Professor builds cultural bridge to Thailand

Photo: Communication Studies Professor Thomas Knutson
Communication Studies Professor Thomas Knutson

Thanks to Communication Studies Professor Thomas Knutson, Sacramento State has a connection to Thai royalty.

Through Knutson’s dedicated efforts to provide a memorable work and study abroad experience, four Sacramento State students have spent the past year assisting in the English language program at Chitralada Royal Palace School in Bangkok, Thailand. And the rare experience has not gone unnoticed. Knutson recently received the 2007 Award for Outstanding Contributions to International Education from Phi Beta Delta, the honor society for international scholars.

Knutson’s activities to enable the University’s students to study and work abroad, as well as his research on rhetorical sensitivity and the role it plays in interpersonal communication between people from different cultures, were the key reasons he received the award.

In early 2006, Professor Knutson heard that the Royal Palace School needed English language teaching assistants. He enlisted the help and support of Professor Richard Adams of the English Department and, after a lot of paperwork and more than a few phone calls, they were able to secure four places for Sacramento State students at the royal school last May.

“Chitralada officials had high praise and not a single complaint about our students,” says Knutson. “It was a real tribute to the fine caliber of Sacramento State’s students.”

The Thai school, situated within the grounds of the royal family’s Bangkok residence, admits students from all walks of life and social levels. It has 1,700 students, ranging in age from elementary through high school.

Before the students went to Thailand, they were required to enroll in a “pre-departure program” which familiarized them with Thai cultural values and effective interpersonal communication behaviors. Knutson, who has had more than 100 articles published about interpersonal communication, had a wealth of knowledge to share with the departing students.

“I wanted to impress strongly upon them the most important Thai value, social harmony,” says Knutson. “Thais live in a collective, high-context culture and have a genuine desire to relate properly to the person with whom they are communicating. Thai communicators take every measure possible not to cause discomfort or inconvenience to the people with whom they interact.”

Knutson, who recently made his 34th trip to Thailand, knows what an incredible opportunity awaits the students chosen to make the trip. “Thailand is a remarkable place called the Land of Smile. Most people who have visited Thailand find that the experience changes their lives for good, forever,” he says. The Sacramento State students working as English assistants at the Chitralada Royal Palace School receive a monthly stipend, accommodations, round-trip airfare, and college credits. “Most of all, they receive a life-changing experience,” Knutson says.