IU in Thailand

Seven decades of relationship-building resulting in IU's longest-standing partnership

Forming student groups helps international students support each other and share with others.

Adlin Iskandar had never visited the United States before she arrived on the Indiana University Bloomington campus three years ago as a freshman.

But before she even boarded the plane, the Malaysia native knew she would be greeted by fellow Malaysians who had traveled the same path she was embarking on.

"I knew about the Malaysian Student Association before attending IU," Iskandar said. "They reached out to me, as an incoming student, to help me get acquainted with my new environment."

Iskandar is one of about 430 students from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations region currently enrolled at IU. Students hail from eight of the 10 ASEAN countries, and in 2018, the IU Bloomington campus saw a 28 percent increase in applications from the region overall.

Description of the following video:

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

[Video: Indiana University student Adlin Iskandar walks along IU's campus. She finds a table to study at and works on her homework outside.]
Iskandar speaks in voiceover: My name is Adlin Iskandar. I am from Port Dickson, Malaysia. I am president of the Malaysian Student Association.
[Video: Iskandar appears on camera.]
[Words appear: Adlin Iskandar; Junior, Indiana University Bloomington]
Iskandar speaks: Currently, we have 50 registered members, …
[Video: A photograph of the Malaysian Student Association at Indiana University. Iskandar can be seen to the far right of the group.]
Iskandar speaks in voiceover: … composed of undergraduate students, graduate students and also Malaysians working here in Bloomington.
[Video: A photograph of Iskandar. She is working at an event booth, where she is sitting at a table. She smiles at the person she is talking to.]
Iskandar speaks in voiceover: It is really fun for us because we feel …
[Video: A photograph of a Malaysian Student Association event. A group of students are sitting at a table together, eating traditional Malaysian food.]
Iskandar speaks in voiceover: … there is, there is an organization …
[Video: Iskandar appears on camera.]
Iskandar speaks: … here on campus that we first belong to, …
[Video: A photograph of Iskandar and a fellow Malaysian Student Association member with a name tag that says "Lucas." Both are smiling at the camera.]
Iskandar speaks in voiceover: … and we feel very proud to admit that we are the member of the Malaysian Student Association.
[Video: Iskandar walks toward a group of students sitting at a table. The students are using laptops and doing homework. Iskandar joins them and removes her backpack. She smiles and begins a conversation.]
Iskandar speaks in voiceover: Studying abroad really made me grow because I learned how to make friends with people from different backgrounds and how all of that, …
[Video: Iskandar appears on camera.]
Iskandar speaks: … my social life, my academic life, will impact me as a person.
[Video: Iskandar studies with the group of three students at the table. She has a binder with paper in front of her, while another student is using a laptop. She listens attentively as another student speaks.]
Iskandar speaks in voiceover: And I become more open-minded, …
[Video: Iskandar appears on camera.]
Iskandar speaks: … and more curious of what's happening out there …
[Video: A photograph of Iskandar in front of the School of Public Health at Indiana University.]
Iskandar speaks in voiceover: … instead of what I believed what was important before.
[Screen goes to black]
[IU trident appears]
[Words appear: Indiana University]
[Words appear: Fulfilling the promise]
[Words appear: iu.edu]

Adlin Iskandar, president of the Malaysian Student Association, talks about being an international student at IU.

"At IU, students from the ASEAN region introduce their experiences from countries which have tremendous forward momentum," said John Wilkerson, assistant vice president for international services at IU. "They come to campus with a spirit of progress, innovation and curiosity imbedded within them.

"Of course, that has great importance within our classrooms, but it also influences the entrepreneurial spirit of the student body. Students from ASEAN leave IU having enriched our campus and community, and they continue to exemplify the lifelong service, ingenuity and creativity they've honed at IU."

Many students from the ASEAN region join organizations representing their home countries as a way to build a support system of familiar faces and share their cultures with domestic students.

The Malaysian Student Association at IU has been around for more than 50 years and currently has about 30 members. Recently named the most outstanding Malaysian Student Association in the Midwest, the group has spent the past year connecting not only with Malaysian IU students but with students and student groups from other parts of Asia including Indonesia, Thailand, Korea and Japan.

