In a dark panelled room an audience watches, mesmerised.
They are following the movements of a piphat (a musical ensemble comprised of traditional Thai instruments) being played by a young Thai-Australian music group.
The performers play at the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Southeast Asian Frontiers (SEAF) course, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific’s longest-running overseas study tour, which has taken over 100 students across Thai-Myanmar borderlands.
On the course, students consult with everyone from diplomats to youth groups on a range of complex, confronting and interesting issues facing the two countries. Students also dabble in Thai, Shan and Burmese, in an effort to build connections with local communities.
The enormous effort is led by veteran language teacher, Ajarn (teacher) Chintana Sandilands, affectionately regarded by all in the room as ‘a force of nature’.
The course’s success is a product of her passion and in-country connections.
“Imagine being able to go and get a lengthy and detailed briefing from the whole leadership team of a major Thai province,” one former student said.
“Or being able to talk to Thailand’s most prominent human rights defenders, or the head of a new protest movement all over the news.”
Such is the influence of Ajarn Chintana.
For her, the most important part of the course is the human element.
“Students today receive all kinds of news and information very rapidly,” she said.
“But I wanted to create a course that would take students out of the classroom and allow them to see the world for themselves and to give them the freedom to ask their own questions.”
And ask questions they did.
Another past student, Gill, spoke of how her time on SEAF changed the course of her life. Gill’s experiences with Ajarn Chintana propelled her to pursue a longer in-country course in Thailand, arranged by Ajarn Chintana. To this day, her time with Ajarn influences are jewellery design and teaching methods.
And so it was with warm affection that the successive generations of SEAF, scattered across the room applauded their beloved mentor.
In the words of Associate Dean (Development and Impact) Dr Nicholas Farrelly, the course is special for a reason.
“Your eyes are opened to Southeast Asia, the social and political issues of great magnitude and to the world, to humanity, to different ways of thinking and doing.”
By CAP Student Correspondent Georgie Juszczyk.