PA Hosts Royal Thai Scholars for 15 Years

Phillips Academy is one of thirty-seven prep schools across America working with the Royal Thai Scholars program to bring a Western education to Thailand’s brightest students. King Rama V of Thailand founded this scholarship program in 1897. He created the initiative in an effort to collect knowledge from and expose students to other nations. The king handpicked students and paid for their overseas education. Upon returning, the scholars were able to use their new knowledge to help Thailand advance in many fields. This plan contributed to Thailand’s modernization and its independence from imperial control during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The program was so successful in furthering Thailand’s understanding of the modern world, especially in science and technology, that it is still in place today. However, the program has evolved over the years. Not only have the scholarships offered grown in number and prestige, but royal authority also no longer selects the scholars. Instead, they are chosen based on merit. A student must have at least a 3.5 GPA to take the necessary qualifying exams, which the Civil Service Commission of the Royal Thai government organizes. They must then score at the top of the range of test takers to be eligible for a scholarship. Before World War II, most of the Royal Thai Scholars studied in Europe. Then, in the 1950’s, more began to come to America. According to the Office of Educational Affairs at the Royal Thai Embassy, 56 Royal Thai Scholars are studying in the United States this year. Two of these scholars, Nui Suebphanwong ’07 and Petch Jirapinyo ’07, are currently at PA. “To me, being a Thai scholar means being a representative of Thailand. Though people walking by may see me as an ordinary international student, I am aware all the time that I am bearing many expectations,” said Suebphanwong, when asked about how being a Thai Scholar affects her life. “The country, my teachers back home, my parents, my old schoolmates, and even my Thai scholar friends perceive me as a student whose responsibilities are beyond getting good grades… Academic pressure is something to be expected by the name ‘Thai Scholar’ itself, but it is always manageable. The pressure of keeping a clean image of being a Thai scholar is even more difficult. I just cannot be impulsive and do whatever I want. I am bearing my country’s name with every step I walk,” she elaborated. The embassy selects which high school the scholar will attend, and they do not have to go through the usual process of applying, interviewing, and touring. Instead, Andover reserves two places each year for Thai Scholars. Schools participating in the Thai Royal Scholar Program were originally chosen according to reputation. Both Phillips Andover and Phillips Exeter were among the schools initially picked, based on recommendations citing them as outstanding prep schools with rigorous academics. According to John P. Rorke, Director of the Orientation Program for the Royal Thai Scholars Program, PA has hosted at least one Thai scholar every year for the past 15 years. Mr. Rorke estimated that PA has hosted about 50 students over the years. “Whom we send depends on our numbers and on the space available in the schools. Basically, how many we can send and how many you can take,” explained Tawatchai Piyarat, who works in the Office of Educational Affairs at the Royal Thai Embassy. As a rule, the program sends no more than two students to a given school, and preferably only one. “If we send one, they will learn to speak English better. If we send two, they will speak Thai with one another. At the same time, [if there are two at one school,] they will have the support of the other,” Piyarat explained. Students who are not very familiar with English are sent to schools with strong English as a Second Language programs, and all the scholars go through an orientation to prepare them for an entirely English-language American culture.