Four journalists from Thailand studied in the Department of Life Sciences Communication this past fall semester as part of a program that has connected Thai scholars with the department since 2009.
The program is in its fifth year and is a partnership between LSC, the Wisconsin Alumni Association, the Wisconsin Alumni Association in Thailand, and the Issara Foundation in Thailand. Pongsak Payakvichien, who is a UW-Madison alum and president of the Wisconsin Alumni Association-Thailand, helped create the program. Payakvichien owns and runs one of the largest newspaper and magazine empires in Thailand.
“This is a great program that gives LSC a long-term partnership with Thailand,” said Dominique Brossard, professor and chair of LSC. “This relationship benefits scholars in Thailand and also our students because they get to interact with scholars from a different culture.”
Kannikar “Om” Petchkaew, Nongvadee “Nong” Thanimmal, Hathairat “Wist” Phaholtap, and Onuma “Maew” Srisamai took classes in LSC and other departments across campus.
LSC also facilitated visits to numerous other cities and news organizations, such as the Wisconsin State Journal, the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times. They also wrote numerous blog posts and news stories during their travels.
“I took several classes in LSC and they were all really fascinating,” said Nong, who is a business and economics editor for one of the highest rated news organizations in Thailand. “This school has very distinguished professors with a lot of experience that they share with students. It really is amazing and invaluable.”
By expanding their knowledge beyond journalism and into the realm of communication, and specifically life sciences communication, the group was able to gain valuable skills.
“LSC is very different, and I would say it is an advanced way of thinking about journalism,” explained Om, who also teaches at a university in Thailand. “I think this is the way to mix the traditional way with new ideas and keep up with the world. I will share what I’ve learned with my students.”
They also learned how new technologies and ideas, such as social media, can affect the world of journalism and science.
“I learned a lot from [LSC faculty associate] Don Stanley, who knows social media very well,” Wist said. “I also took a video production class with professor Patty Loew, which was also an amazing class because of her vast experience.”
Another popular class for the group was senior lecturer Ron Seely’s science writing class.
“Ron chose news reports from YouTube, newspapers and websites to fully demonstrate different points of view from different journalists, and I thought that was really interesting,” Maew said. “I was particularly impressed with his expertise in writing environmental news reports, which I thought were not easy to do.”
Seely has worked closely with the Thai groups for three years now and helped facilitate a lot of their activities and visits to media outlets. He will remember this group as one of the most enthusiastic and involved yet.
“I couldn’t be more humbled and impressed as they shared stories about the challenges of doing their jobs in a country that is so frequently torn by political strife,” he said. “That takes courage and great dedication to craft.”
The Thai scholars also took classes from other departments such as business, economics and journalism.
“I attended several seminars that interested me,” Om said. “It’s interesting to me the way they teach students here. They inspire them to think, which is very different from my country because in my country the education system doesn’t tend to lead the students to think and that’s a big difference.”
The four said that Madison will always be the favorite city they’ve visited in the U.S.
“I have been to the U.S. before but this was my first time in the Midwest,” Om said. “There is a melting pot of students here, and I also love how Madison has its own milk and cheese because I love cheese.”
While the group says they learned valuable skills, such as digital marketing, to take back to their jobs in Thailand, they also have some fun memories from their time here. Nong bought tickets to a Packers game, thinking the game was going to be at the UW-Madison stadium. When a friend told her she needed to go to Green Bay she didn’t hesitate to make the trip and said the game and the energy of the crowd will always be one of her favorite memories.
“It was an exciting experience,” laughed Nong at the going away party LSC held for the group. “It is definitely something I can scratch off my bucket list.”
The four are thankful for LSC’s support during their fall semester here and are excited to take their new skills back to Thailand.
“The skills I learned here, like investigative reporting, are things I will take back to Thailand PBS with me,” Wist said. “We are very thankful for everyone in LSC who helped us learn all we could during our time here. We always felt so welcomed and had a great time.”