When Ardeth Thawnghmung of the political science department teaches international relations, her students will be learning from someone with real hands-on experiences.
As a recipient of the prestigious J. William Fulbright grant by the U.S. Department of Education Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad Program, Thawnghmung was awarded the opportunity to spend a full academic year doing research outside of the United States. She spent time in Burma conducting research on how ordinary citizens (who generally earn less than $100 a month) use various strategies to survive. She returned to Burma in the spring and fall of 2011 in order to complete her research.
As a Burmese native, Thawnghmung came to the United States for her undergraduate degree after universities in her home country were closed due to demonstrations against the military regime. She went on to do graduate work in the U.S. and came to UMass Lowell to teach, impressed with the University’s friendly atmosphere, small classroom sizes and the strong Southeast Asian population of Lowell.
As for encouraging her students to consider an international exchange or volunteer experience, Thawnghmung is a strong advocate. “If you can make an effort to venture outside the classroom to mingle with local ordinary citizens, do it,” she says. “That is the real world and it will offer you many learning opportunities.”
When she is overseas, there are a few things she misses, such as “academic freedom, the rights to have free and open discussions and debate, things that most of us here have taken for granted.” The self-described “gymnastics mom” also misses being home to follow her daughter’s practices and competitions.