U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Robert Godec toured the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa on January 19 to meet with students, faculty and staff, and learn more about academic programs supporting Thai students, as well as Southeast Asian-focused research.
Godec visited the Sala Thai, a traditional Thai pavilion near the East-West Center (EWC), where he met with UH Mānoa students and graduates from Thailand. They shared insights about what brought them to Hawaiʻi and their experiences at the university.
“I was honored to meet Ambassador Godec, and we talked about opportunities for Thai students to come to study at UH Mānoa and the U.S. as a whole,” said Krit Phankitnirundorn, a research associate at RCUH who earned his PhD in economics in 2021. “We were able to give him direct feedback on how he and the local consulate could support future Thai students.”
Godec complimented the Thai students’ strong command of the English language, and was impressed by College of Social Sciences (CSS) faculty research on Southeast Asia and, in particular, on Thailand. They included Department of Geography and Environment Professor Mary Mostafanezhad, who is interested in development and socio-economic change, and Associate Professor Ehito Kimura, the undergraduate chair in the Department of Political Science who focuses on Southeast Asian politics.
“It was wonderful to visit the University of Hawaiʻi and East-West Center, and hear firsthand from faculty and students about the remarkable educational exchanges between the United States and Thailand, and the wider Indo-Pacific region. These Thai and U.S. students and faculty are doing exceptional work that will make this a better world for all of us,” said Godec.
Thai students have been coming to UH Mānoa for five decades, many with the assistance of Royal Thai Government Scholarships. In recent years, the campus has hosted 15–20 Thai students every semester. In spring 2023, there are eight students from Thailand—one seeking a bachelor’s degree, two earning master’s degrees, and five pursuing their doctorates.
“Many UH Mānoa graduate programs have attracted students from Thailand. Between anthropology and economics in CSS alone, more than 50 students from Thailand have earned master’s and PhD degrees over the last five decades,” said Nori Tarui, economics graduate chair and professor. “Many of these graduates have taken up positions in Thai government, industry and higher education, including the National Institute of Development Administration, Thailand Development Research Institute, and Chulalongkorn and Thammasat universities.”
Added CSS anthropology Professor Miriam Stark, who is also director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies in the College of Arts, Languages & Letters, “CSS prides itself on a deep and enduring commitment to Thai studies and to supporting Thai students to study at UH Mānoa. We were pleased to host Ambassador Godec and introduce him to some members of our ʻohana, and look forward to future opportunities to work with him.”
Godec, a career Foreign Service officer who previously led the embassies in Kenya and Tunisia, noted the importance of the global connections being made by UH Mānoa. “These bridges between nations strengthen our cross-cultural understanding and enhance global security,” Godec said.
Godec also received a briefing on EWC programs in Thailand, and met with EWC President Suzanne Vares-Lum.