Porntip Israsena – a Donaghey Scholar at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock – has traveled the world. And she is convinced it is only getting smaller.
Israsena will share her insights on applying for the Benjamin A. Gilman International Study Abroad Scholarship during an information session at 3:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 12, in the Office of International Student Services, Room 101, in the UALR Education Building.
Although local to the area–Israsena is a graduate of North Little Rock High School–she has traveled the globe, from Quito, Ecuador, to Bangkok, Thailand, and places in between.
She is set to graduate in December and hopes to land a job, possibly in Washington D.C., that will enable her to expand on her foreign policy skill set.
Israsena, a Spanish language and international relations double major, believes students must prepare to be ‘global citizens’ who are not only knowledgeable about American culture, but also knowledgeable about distant cultures and places far removed from their own.
“It’s amazing how small the world is,” she said.
“We think of it as being so big, but because we are becoming economically dependent on each other, the world is shrinking. It really is our choice to bridge that gap.”
Israsena speaks from experience, having most recently returned from Bangkok, Thailand. There, she immersed herself for several months and completed a full-time internship for the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, specifically, in the Department of Association of Southeast Asian Nations Affairs.
Thailand has been an aggressive advocate of increased economic integration and is a founding member of ASEAN, an association similar in function to the European Union, said Israsena.
While there, she compiled a database for the Thai Ministry’s library on ASEAN-related resources and also wrote and published four articles for the Ministry’s ASEAN website.
Israsena also studied Thai language, foreign policy, the social and economic development of Southeast Asia and Thai cuisine at Thammasat University. Her travel was supported through a $5,000 Gilman Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State.
Now her focus is on completing her Donaghey Scholars research–a survey to gauge how American students view the role they play when they travel abroad.
“Travel-abroad students are ambassadors of our country, whether they realize it or not,” Israsena said. “I’m ultimately concerned with showing how study abroad can be used as a diplomacy tool.”
Israsena cultivated the idea for her project during her time at The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminar in Washington D.C.
In Washington, she completed a full-time internship at the Institute of International Education (IIE) and worked on the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), a private-public partnership that administers a cultural and professional exchange program.
During her time at UALR, Israsena has also created a re-entry manual to help students re-immerse in American culture after studying abroad.
“Every time I go abroad, I learn about the U.S.,” she said. Israsena has also been active with the exchange mentor program in the International Studies Office, which seeks to help exchange students adapt to their newly adopted campus and community.
Asked why she is such a passionate advocate for students not only traveling abroad, but picking a culture and really immersing themselves in it, Israsena said it may have its roots in the fact that she is descended from a Thai father and American-born mother.
“We all get into our own little world,” she said. “But at the bottom of it, we are all in the same world. All people everywhere are living for similar things.”
Studying abroad, students will be changed and there will be experiences that are challenging, said Israsena.
“But they will be better for it, and our world will be better,” she concluded.
General study abroad information sessions are held on the second and fourth Thursday of every month from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Office of International Services.
To learn more about UALR study abroad opportunities, or the exchange mentor program, contact the Programs Abroad division in the Office of International Student Services in Room 101 of the Old Education Building near Ross Hall.