Professor seeks more understanding of Southeast Asia culture

by Jessica Weaver

The world is professor Gerald Fry’s classroom, and now he’s trying to bring that experience to his students.

Twelve years of world travels inspired Fry to teach a course on Southeast Asia at the University. Fry first traveled to Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer and worked in 10 Southeast Asian countries over 50 years.

Fry’s course is part of an $899,935 grant from the Archibald Bush Foundation to the University in 2001 to increase study abroad and international curriculum. The Archibald Bush Foundation is a private organization based in St. Paul.

The University is also using the grant to develop internationally focused classes and to increase the number of students studying abroad.

Fry’s course, called “Understanding Southeast Asia: An Intercultural/Interdisciplinary Policy Perspective,” aims to enhance students’ understanding of Southeast Asia as a distinct and unique region of the world, Fry said.

“Minnesota seemed to have so little on Southeast Asia, yet so many students from that area,” Fry said. “The media presents Southeast Asia in a distorted way.”

Fry said he uses case studies to help students understand the countries’ economies and political systems. He said the class is a diverse group, with many students from Southeast Asia.

“It provides for a very good mix,” Fry said. “Then (students) can contribute to their experiences to the class.”

Fry said he also hopes to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to go into education and increase K-12 international curricula.

Van-Trang Nguyen, a master of education student, said she took the course because of her interest in educational systems.

“I’m interested in understanding the educational system in America and other educational systems,” Nguyen said.

Fry said he hopes the course will encourage students to continue studying Southeast Asia and eventually travel there.

“I think if you spend time in the region, you naturally want to share about that experience,” Fry said.

Students said they benefit from Fry’s diverse experiences and respect him for it.

“He’s one of the rare Americans who has made tremendous amounts of effort to learn about the local cultures,” said Haesook Koo, a doctoral student in education.