Articles, Cultural, Enrichment, Global

Thai Language and Traditional Dance

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[dropcap]O[/dropcap]hio University is fortunate to have Pittaya Paladroi, a unique Thai lecturer providing opportunities of great magnitude for many students.

Paladroi started her career in Thailand as a Thai language instructor for several years before coming to the United States. Her clients included expatriates, diplomats and United Nation specialists. Paladroi also taught English and French to Thai students.

After deciding that she would like to build a small language school in Thailand for Thai children, Paladroi made her way to the U.S. in an effort to attain her master’s and doctorate degrees. With the help of her American friends, Paladroi made the decision to come to OU in 2004 to obtain the higher degree necessary to build her dream school and become successful.

In the spring of 2006, Paladroi graduated with a master’s in cultural studies and education and began working on a Ph.D. in cultural studies and education. Paladroi used her previous teaching experience to her advantage and began teaching Thai as a teacher’s assistant at OU.

Paladroi was the first-ever Thai instructor offered a full-time faculty position, allowing Thai language courses to be offered for the first time ever within the university.

According to Jeffrey Shane, the Southeast Asian Reference Librarian, the reason Thai was not formerly offered as a class for undergraduate students was due to the low demand of the language, as well as a need for a “group one faculty member” for modern languages. This faculty member would then teach and instruct the particular language. Paladroi fit this script and was hired as the Thai language instructor.

Although she was only expected to offer two levels of the language, Paladroi went above and beyond and created an advanced Thai level, in addition to beginners and intermediate.

“I really wanted to have these languages expanded,” Paladroi said in regards to the development of the advanced Thai language level.

Paladroi worked with the head of the Department of Linguistics to ensure a properly qualified language class and instruction that would meet the standard of OU. By 2009, Thai language officially fulfilled the language requirement mandatory for many colleges at OU.

Thai Language Program

In 2006, when the Thai language program was first created, only six students were registered. This semester, the enrollment has risen to a promising 25 students.

Because Thai is a difficult language similar to that of Chinese, many students do not end up completing all three levels. Despite this hindrance, OU currently has the highest enrollment in Thai language out of 14 different universities offering Thai throughout the U.S.

“Language is part of the culture…Language doesn’t tell you about how you can become culturally competent,” Paladroi stated.

Paladroi strongly believes that teaching cultural background along with a language is necessary to a proper education.

“Language is part of the culture…Language doesn’t tell you about how you can become culturally competent,” Paladroi stated.

In order to provide a well-rounded experience and learning environment for her students, Paladroi often invites Thai students to visit her classroom. This adds to their discussions of different issues and customs related to Thai culture.

Paladroi also enlightens her students about the various spiritual beliefs and norms within Thai society and incorporates the reading of Thai novels into lessons.

Paladroi seized a great opportunity to not only provide her students with more examples of Thai culture, but also add a great addition to OU’s International Education Week once hearing about Professor Janaprakal Chandruang’s tour with Moradok Mai Community Theatre.

Moradok Mai Community Theatre

On Friday, November 15th, Moradok Mai Community Theatre performed a traditional Thai dance in Baker Theatre for OU’s International Education Week.

The traditional Thai dance performance titled “The Death of Thotsakan, the Demon King,” was a theatrical story expressed passionately through music and dance by the students of Moradok Mai Community Theatre. Various humorous actions occurred, along with encouraged participation from the audience.

“It was really nice and fascinating,” Zeya Zhu, a first year master’s student from China, said.

Professor Janaprakal Chandruang started the Moradok Mai Homeschool as a form of alternative education for underprivileged kids. Chandruang hoped to create this school in an attempt to not only preserve traditional Thai culture, but to also provide a solid education for those less fortunate.

“They totally appreciate education,” Paladroi said.

Moradok Mai accepts students between seventh and 12th grade. Students do not have to pay tuition, however, they are responsible for organizing performances to fundraise donations, helping to support their education.

According to Paladroi, students “live, eat, study, work and play together in one compound” and are placed on a very strict yet effective schedule.

“They totally appreciate education,” Paladroi said.

While theatre is the most stressed practice within the school, students also take secular classes such as reading, writing, history and more. A large part of the school’s philosophy involves teaching students to be mindful, integrated and versatile citizens, not just individuals who are capable of passing a written exam.

Shane referred to the rare form of schooling as “organic education,” mixing education and theatre.

Students also schedule additional performances to raise money to help graduating seniors continue their future studies.

Since opening in 2003, 10 graduated students from the Moradok Mai Homeschool have gone to India to work on their bachelor’s degrees in arts and classical dance.

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