Indiana University's long and storied history of international engagement dates back more than a century and spans the globe. But few countries hold quite the connection that Thailand does.

For 70 years, IU has enjoyed a rich history of partnership with Thailand, one of the university's longest official relationships with a global partner. As the university rapidly approaches its bicentennial celebration, IU's many educational and institution-building initiatives in Thailand -- and its activities across much of Southeast Asia -- continue to translate into numerous student and scholarly exchanges, international service opportunities, faculty research collaborations and genuine friendships that have transformed lives both in Thailand and in the Hoosier state.

Today, nearly 60 students from Thailand are enrolled at IU. As with all of IU's international students, they bring valuable cultural perspectives to the university's classrooms and enrich their local communities. IU also has welcomed many Thai faculty scholars and researchers to its Indiana campuses over the years.

Description of the following video:

[Words appear in upper-left corner: Indiana University presents]

[Video: Historical palaces and ornate statues in Bangkok, Thailand, are shown.]

Michael A. McRobbie, president of Indiana University, speaks in voiceover: ASEAN, as an organization, has been in existence now for many, many decades.

[Video: White lettering with the IU trident and "Indiana University ASEAN Gateway" is shown on a red wall.]

McRobbie speaks in voiceover: But what's important from Indiana University's point of view is that, in many of those countries, …

[Video: McRobbie is speaking at a meeting of The Asia Foundation. He is standing at a podium.]

McRobbie speaks in voiceover: … we have longstanding histories of engagement.

[Video: McRobbie appears on camera.]

[Words appear: Michael A. McRobbie; President, Indiana University]

McRobbie speaks: We are here in Thailand because it's the 70th anniversary of what has really been an extensive history of engagement in this country, dating to the '50s …

[Video: An old photograph is shown. Former IU President Herman B. Wells can be seen, posing with a group of individuals from Thailand. He is sitting in a chair, while everyone else is standing around him.]

McRobbie speaks: … when President Wells actually started the process of our engagement with Thailand.

[Video: A photograph of former U.S. President Barack Obama is shown. He is standing at a podium speaking, standing next to former Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.]

McRobbie speaks in voiceover: President Obama drew attention to the importance of ASEAN. This was going to be an alternative part …

[Video: Historical palaces and ornate statues in Bangkok, Thailand, are shown.]

McRobbie speaks in voiceover: … of the world for the United States to engage with, …

[Video: Marty Natalegawa, the former foreign minister of Indonesia, speaks at the podium at the Asia Foundation meeting.]

McRobbie speaks in voiceover: … and I think that's true for us academically as well.

[Video: McRobbie appears on camera.]

McRobbie speaks: I'm particularly proud of the fact that the first-ever United States ambassador to the ASEAN region was an …

[Video: David Carden, former ambassador to ASEAN, speaks at the Asia Foundation meeting.]

McRobbie speaks: … IU alumnus, David Carden. So, it is a consistent history of …

[Video: McRobbie stands for a group photo in Thailand.]

McRobbie speaks in voiceover: bilateral engagement between Thailand as a country …

[Video: The Bangkok skyline can be seen at sunset.]

McRobbie speaks in voiceover: … and multiple institutions and Indiana University.

[Screen goes to black]

[IU trident appears]

[Words appear: Indiana University]

[Words appear: Fulfilling the promise]

[Words appear:]


Much of the university's international activity related to Thailand and the surrounding region is centered in the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, which houses the recently established Southeast Asian and ASEAN Studies Program. The program is home to new degrees and enhanced language offerings in Thai, Indonesian and other regional languages. It also supports teaching, research and outreach activities on the economies, governance, culture, languages and security of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional intergovernmental organization consisting of 10 countries in Southeast Asia and a growing global power.

Chris KusovskiView print quality image
IU student Chris Kusovski is currently enrolled in an overseas study program in Thailand.   

Increasingly, more and more IU students are choosing to study abroad in Thailand and experience first-hand its extraordinary culture and history. Currently, that number is around 50 students annually.

IU also has more than 1,000 Thai alumni living and working around the world, many of whom have become prominent members of Thai society as leaders in business, education, government, health care, higher education and other important fields. They are among IU's greatest global ambassadors and loyal friends of the university.

A lasting friendship

In 1948, IU's legendary 11th president, Herman B Wells, met with Mom Luang Pin Malakul, then permanent undersecretary for education in Thailand, who was in Bloomington to visit with Thai graduate students studying at IU. This began a personal friendship between Wells and Malakul, who later served as Thai minister of education and culture, that would ultimately lead to a close institutional relationship between the Thai government and IU and contribute to the development of the country's system of higher education.

