PHOTO: Thirteen CSULB Study Abroad students and instructor Rick Opland visiting the Rai Som School for Stateless Children in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where they helped the nonprofit Mirror Foundation to improve the school
Chiang Mai province in northern Thailand became the center of worldwide attention this past summer, when members of a youth soccer team were rescued from a flooded cave. Since the region is home to a multi-ethnic mix of recently arrived migrants and refugees, several members of the team gained additional attention for being stateless—unable to vote, buy land, travel freely, or seek work.
The plight of these people who lack official Thai citizenship was already familiar to a group of CSULB students who visited the area just weeks before. During a three-week Short-Term Study Abroad program in May and June, 13 business students joined instructor Rick Opland at CSULB’s partner school, Mahidol University International College (MUIC).
While there, the group visited the Rai Som School for Stateless Children, an independent school for 58 children of Burmese workers who live and work on the nearby orange plantations. Currently, the school has only two temporary classrooms with bamboo walls and thatched roofs, so the CSULB students helped improve the structure and also broke ground on a more permanent school. They were assisted by the Mirror Foundation, a non governmental organization that works with Thai communities in the northern regions.
“I will always hold this experience in my heart, it truly touched me,” said CSULB student Alexandra Mutto. “I was so sad leaving the children, but also happy because I felt like we truly helped them.”
During the trip, students also took classes from MUIC faculty on topics such as international leadership, and visited seven local businesses to learn about their strategy, customers, operations, and management styles. These ranged from a coffee plantation to an orchid grower and the Bangkok office of Nestlé. They also got up-close insight into international business practices while staying at a hotel on campus run by local students.
Opland plans to take another group of students back to Thailand in 2019 in order to continue improving the Rai Som School.