By Ana Mari Cauce
Special to Northwest Asian Weekly
Before my recent trip to Southeast Asia, I knew that the University of Washington (UW) <!–more–>was a global university. We are rated 15th among the world’s universities in Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s much publicized rankings, and 14th in the world in the US News and World Report’s “Best Global Universities.” But what came to my mind when I thought of our global profile was the way our research and scholarship touched all corners of the globe and beyond – our Early Buddhist Manuscript Project providing translations of the earliest known Buddhist texts, the work of our Human Rights Center preserving historical memory of abuses in El Salvador, our global health faculty fighting malaria in Africa. I thought too of the students, undergraduate and graduate, who come to study here, bringing the richness of their many cultures, histories, and ways of understanding the world. What I didn’t think about, or imagine, is the community of alumni across the world saying “Go Huskies” in German, Cantonese, or Thai. A few days in Bangkok changed all that.
It was my first trip to Southeast Asia and while the drive from the airport to our hotel was traffic-filled, both the countryside and city were beautiful. Amongst this dense, huge city of skyscrapers, one can still see beautiful ancient temples nestled in between, especially beside the river and canals that crisscross the city. A country proud of never having been conquered by outside forces, billboards with pictures of the King or Queen seemed almost as ubiquitous as the food stands.
On our first day there, we first visited Chulalongkorn University, one of Thailand’s leading higher education institutions. Not only do we have a very close partnership between our dental schools, but many faculty, and even a few deans, have been UW alum. We next went to Mahidol University, where we functioned as a sort of advance party for the visit of our Dean of Nursing, Azita Emami, who will be arriving in February to explore opportunities for joint programs. We were there at lunchtime and it was a feast of too many courses to remember – was it five, six, or seven? Each seemed better than the last, a fusion of spices with just enough spice to sear in the flavor. As we ate, we talked about our common challenges and opportunities, with a focus on innovative teaching techniques, an area in which the UW is rapidly gaining a global reputation. (Next year our president will be at Waseda University in Japan to inaugurate a teaching and learning center we’ve been working on together.)
We went back to the hotel for a quick breather and changed our clothes before the main event – a soiree hosted by the University of Washington Alumni Association-Thailand. I have a t-shirt to prove it! There were mugs, polo shirts, and banners with UW Alum-Thailand prominently displayed. There were even Hello Kitty cheerleader dolls dressed in purple. It was almost like being in a branch of a UW bookstore!
At dusk, the doors opened to reveal a banquet room trimmed with purple and gold crepe paper and balloons. There were proud alumni everywhere—those in their 50s, 60s, and even 80s who had attended the UW, mainly for graduate school decades ago. Amongst these were the owner of the Hansar hotel chain Somboon Chayavichitsilp (1978 College of Engineering) who stepped in as the new president of the association. He is, immediately following Direk Lavansiri (1973 College of Engineering), former Dean of Engineering at Chulalongkorn University and now Chairman of the Energy Regulatory Commission of Thailand. Indeed, many of our Thai alumni have gone on to do remarkable things, including Chumpol NaLamlieng (1965 College of Engineering), former president of Siam Cement Group, who we had coffee with earlier. They regaled us with stories of their time at the UW, memories of friendships, and of faculty who had helped them out, memories of the physical beauty of the Pacific Northwest. There were newer alumni too, the newest a 2013 graduate already thinking about a return to graduate school.
When it came time to play Husky Trivia—“What was the last year the Huskies were in the Rose Bowl?” “What is the name of the fountain sometimes called freshman pond?” –the younger graduates were at a bit of an advantage, yet it was a table of “old-timers” that won the prize—Husky t-shirts. But, it wasn’t just fun and trivia. Each year, the Thai alumni do a community project, this year focusing their efforts on supporting a local elementary school. Talk about social responsibility! We ate, we laughed, and we shared. By the end of the evening I had almost forgotten I wasn’t at an alumni event in Seattle.
Such is the power of the Purple and Gold—connections that last a lifetime and transcend boundaries and time.
When the University of Washington talks about being “boundless,” this is exactly what we mean. (end)
Ana Mari Cauce is provost of University of Washington.