Future IU presidents Joseph Sutton and John Ryan visited Thailand as faculty members often in the 1950s, at a time when King Bhumibol sought better tools and data to inform important policy decisions. Between 1955 and 1962, more than 45 IU faculty traveled to Thailand and 41 Thai students came to the U.S. for advanced training in public administration -- 35 of those 41 students pursued their training at IU.

From left: Herman B Wells speaks with Mom Luang Pin Malakul; former IU President John Ryan receives an honorary degree from Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand in 1991; Ryan speaks with Sirindhorn. Photos courtesy of IU Archives

As one of the founding members of the Midwest Universities Consortium for International Activities, IU helped develop the Institute of Public Administration at Thammasat University in 1955. IU also played a central role, in 1966, in establishing the National Institute of Development Administration.

Thailand's leading educational institution in the area of sustainable development, NIDA has trained thousands of the Thai government's top officials and diplomats for service across the country and around the globe. IU's close partnership with NIDA continues today through exchanges of faculty and graduate students.

In 2016, IU President Michael A. McRobbie delivered a keynote address in front of hundreds of Thailand's most eminent statesmen, educational leaders and other dignitaries at NIDA's 50th anniversary celebration. He was the only U.S. college or university president asked to deliver a keynote.

During the 1960s and 1970s, IU helped develop 16 teacher colleges in Thailand, many of which are now four-year, comprehensive universities. Several years later, in the 1990s, IU partnered with Thailand's dental schools to promote the development of graduate dental education in Thailand. In addition to dentistry, IU continues to be engaged in active academic collaborations in the areas of business, education, law, optometry and public affairs.

Over the years, IU's partnership in Thailand has yielded an entire generation of senior-level Thai business executives, educators, government officials and diplomats who received their advanced education at IU. At one time in the 1980s, three-fifths of the governors of Thailand's 72 provinces held degrees from either IU or the Institute of Public Administration at Thammasat University. By 1986, the Institute of Public Administration and its successor, NIDA, had educated 3,300 master's graduates and trained 1,500 of the Thai government's top executives, including the prime minister, and more than a thousand of its diplomats.

A royal celebration

No story about IU's close connections with Thailand can be complete without proper mention of the university's close friendship with Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, to whom McRobbie awarded an honorary doctorate in 2010 in recognition of her continued efforts to expand and improve public education across Thailand, especially in remote and rural areas.

Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn  

Princess Sirindhorn, the third child of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit, graduated with honors in history from Chulalongkorn University, the oldest and top-ranked university in Thailand and a longstanding partner of IU, and she has amassed advanced degrees in oriental epigraphy, Pali and Sanskrit, and developmental education. She teaches at the history department of the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, where she is the nominal head of the department. In addition to Thai, she speaks fluent English, French and Mandarin Chinese, and she has studied German and Latin. She also translates Chinese literature into Thai and is a skilled performer of Thai traditional music.

In addition to performing daily royal duties, Princess Sirindhorn has worked on a number of important initiatives in Thailand, including providing basic education for school children in remote border areas, promoting plant genetic preservation and gene bank projects, instituting IT efforts to help the disabled achieve independent living, and developing nutritional campaigns to improve the well-being of Thai people. Some of these projects, which she began when she was in her 20s, continue to this day.

All of this made the princess a perfect hostess for a special gathering in Bangkok last month of IU's regional alumni to celebrate the university's 70 years of engagement in Thailand. The latest "IU Is Global" event included an alumni award ceremony recognizing alumni of the School of Dentistry, the Kelley School of Business, the Maurer School of Law and the School of Education; a panel on women in leadership, moderated by IU first lady Laurie Burns McRobbie and featuring several prominent female alumni; a tea and afternoon program, during which President McRobbie reflected on the history of the IU-Thai friendship; and a presentation of commemorative stoles to proud IU graduates going back to the 1950s.

More than 250 IU alumni, partners and friends -- representing 17 countries -- attended the event, helping to write the latest chapter in IU's longstanding history of international engagement and further illustrating just how highly influential and regarded IU is in Thailand and throughout one of the most culturally, economically and politically important parts of the world.

From the top: President McRobbie presents a gift to Princess Sirindhorn; The princess addresses the crowd; members of the IU delegation pose for a photo with the princess. Photos by IU Communications