Internationalizing Education

Eugene Sheehan with Montree Yamkasikorn, dean of the Burapha University’s College of Education (center) and Sompol Pongthai, Burapha University’s president.

A unique exchange program with a university in Thailand is broadening the horizons of students and professors, not to mention those of the program's creator, who got to experience a very different commencement ceremony.

Eugene Sheehan, dean of UNC's College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, received an honorary doctorate last October from Thailand's Burapha University in recognition of the international exchange program he created for faculty and graduate students from both universities.

Several UNC alumni were already part of the faculty at Burapha when Sheehan approached the Thai university with his idea two years ago. That connection propelled him into the leadership position for a new exchange program between institutions; Burapha faculty and graduates lecture in workshops, audit classes and attend seminars at UNC, while UNC faculty and graduates travel to Thailand and do the same.

Sheehan received his honorary degree as part of a commencement ceremony at Burapha, one of Thailand's largest public universities. The atmosphere of the event was unlike any graduation Sheehan had experienced before.

"Our graduation ceremonies are outgoing and exuberant," Sheehan said "They celebrate a person's individuality and encourage excitement and enthusiasm."

Thai graduation ceremonies are much more serious, he said. The room where the ceremony took place was totally quiet. Students formed a perfect line to receive their diplomas, with just two seconds per student allowed to ensure that 30-34 diplomas were given per minute.

Sheehan said that Thailand greatly admires their royalty, even more so than the United Kingdom. Because Thailand's Princess Maha Chakri was presenting the diplomas, a specific set of choreographed steps and gestures was necessary as a sign of respect toward the princess.

Once on stage, the graduating students - and Sheehan - had to bow, walk halfway across the stage, bow to the princess, take three or four steps forward, then do a hand gesture showing they had no weapons and symbolizing peace. After receiving their diplomas, students took three steps backward and stepped off the stage.

"I was blown away at how intricate the ceremony was," Sheehan said. "And I was even more surprised when the ceremony ended and not a single person had tripped or skipped a beat."

Over the past two years, nearly 100 faculty and graduate students from Burapha have participated in Sheehan's program at UNC.

Last semester six doctoral students from Burapha audited courses in the educational leadership program at UNC.

Several teacher education students from UNC have been able to complete their student teaching at Burapha through the exchange program.

This summer another element of the exchange program will be implemented. Eighteen undergraduate teacher education students from Burapha University will transfer to UNC after receiving two years of liberal arts education in Thailand. They'll then continue their education and after two year graduate with a teaching degree from UNC.

In a world that is getting more and more global, an international education is highly beneficial for both undergraduate and graduate students.

"As a university we should afford our students the opportunity to internationalize their education," Sheehan said. "By doing so, students can learn to appreciate different cultures and see how many things our countries actually have in common."

- Katie Owston, Junior Journalism Major