Shining a Light on the Thailand Symposium

 cr: Adrienne Arzaga

cr: Adrienne Arzaga

“I really like the name of the event, ‘Thailand: Shining a Light on the Land of Smiles’, because when you don’t know an answer to something, you just smile,” and with that remark from Sukhdeep Randhawa, a counsellor from the Royal Thai Embassy in Ottawa, the 23rd annual International Studies Symposium kicked off. A full day affair, this year’s Symposium on March 10th was both a celebration and a closer examination of the Southeast Asian nation of Thailand, a country that we can all probably admit to having had very few concrete ideas about. The Symposium set out to change these primitive and lackluster views of Thailand. By hosting panels and discussions throughout the day, the Symposium allowed attendees a closer look into the richness that is ‘the Land of Smiles’.

The day began with a keynote address and an introduction to the panelists for the day, which alongside Counsellor Randhawa included Penny Van Esterik, a Professor Emeritus of anthropology from York University; Professor Supatra Chowchuvech, who is a Professor of Thai Language and Culture at the University of California, Berkeley; and Kanjana Thepborinuk, a Professor of Thai languages at Northern Illinois University. All three professors talked about their history, background and areas of specialization, which ranged from nutritional anthropology and feminist theory (Professor Van Esterik) to the differences in noun usage when addressing people based on social status in Thailand (Professor Chowchuvech) and language as a form of propaganda (Professor Thephorinuk). After this first round of talks, it was time to lunch on an amazing array of Thai delicacies! While attendees lunched, York’s Muay Thai team demonstrated some impressive moves, while at the same time teaching a bit of history and culture surrounding the sport.

And just as we must rightly praise the speakers for their fascinating stories and speeches, equal praise must be given to this year’s team and volunteers for pulling off such an amazing event, who were thanked by both the Principal and speakers, for the level of research, dedication and depth they brought to the Symposium. The last panel of the day before the evening reception was hosted and presented by members of the Symposium’s own team who spoke about their areas of Thai study, shining a light on the level of knowledge each team member had developed within their particular area of research.

Throughout the course of the event, I asked several attendees about their reactions to the information being presented. The responses I received were overwhelmingly positive, with one guest stating towards the end of the day that he had “really loved everything about it,” and another noting that she was “so proud they pulled this all off despite the strike.” Yet, I think some of the best feedback I received came from Adrienne Arzaga, one of the event’s two photographers, who said: “It was such an amazing experience to attend the Thailand Symposium. As an International Studies student, both the speakers and general set up of the event really inspired me to hopefully take part in a Symposium in my fourth year. Overall, it was actually amazing to see the Symposium come to life. I was able to see all the behind the scenes work and this group of students dedicated so much of their time and it seriously paid off.”

Arzaga continued her praise of the Symposium and its coordinators, noting that she attends classes with some of the coordinators and “honestly cannot believe they were able to juggle this huge responsibility on top of everything else already on our plates. I think this event truly showcased the great talent and skills that Glendon students possess, which are too often ignored due to our small presence in the grand scope of York. I am so proud of all the Symposium members for pulling off such a brilliant event.”

And so with that, here’s to the ever-continuing spirit of International Studies Symposium and future team members; this event is truly a unique bloom in the vast garden of York University, and hopefully one students can continue to enjoy and learn from for years to come!