GoAbroad Interview

Marisa Tatiwong - Field Instructor & Marketing Coordinator

Marisa Tatiwong - Field Instructor & Marketing Coordinator

Marisa grew up in small-town America with a big passion to learn about different cultures. During her junior year in college, she finally got to fulfill her dream of travelling overseas when she studied abroad in Australia. After graduating from UCONN, Marisa interned in India for one year before moving to work in Thailand, which was over six years ago. She loves the outdoors and learning about everything the world has to offer.

Your career has taken you from the U.S. to India to Thailand. How did you end up working for ISDSI?

After graduating college I turned down a job off in finance to intern with a micro-enterprise development non-profit in Northeast India for one year. During my time in India, I grew as an individual, learned from the locals, and discovered that my educational background in business and international studies can be used to support international development efforts. Halfway through my time in India I learned about an organization running a similar program in Thailand, and upon completing my one year project in India I moved to Bangkok.

Hiking in Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Enjoying one of many beautiful views during a day hike in the northern Thailand province of Mae Hong Son

Once in Thailand I focused on learning the language, lived with a Thai family in the slum of 100,000 people I was volunteering in, and helped with micro-loan and youth programs at a local non-profit. For the next five years I helped with short-term projects at a few different social enterprises and nonprofits in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, assisting with business development, marketing, systems management, financial analysis, and employee empowerment. I eventually came to a point where I wanted to focus more on sharing what I had learned from my experiences with others from around the world while continuing to explore this beautiful country.

When the job opportunity at ISDSI became available I knew it was one not to pass up. Coming from an international development background, I was really attracted by the idea that:

ISDSI focuses on providing students with a once-in-a-lifetime hands-on experience that immerses them in the local culture and challenges them academically, and also goes to great lengths to assess our impact on the local communities we engage with.

As a study abroad alumni yourself, why do you think studying abroad is valuable for every student to participate in?

While studying abroad I developed a new perspective on life, and learned more about myself, other cultures, and how to adapt to diverse situations. Additionally, my study abroad experience played a significant role in deciding on my future career path. These are just a few of the reasons I think it is valuable for students to participate in study abroad.

Picking tea leaves in Baan Mae Mae village, Thailand

Picking tea leaves with women in Baan Mae Mae, a village famous for making fermented tea leaves

What makes Thailand a great destination for study abroad?

Thailand is a beautiful country with diverse cultures and a rich history. It is also quickly developing, which provides ISDSI students with a vast array of experiences, from living in a city that looks similar to cities in the U.S. to living and learning in rural villages where locals depend on solar cell panels for electricity and seek to preserve their culture and traditions. Through ISDSI’s programs, students get to see everything from the beautiful mountains and rich cultures in the north to the stunning ocean and beautiful traditions in the south.

How is studying abroad at ISDSI different from studying abroad through other providers?

ISDSI’s academically-challenging programs take students out of the traditional classroom and provide them the opportunity to learn hands-on while experiencing Thailand from an insider’s perspective. Students backpack on remote forest trails with ethnic minority people while studying indigenous forest management, work on an organic farms while learning about agroecosystems, and sea kayak in Southern Thailand to learn about oceans, reefs, and fishing communities. ISDSI’s programs also have leadership development and language proficiency components to them, giving students the opportunity to grow and develop in a variety of ways.

How does ISDSI encourage language learning?

During the students’ first five weeks in Chiang Mai, students spend each morning in intensive Thai lessons led by a Thai instructor in a small group setting where no English is spoken. Additionally, language instruction continues throughout the semester when students are at the institute, and students are continuously using their Thai language skills while living with host families and during each expedition field course.

Taking a break from Kayaking on a beach in Southern Thailand

Taking a break after completing an ecology activity before heading back out in our kayaks in Southern Thailand

In what ways is ISDSI “innovative”?

ISDSI’s experiential programs maintain high academic quality while giving students the opportunity to engage with different communities and learn from local experts. For each expedition course, students spend one week in Chiang Mai city to gain a basic understanding of the course material followed by three weeks learning through hands-on experience in the field. While in the field, students live with local families, and backpack, sea kayak, and travel through the landscapes they are studying, giving them a fresh perspective on the world as our classroom.

What is the most rewarding part about your job?

It is most rewarding to see students both learn new things academically, about sustainable development and ecology in Thailand, and grow as individuals in their leadership skills, outdoor skills, and personal thinking while immersing themselves in local cultures on expedition courses.

You have lectured on the importance of “Answering the Call to Global Citizenship”. How does ISDSI inspire students to answer this call?

A significant part of being a global citizen is changing our way of thinking from an “us and them” mentality to a “we” mentality, and recognizing that we can all learn from each other. On ISDSI’s programs, the expedition field is the students’ classroom and local community experts are their professors! Traveling from remote hill tribe villages in Northern Thailand to the southern islands, students are immersed in local cultures and live in homestays, where cultural practices and ways of thinking are often exchanged between students and their host families. As a result students come out with a deeper understanding of how to appropriately engage with different communities and what it means to be a global citizen.

ISDSI volunteers and local farmers in Thailand

Translating between the new generation of local organic farmers and ISDSI students in Mae Ta, Chiang Mai province

Is there anything new and exciting we can look forward to from ISDSI in 2016?

ISDSI is currently accepting applications for its Summer 2016 program: Elephants, Culture, and Ecology. This new four week experiential summer program takes a deeper look at elephants in the context of Northern Thailand’s culture and ecology. Students will also spend time examining elephants’ historical role as well as contemporary concerns and the future of elephants in Southeast Asia. Starting in Chiang Mai city while studying conversational Thai and the history and biology of elephants in Thailand and Southeast Asia, students will then go on an extended expedition into several communities to learn about elephant first hand, conservation efforts, and the dilemmas posed by elephant tourism. It will be an unforgettable experience!

ISDSI will also run be running faculty workshops. Focused on ISDSI’s innovative “People, Ecology, and Development” program, these four-day workshops will dive deep into curriculum design, cultural learning, and how to keep academic quality high while engaging with local communities. Using the principle of “having the villager be the teacher,” participants will take part in experiential learning activities, with extensive debrief and discussion with local community members. The first workshop is in January 2016.