Saint Michael’s Fulbright scholars reconnect in Thailand

February 16, 2024
Cat Cutillo
Social Media and Community Content Specialist

Two of the four Saint Michael’s graduates currently abroad through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program recently reconnected for a weekend in Thailand. 

The two scholars – Hayley Jensen ’22 and Alexyah Dethvongsa ’22, who are in Vietnam and Thailand respectively – sent photos from their meetup with Political Science Professor Patricia Siplon, who also directs the Public Health Program and assists students in applying for Fulbright awards.

Hayley Jensen ’22 and Alexyah Dethvongsa ’22 during their weekend in Thailand. (Courtesy)

Jensen and Dethvongsa are both currently working as English Teaching Assistants through the Fulbright program. While at St. Mike’s, Dethvongsa majored in Public Health and International Relations and minored in Peace and Justice while Jensen majored in International Relations and minored in TESOL and Peace and Justice. 

In an email to Saint Michael’s, Jensen explained it is currently Lunar New Year season (called Tết in Vietnam), which is the biggest celebration of the year. Everything closes to allow people to be with family. Jensen decided it was the perfect time to do some international travel. Jensen worked in Thailand last year and had been wanting to visit old friends and see Dethvongsa. 

“I think it’s so important when living abroad to find comforts of home and connect with people whenever you can,” Jensen said. Just by coincidence, lots of the Fulbright Thailand cohort was also visiting Chiang Mai, Thailand, that same weekend, so there was a big gathering.  

“They very kindly let me infiltrate their cohort,” Jensen said. “Most of the weekend was just spent catching up. We haven’t seen each other in two years!”

Hayley Jensen ’22 and Alexyah Dethvongsa ’22 with other members of the Fulbright Thailand ETA Cohort. (Courtesy)

Dethvongsa said they went to a flower festival and enjoyed catching up while they walked around the markets, admired the giant flower sculptures and beautiful parks and ate delicious street food. The duo shared similarities and differences from their experiences teaching English in Thailand and Vietnam.  

“We even got to ride a Ferris wheel a sunset and see the sun set over the festival and the mountains,” Dethvongsa said. 

Reconnecting and finding community 

Jensen is teaching at Vietnam’s Hue University, the School of Hospitality and Tourism. She splits class with lecturers and teaches English for all different hospitality-related topics that students will use in their careers. She also hosts coffee hours for faculty to improve their English, proofreads many Ph.D. research manuscripts and book chapters, and supports the school’s English club.

Hayley Jensen in Vietnam (Courtesy)

Dethvongsa teaches at Thailand’s Lamphun Technical College in Lamphun Province. Each week, she teaches students between the ages of 14 to 24 conversational English. She is the only native English speaker at the school. During Holidays, she also teaches about American customs or traditions, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Valentine’s Day. 

“We had both applied to be a Fulbright our senior year of college and were both denied our first time applying,” Dethvongsa wrote. “It was nice to be able to reflect on this together, and how much we learned in that time after graduation. Everything comes when it is supposed to, and despite things not going as planned, I think we are both thankful for this experience and everything we’ve learned leading up to it.”

She added, “We talked a lot about being abroad and how much you learn about where and who you are, but also how much we learn about being American. How eye-opening it is to be here and see, hear, and talk about people’s perceptions about Americans. It was so nice to talk to someone from St. Mike’s and be in the mountains. In a way, it felt like being at home. We both talked about how nice it is to have those small pieces of home after spending so much time away from loved ones.”

Alexyah Dethvongsa ’22 in Thailand (Courtesy)

Saint Michael’s recently recognized by Fulbright 

Dethvongsa said the Fulbright experience has emphasized her love for learning about other cultures.

Saint Michael’s College was recognized this week by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for being one of the colleges and universities with the highest number of students selected for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.    

Graduates, including Jensen and Dethvongsa, are currently involved in programs in Thailand, Vietnam, Spain (Jeremy Little ’23), and Mexico (Natalia “Aisha” Navarrete ’23). This is the second time the College has been recognized as a Fulbright Top Producing Institution.  

After her Fulbright experience, Jensen said she has plans to go back to Saint Michael’s and earn her MATESOL degree. 

“A big takeaway from my time abroad is to just roll with everything,” Jensen said in her email. “Ride the wave and see where it takes you! If you say ‘yes’ and are open to everything, you end up in amazing situations with great stories.” 

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