French from Barnard College of Columbia University, New York. In 2012, Megan spent six months studying in Paris, France at Columbia University's Global Center, where she taught English conversation classes at a computer science college. Megan found this to be the most valuable experience of her time abroad, as teaching English helped her engage with her peers and become further immersed in French culture.

Having never visited Laos, Megan is excited to join the SAIL program to improve her understanding of Lao culture, language, and history. Megan became very interested in Laos during her time in France, particularly the country's ability to reconcile influences from its neighbors, globalization, Buddhism, and its history with the Soviet Union, France, and the United States in order to create and maintain its own modern identity. Megan is one of the six Fulbright ETAs on the program, and she hopes the experience will further her understanding of Lao culture in the same way her experience in France did with the French culture.

In college, Megan worked as a math and reading tutor in a New York City public school, as a tutor to introductory physics students at Barnard, and as a research assistant at the Columbia University Astrophysics Laboratory. She wrote and edited for a prominent campus blog, did graphic design work and wrote, directed, and acted for various student theater groups. Megan enjoys ballet, tap dancing, yoga, and cycling. In the future, she would like to be a physics teacher in a low-income public school.  Click here to read Megan's blog

Megan RilkoffMEGAN R.

Megan, 22, graduated from the University of Southern California (USC) in May, with a double major in Comparative Literature and French. Hailing from Massachusetts, her studies in Los Angeles and Paris (where she studied for a semester in 2011), instilled in her a passion to travel and continue to learn about different cultures. Of her experience in France, Megan says "I definitely learned many things I will carry with me into my trip to Laos: being open and respectful, asking questions, being curious, and not feeling self-conscious."

Through her work with USC's Joint Educational Project - a non-profit that promotes service-learning in the South Central community in Los Angeles - her interest and passion about education's role in economic and cultural development has continued to grow over the past three years. Paired with her interest in the rich cultural and linguistic diversity of Laos, she is very excited to learn how Laos's rapid growth and development will continue to influence and be influenced by its higher education systems.

Megan believes the SAIL program will be the "perfect foundation" for her year in Laos as a Fulbright ETA. She hopes to get involved in the community of Vientiane through teaching and her love of sports. She eventually sees herself working in international development whether with an NGO, non-profit or policy-making institute.  Click here to read Megan's blog

Nina Chan


Nina, 34, from Perak, Malaysia, is the SAIL program's first international student. She graduated from the University of Malaysia, with a Bachelors in Mass Communications. According to Nina, "I have always wanted to give something back. In my childhood and teenage years I was blessed with people who have held out a hand of trust and friendship that enabled me to build a life despite a lack of resources and family difficulties. I believe education opens doors and empowers people to become who they were created to be."

During visits to Laos in 2009 and 2012, Nina met and made several friends. Hearing their stories and learning about their lives inspired her to return to Laos so she could learn the language and contribute to the well-being of Lao society. On the SAIL program, she hopes to learn the Lao language and culture so she can get to know the Lao people better.  Click here to read Nina's blog

Shannon ParrisSHANNON P.

Shannon, 29, is a resident of Boston, MA, originally from Louisiana. She earned a B.A. in Theatre with an emphasis in theatrical costuming from Northwestern State University of Louisiana in 2006. During her final year of undergraduate study, she lived in Seoul, South Korea while studying at EWHA Womans University as an exchange student. The winter semester break at EWHA sent her in search of warmer weather and new cultural experiences in Southeast Asia. The trip was her first exposure to Laos and its culture.

She returned to Laos in February of 2010, and when her trip was over, she wanted nothing more than to have just a little more time there. She has combined a life-long interest in dress and adornment with a relatively young (7 years old) interest in Laos to create a foundation for her postgraduate education - she will start her Master of Arts degree in Material and Visual Culture at University College London in September 2013. She intends to focus her research on adornment and consumption trends and transitions in the female population of Laos, relative to the rapid process of globalization Laos is currently experiencing.

Shannon is thrilled to be joining the SAIL program this year and hopes to build a strong foundation in the Lao language and become more engaged with and informed on the history, culture, and current issues in Laos.  Click here to read Shannon's blog


KAMILAH W. (Fulbright ETA)
Click here to read Kamilah's blog

AUSTIN T. (Fulbright ETA)
Click here to read Austin's blog

Athith P.ATHITH P. (2013 SAIL Program Leader)

Athith was born in a village in Kenthao District of Sayabouly, a Northern Lao province. He has worked as a language partner with SAILers since 2009 and this year is excited to be the Program Leader.

Athith has a Bachelors in Business Administration and Art from the Lao-American College in Vientiane. At school, Athith participated in a number of programs such as Student Council, Business Club and many more. With his business activities, Athith and his team members joined the Mekong Business Plan Challenge and medaled two consecutive years. In 2012, his team was the runner-up of the competition held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In 2013, his team "Moringa Plus" was the winner of the Mekong Business Challenge in Yangon, Myanmar and advanced to the International Business Model Competition at Harvard University to compete with 28 teams from universities across the U.S. and other countries.

In 2012, Athith received a scholarship to tour the U.S. as a Country Program Leader for the Southeast Asia Youth Leadership Program and was able to visit Honolulu, San Francisco and the Bay Area, and Washington DC. Athith is fluent in English and the SAIL program is proud to have him as our Lao Program Leader this year.  Click here to read Athith's blog

Lao Heritage Foundation


This year, we are pleased to have 22 students from the Lao Heritage Foundation, aged 11-21, who will be learning Lao in their own separate class as a part of the SAIL's Language Program. The students include:

Nicole Amorasin, Selena Bounyavong, Sabrina Bupharat, Alex Chanthavong, Andrew Chanthavong, Kham Frichithavong, Kris Frichithavong, Ravipon Khampradith, Alexis Kongmanivong, Anika Martinet, Arie Martinet, Zen Moore, Vyla Phavong, Sunny Phoumy, Phonetip Sivilay, Anthony Tran, Melissa Tran, Alexia Sengthongsavang, Pomsiri Vixaysakd, Sangsurie Vixaysakd, Karissa Vongkhamchanh, and Kiana Vongsady





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