"We really enjoy meeting people from all parts of the world," said Lucas Chin, an individualized major studying textiles and marketing with psychology and treasurer of the Malaysian Student Association. "We love experiencing something different, and we are eager to teach others about our culture, our language and our food, just a chance to share knowledge with each other."

Unlike Iskandar, Thesis Laohajaratsang was familiar with the U.S. and IU before attending the university. A sophomore studying sports media, Laohajaratsang moved from Thailand to Bloomington in the sixth grade after his mother was selected to conduct research at the IU School of Education.

Although familiar with the campus, he understands how difficult it can be to adjust to a new life in a new land.

Thesis LaohajaratsangView print quality image
Thesis Laohajaratsang, vice president of the Thai Student Association.

"Being here can be a challenge for some people because you have to adapt to a new way of life," said Laohajaratsang, vice president of the Thai Student Association. "We are the minority here, so we have to adapt to how things are done here. While it's fun being here and experiencing new things, having the Thai Student Association reminds you of home and gives you an opportunity to speak your language and live in the same culture you have back in Thailand."

Laohajaratsang has used his time at IU to dig in academically as well as socially, taking part in sporting events and recreational activities and helping to lead the Thai Student Association's 30 members. Coming from a country that is "pretty laid back" and open to outsiders, the members of the Thai Student Association are not about formality but about creating a family environment, Laohajaratsang said.

"We are more of a big group of friends, a big family of Thai people," he said. "That's what makes our group unique: We are just about friends coming together."

Making a home

Growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Linda Ngo struggled with identity.

From elementary school to high school, she was surrounded by peers whose first and main language was English. At home, her Vietnamese parents spoke their native language and had different customs than their American counterparts.

"My parents would teach me what they could about where they grew up, our language, our culture, but I felt disconnected from it," said Ngo, a junior studying human biology. "Being a part of two different cultures, I had a difficult time trying to understand whether I was American or Vietnamese growing up."

Linda NgoView print quality image
Linda Ngo, president of the IU Vietnamese Student Association.

But as Ngo grew older, she began to embrace her Vietnamese heritage and came to truly appreciate all that her parents had given up to give her a better life in the States. She began to immerse herself in the Vietnamese culture and surrounded herself with a tight Vietnamese community. But at IU, Ngo found herself lacking that same type of community.

So, alongside her cousin Alex Ngo, Linda Ngo spent her freshman year bringing her culture to campus by restarting the Vietnamese Student Association. Now with about 40 members, the group recently hosted the 17th Annual Vietnamese Interacting as One (VIA-1) Conference, the largest conference held by the Vietnamese Student Associations within the Midwest region.

"Our goal is to spread cultural awareness for the Vietnamese community and to create a feeling of family for those with or interested in Vietnamese culture," she said. "When I think of Vietnam, I think not only of our customs and culture but also the people: sitting around the table, eating homemade food and having that sense of community, of family. That is what we hope to bring to campus: a group that feels like home."

Educating others

Matthew Panutomo knows what it is like to straddle multiple cultures. He was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, before moving at the age of 12 to Singapore. Eventually serving in the police force, he decided to follow in his father's footsteps in 2016, enrolling in IU to study finance at the Kelley School of Business.

Panutomo said he enjoys the slower-paced life Bloomington has to offer and the fact that the IU campus is a world unto itself.

Matthew Panutomo
Matthew Panutomo, president of the Indonesian Student Association.

Coming from a country made up of many diverse cultures -- Indonesia has more than 200 million people and hundreds of ethnic groups speaking many different languages -- Panutomo is used to living in an environment where people from all walks of life come together.

So he and the more than 50 students who make up the Indonesian Student Association, also known as Permias, help each other acclimate to a new environment and educate people on their home country and culture.

Most people at IU, he said, are not familiar with Indonesia, something the group would like to change.

"It's all about building a community," said Panutomo, who is president of the association. "Not only for Indonesians living here, but working with multiple organizations and groups to bring all students together."