Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
As an American of no particular faith, it nonetheless feels perfectly normal to share this cultural greeting with the utmost sincerity in June 2017. Despite our differences, and the challenges that continue to perplex us, I believe that we remain bound by a common humanity that can transcend division and promises a better future for all. And so, as the season of Ramadan draws to a close, please accept my very best wishes to people of all faith traditions, ethnicities, genders, creeds, languages, orientations, and other backgrounds for a peaceful year ahead.
You may wonder why I greeted you with a specifically Muslim salutation, and how I ended up here at the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University? Like all of the Peace Fellows who have been so fortunate to find their way here, I was incredibly happy to learn this past year of my acceptance to this unique Rotary International certificate program (the only one of its kind in the world). In fact, it came as the perfect complement to the educational fieldwork I had been doing here in Asia for the past 10 months.
From last summer, I had the pleasure of serving as a WorldTeach volunteer at the Asian University for Women (AUW), a dynamic institution in Chittagong, Bangladesh that serves to educate bright and diverse young women in the liberal arts tradition. Including Bangladesh, students come to study from 15 different countries- from Bhutan to Afghanistan, Sri Lanka to Syria, Myanmar to Palestine. They bring an unbelievable amount of energy and enthusiasm to classes, along with their own cultural traditions. I taught in the Pathways for Promise program, which helps to prepare young women for the academic rigors of a university education. My students were from various underprivileged communities, including former garment factory workers, Chittagong Hill Tract minority group members, and Rohingya refugees.
It was my first time to live and teach in a majority Muslim country, as well as in South Asia, which brought its own period of adjustment and culture shock on my part. Although I had lived in Mexico and Japan (as a JET Program participant in Nagasaki and later as a Rotary Peace Fellow earning my MA in Tokyo), Bangladesh was much more of a developing country by comparison and presented its own set of challenges. Nonetheless, I really loved teaching there and I grew to love all my students as well. Although I have no children of my own, I pretty often felt like the father of 15 exceptionally independent and funny daughters all at once!
As a follow-on to this remarkable experience in Bangladesh, I was also elated to learn that I had been awarded my place in Class 23 of the Rotary Peace Fellows here at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. After serving in Bangladesh, I knew it would be another great opportunity to deepen my practical knowledge of peace and conflict studies while continuing to broaden my regional focus on the different areas of the vast Asian continent. I am eternally thankful to Rotary International for having granted me this ideal chance, as well as my sponsor district in the US (7770) and my host district in Bangkok (3350).
Unlike most Peace Fellows who have studied here at Chulalongkorn, I have also had the good fortune to serve as a Rotary Peace Fellow once before. From 2010-12, I was a Fellow at International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo, Japan. I was quite happy to have been selected to earn my MA in Peace Studies there in Japan, and I made truly brilliant friends and colleagues during my two years at ICU and beyond. Over the span of two years, I took many interesting classes, as well as two internships and one disaster relief experience in northeast Japan after the earthquake and tsunami disaster on 2011.
In the years between my graduation from ICU and my arrival here in Bangkok, my life’s path took me first to NYC. Continuing both my Japan and ICU connections, I worked to support ICU through the Japan ICU Foundation in NYC for the next four years. It was tremendously fulfilling and I learned a lot of invaluable insight about how foundations operate. I also lived at International House NY and stayed active in local Rotary clubs in the area. However, I realized that I needed more education-based fieldwork in my career path, outside of major metropolises like Tokyo and NYC, so I was motivated to seek out my volunteer opportunity at AUW in Bangladesh.
Following on my year of service with AUW, I am particularly humbled to continue on my path of discovery in Asia, in this new role as a Rotary Peace Fellow here in Thailand. I am absolutely thrilled to be part of 24 amazing colleagues from 20 different countries across our shared planet, as well as our absolutely outstanding faculty and staff here at the Rotary Peace Center in Bangkok. Entering into our third week, we have already had some invaluable lectures, readings, and workshops in areas like trauma, self-care, gender and peace, and various conflict analysis models. Moving forward, we will continue to integrate this excellent knowledge on practical peacebuilding from our visiting professors into our own individual conflict analysis models and presentations.
Last, but certainly not least, please allow me to thank all of the wonderful members of Rotary International who make these unique Rotary Peace Fellowships possible. Without you and your extremely generous financial support, none of us from classes 1 to 23 ever would have been here.
Thank you and “Khob Khun Krup” from Chulalongkorn University!
Mark Flanigan – USA
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 23