SAN FRANCISCO (December 21, 2010) – “In history class, the chapter over the Vietnam War always made me excited, hoping that maybe this time, Laos, the country from which my parents immigrated from, would be covered. However, each and every time, it was always put on the back burner–never to be discussed,” said Phouthasack Keopraseuth, a junior at Drake University who went on the Summer Study Abroad in Laos or SAIL program through the Center for Lao Studies in 2010.
Like many Lao Americans, Keopraseuth knew very little about the country of his parents and grandparents. In the past two years, he and several students have experienced first-hand their Lao cultural heritage through the SAIL program at the Lao-American College in Vientiane, Laos.
In its third year, SAIL includes an intensive eight-week Lao language course, Lao history and culture course, classroom guest speakers, an optional “home-stay,” cultural exposure throughout the city and provinces, and an optional volunteer opportunities with local and international organizations.
Although the response to the program has been strongest from Lao Americans, the program is open to anyone with an interest in Lao and Southeast Asian culture and language. SAIL is currently accepting applications for the upcoming summer. The deadline is March 15, 2011 and the applications are now available online at http://laostudies.org.
Even with its reasonable price tag of about $5,000, which includes round-trip airfares between San Francisco and Vientiane, accommodations, tuition, and other costs, not everyone could take advantage of the opportunity like Keopraseuth. The economic downturn has prohibited qualified candidates from applying. Leslie Chanthaphasouk, a student at UCLA, who wanted to go on the program last year, was disappointed for not being able to join SAIL.
“I think the program is pretty cheap compared to other study abroad programs to Europe or even Thailand,” said Chanthaphasouk.
“In order to reduce the cost for students, we are planning to set up a SAIL scholarship fund for the coming year with a goal to raise $10,000 by April 1, 2011,” said Dr. Vinya Sysamouth, executive director, Center for Lao Studies. He is encouraging individuals, businesses, and organizations wishing to contribute to the scholarship to donate online through CLS website. “The SAIL program is one-of-a-kind program that connects the US and Laos. We would like to accept more participants in the coming years if funding is available,” added Dr. Sysamouth.
Lao Americans who went on SAIL usually gain a rare insight and a better understanding of their identity. This was the case for Akarath Soukhaphon, a 2010 SAILer and a graduate student in Geography at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, who no longer sees Laos as an enigmatic place and feels a sense of deeper connection; and Toby Malavong, a female Lao American participant who vowed to continue learning about Lao history and culture after the program ends.
“I leave Laos this time with a better appreciation for what the country has gone through, where it is now, and the hope that the people here have for its future,” wrote Soukhaphon in the SAIL blog. “I feel that because of the SAIL program, my connection to Laos has been strengthened and will serve as a launching point to other great opportunities here in the future.”
“Everyone told me not to have any expectations, but I think this trip has surpassed every and any expectations I may have had,” proclaimed Malavong right before she left Laos to return home to Iowa. “I am having a wonderful time here and the memories I have made so far have been so precious. It’s been an amazing trip and I know that I will be back.”
The SAIL program is part of the Center for Lao Studies’ greater mission to advance knowledge and engagement in the field of Lao Studies through research, education and information sharing. Aside from SAIL, CLS current programs include the triennial International Conference on Lao Studies, which gathers hundreds of scholars from around the world, stimulating knowledge and exchange of ideas and research in Lao and Southeast Asian studies; online publication of the only peer-reviewed academic journal dedicated to Lao Studies, the Journal of Lao Studies; and the Lao Oral History Archive, which documents the untold life stories of former Lao refugees in the United States.