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UW-Eau Claire Student from Eau Claire Awarded Scholarship to Study in Thailand

RELEASED: June 23, 2006

Mai Youa Lee
Mai Youa lee

EAU CLAIRE — Mai Youa Lee, Eau Claire, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, has been awarded a $5,000 Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to study in Thailand for the 2006-07 academic year. Lee is the daughter of Vang S. and Mai Pa Lee.

When she received the notification of her award, Lee said she was shocked, but also excited and honored to be chosen.

Last summer, during a six-week study abroad program offered through UW-Eau Claire, Lee visited Thailand, where she studied sustainable development and the culture of ethnic groups in Thailand. During one field trip, she lived with a Hmong-Thai family for four days. That experience left her wanting to know more about both her own Hmong culture and about Thailand, the adopted country of so many Hmong people.

Lee's story is similar to that of many U.S. citizens of Hmong ancestry. Her father and grandfather assisted the United States during the Vietnam War and later were forced to flee from Laos to Thailand to escape political persecution. Lee's parents immigrated to the United States in 1980.

"Being Hmong in America, I am not exposed to a lot of the Hmong traditional language, ceremonies and lifestyles," said Lee. "Some ancient rituals that my ancestors have practiced for thousands of years I do not completely understand. This study abroad opportunity will help me to fill in the missing gaps in my own culture, and at the same time learn another culture."

This fall, Lee, who is majoring in sociology with a minor in library science, will enter the Thai Studies program at Thammasat University in Bangkok. The program consists of 30 credits in Thai culture, language, literature, history, economics and politics and leads to a Thai Studies certificate. Lee said some of the classes include field trips to let students see first-hand what is occurring in Thai society, and she expects to have more opportunities to interact with Hmong people living in Thailand. She also is excited about having a full year to learn the Thai language.

Colleen Marchwick, study abroad coordinator for UW-Eau Claire's Thailand program, said Lee worked in the Center for International Education this spring as a peer adviser to the group of students who are attending the six-week Thailand program this summer.

"She did an exceptional job," said Marchwick, noting that Lee also sought feedback on her scholarship application essay, which Marchwick said is often important for a successful application.

Lee has also worked in the office of the Upward Bound program, which prepares high school students for success in college. Lee participated in the program as a high school student herself, and according to Kimamo Wahome, director of Upward Bound, so far eight of the ten children in Lee's family have participated in the program. Lee is proud of the fact that three have graduated from college (two from UW-Eau Claire), four are currently attending UW-Eau Claire and one will be matriculating to UW-Madison this fall.

The Gilman Scholarship program, established by the International Academic Opportunity Act of 2000, provides competitive awards for undergraduates receiving federal Pell Grant funding to participate in study abroad programs worldwide. It is sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the Institute of International Education through its Southern Regional Center in Houston, Texas. For the 2006-07 application cycle, the program received 1,007 applications for 389 possible awards.

For more information on the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, visit www.iie.org/programs/gilman/index.html.

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NW

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