An aspiration to be a teacher
After studying microbiology and working in medical evacuation and repatriation, a university professor is what Dr. Kraiwuth Kallawicha wanted to be. Being from Thailand, getting that job is made easier with an international Ph.D., so in 2010, Dr. Kallawicha started searching for a suitable institution to purse a Doctorate.
He first started looking at Europe. At that time Taiwanese institutions had less exposure in Thailand than they do today, but a lucky suggestion from a friend in Taiwan started Kallawicha on the path that led to the fulfillment of a decade-long dream.
Searching online turned up little information about studying in Taiwan. He did find a few lines telling international students interested in a scholarship to contact the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Thailand. Kallawicha went after the lead, and checked the information with his friend back in Taiwan. When the friend realized that TECO was talking about Taipei Medical University, he strongly encouraged Kallawicha to apply.
Dr. Kraiwuth Kallawicha attending IOHA International Scientific Conference in London in 2015
The close bond with Taipei Medical University, TMU
At first, the chances for Kallawicha to be accepted at TMU were looking slim. Growing international interest in Taiwanese programs from students from around the world meant that scholarship spots were already full. But as if it was meant to be, several students with earlier applications had to withdraw, leaving Kallawicha next in line. “I was like, ‘OK, I will do this.’ All the chances passed to me.”
Arriving as one of only four Thai medical students in TMU’s “second generation” of international students, Kallawicha was quickly welcomed with signature Taiwanese hospitality. The Ph.D. Program in School of Public Health still being in its infancy, some administrative procedures were still being finalized and documents not yet translated to English. Occasional communication hang-ups also happened in the dorm, but staff was always there to help. Kallawicha and other international students at TMU had a good relationship with the International Office (now the Office of Global Engagement) and with their help, any issues were worked out. “We were all learning together,” said Kallawicha of the process.
TMU worked hard to ensure international students felt supported. They hired a teacher to give Chinese classes, organized gatherings where local and international students could mix, and helped build inter-cultural exchange and friendships through activities like the first International Food Festival. Kallawicha’s supervisor Professor Jasmine Chao held Kallawicha’s classes in English, translating to Chinese for local students as needed. Lab members even practiced English at home just to make communication easier. “Professors in the department, everyone was really kind to students, so that made all difficulties into small things.”
Learning of Kallawicha’s goal of being a teacher, Prof. Chao began setting up the experiences he’d need to become a University lecturer. She put Kallawicha to work on teaching master’s students, reviewing journals, and for three years Kallawicha was responsible for university-wide biosafety training courses. He taught at Academia Sinica, and Prof. Chao sent Kallawicha overseas for conferences and connected him with colleagues at Harvard. That’s where Kallawicha “got all those kinds of [teaching] experiences,” he said. “It’s one of the best things I learnt from TMU.”
Dr. Kraiwuth Kallawicha (left) participated in the annual International Food Festival while studying at TMU
After five years of experience under his belt, graduating with a Ph.D. and a year of postdoc research in environmental health afterwards, Kallawicha – now Dr. Kallawicha – headed back to Bangkok and a position at Chulabhorn Graduate Institute as the first TMU alumni from Thailand to become a lecturer. After two-year teaching environmental toxicology and researching air quality, air pollution, and bio-aerosols, Dr. Kallawicha moved to another teaching position at Chulalongkorn University.
Five years have passed, and Dr. Kallawicha’s connections with friends and colleagues in Taiwan remain strong. They consult each other on research and publication. Although plans to bring Chulalongkorn students to TMU had to be postponed due to COVID-19, Dr. Kallawicha and his Taiwanese colleagues have been holding lectures for each other’s classes online.
Dr. Kallawicha’s international study and research experiences have positioned him as an academic bridge between Thailand and Taiwan. He now supervises students of his own at Chulalongkorn University: two Master’s and one PhD – and they’re all from different countries. Becoming a supervisor to Dr. Kallawicha was like a resonance to his old days at TMU. “I was familiar with international students, so I was so happy to supervise them.”
Kallawicha may be the first TMU alumni from Thailand to become a teacher, but in Dr. Kallawicha’s own words, “Soon there will be more.”