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Educator Returns from Southeast Asia with Artifacts and Experiences to Share

RELEASED: Aug. 30, 2005

Dr. Deb Pattee
Deb Pattee enjoyed a mangosteen, a Thai native fruit, for lunch while exploring a variety story in Thailand. The signs above the merchandise indicate the items underneath were selling for 10 baht, or approximately 25 U.S. cents, Pattee said. (Contributed photo)

EAU CLAIRE — Dr. Deb Pattee, an assistant professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, came home from her recent five-week trip to Vietnam, Laos and Thailand weighed down with a number of extra heavy suitcases and bags containing hundreds of items she purchased on the trip.

The "souvenirs" weren't gifts for friends or items to adorn her home, but teaching aids that will be used to help area teachers better understand and teach their K-16 students about Southeast Asian culture.

Pattee was one of 18 educators who took part in the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction's Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad Seminar, "Highlighting Southeast Asian Heritage & Culture in the Curriculum," July 8-August 12. The group visited schools, met with educators, attended seminars and workshops and participated in other activities intended to further their understanding of the region.

"We each had a project we wanted to accomplish on this trip and mine was about buying things," laughed Pattee, who went on to explain the method behind her madness.

Back when Pattee taught 7th grade social studies in a Milwaukee school, she used to teach her students that there were 12 cultural similarities — things that are common to all cultures, such as food, shelter, family, etc. The goal of the project was to buy items that illustrated some aspect of these 12 cultural similarities with respect to Southeast Asian cultures, and organize them into "discovery boxes" that would be available to both local teachers and UW-Eau Claire teacher educators. Pattee developed the "Discovery Box" project in conjunction with local ELL teacher Kathy Peterson, Sherman Elementary School; Chou Her, bilingual education assistant, and Lee Her, refugee relocation coordinator, Eau Claire Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Association; and Lucianne Boardman, reading assistant coordinator in UW-Eau Claire's department of curriculum and instruction. Six of the boxes will be housed at McIntyre Library on the UW-Eau Claire campus and the other six will be at the media center at the Eau Claire Area School district's administrative offices on Main Street.

"There is just something about an artifact…" said Pattee, noting that with the increasing number of students of Southeast Asian heritage in Wisconsin Schools, it becomes more and more important that teachers and students understand and respect those cultures. Pattee believes that being able to examine items ranging from the traditional garb of Buddhist monks to the remains of a few of the thousands of bombs that were dropped in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War awakens interest in both teachers and students in a way textbooks alone rarely do.

Pattee received funding for the project from four "mini-grants" from the UW-Eau Claire Center for International Education, McIntyre Library, the Eau Claire School District and a Williams/Rhoades Fellowship from the Center for Collaborative Leadership in Education in the UW-Eau Claire College of Education and Human Sciences. With $1,400 to spend, she then enlisted the help of other educators on the trip to find items to buy.

"I knew I couldn't be everywhere at once, and I would inevitably miss things that others on the trip saw," said Pattee. "We were aiming to purchase artifacts relating to the twelve categories from each of the three countries we visited, so we divided the money accordingly."

Pattee had eight other people looking for items that related to the categories of art, religion, recreation, economy, food, transportation, communication and government, while she took care of finding items related to clothing, shelter, education and family.

"The project kind of brought us together as a group," Pattee said.

When she wasn't involved in her Southeast Asian scavenger hunt, Pattee had a number of other experiences that left her deeply moved and occasionally brought her to tears.

In Laos she visited the Plain of Jars, an area of several square miles famous for the hundreds of huge ancient stone jars carved into the rocks scattered across it, the origin and significance of which still have historians baffled. More recently the area became doubly famous as one of the areas most heavily carpet bombed by the United States because of its strategic significance during the Vietnam conflict. The government of Laos has been working to clear the unexploded ordnance in the area for years, but farmers and their families are still killed by it on a regular basis.

A visit to a Buddhist community in Thailand also deeply impressed Pattee, who said she immediately started dreaming about bringing some of her education students there to visit for a few days. When she inquired, she was told the students would be welcome, but they would be expected to contribute by working, and they would also be required to follow all the rules of the community.

Pattee said she also appreciated the visits to the U.S. embassies in all three countries, where they were briefed on current events and issues, and their visits to schools. Although she saw many different kinds of schools, she was most impressed with the schools in Thailand.

"They seemed right on target there, using many of the same methods we're teaching our educations students here," said Pattee, noting that State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster, one of the educators on the trip, met with the secretary of the Thai Ministry of Education on Aug. 2 and signed a Framework of Cooperation that will connect teachers and students in Thailand to schools in Wisconsin, encouraging exchange programs and promoting further understanding of Southeast Asian economic, political and social systems.

"Now that I've had this experience, I would love to share it by teaching a continuing education course on Southeast Asian culture," Pattee said, showing off some of the books she brought back from her trip. "That's why I wanted to buy these things — to help educate others."



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