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SEASSI Adventures: Summer 2017

Sean Cronan

Sean Cronan, a Cornell University junior, spent part of summer 2017 learning Thai at the Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute (SEASSI) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  

SEASSI is an 8-week intensive language immersion training program for undergraduates, graduate students, and professionals. Instruction is offered in major Southeast Asian languages: Burmese, Hmong, Indonesian, Khmer, Lao, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese. Sean became interested in SEASSI after taking a class called “Transnational Local: Histories of the Modern in Southeast Asia.” He credits the professor, Tamara Loos, for inspiring him to explore Southeast Asian Studies as part of a larger study of history, and alerting him to the existence of SEASSI. He eagerly applied and with a scholarship in hand, went off to Wisconsin.

When Sean started his summer classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it was his first time studying Thai. When asked to share the most challenging aspect of the program, he remarked, “the hardest part of the program was no doubt having to throw away English and enter the sea of the unknown in learning a new language.” He elaborated that while students could ask questions in English, they were primarily encouraged to use the target language.

Courses at SEASSI are taught at three levels, and each course is equivalent to two semesters of study. The classes are structured around speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Sean was taught by Dr. Patcharin Peyasantiwong Bickner for four hours each day. As he recalled, Dr. Patcharin would speak almost entirely in Thai even from the beginning, giving students an immersive learning environment. The course focused on communication and expression. Aacaan Patcharin used the textbook as a guide but was flexible with students’ learning styles, teaching them many words necessary for daily life. This intensive experience helped Sean quickly improve his Thai.

While his classroom experiences were valuable, Sean described a trip to Michael’s Frozen Custard (a Wisconsin favorite) for a classmate’s birthday as his most memorable experience at SEASSI. After feasting on the local treat, the students had class at the location entirely in Thai. When asked to reflect on his eight weeks in the program, Sean remarked, “SEASSI was definitely one of the best experiences of my life.” In just a few short months, he went from a complete lack of knowledge of the language to feeling comfortable reading and speaking at the conversational level. “I also had the incredible experience of finding myself outside of the language,” said Sean.

He also had some important advice to share with SEASSI applicants. In addition to encouraging students to take advantage of this unique experience, Sean had two main tips. 1) get your applications in early in case there is a problem with the post office (applicants must send in applications via mail); 2) if there is another Southeast Asian language that you would like to study that is not currently listed on the SEASSI website, contact them and see if they can work something out!

To learn more about funding opportunities to study a Southeast Asian language, go here: To apply for a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship, click here: For more information, contact SEAP's Associate Director, Thamora Fishel at: