October 19, 2018

Webster Thailand campus monitors protests for potential effects to Bangkok and Cha-Am campuses

Jon Strauser, a student from Webster’s Webster Groves campus, was notified earlier this week that one of his first classes at Webster’s Cha-Am, Thailand campus was cancelled. The course’s instructor had to cancel the first session of the class because they were stuck in Bangkok due to protests in the city.

Tens of thousands of protesters spent the night on the streets in Bangkok Monday night, according to CNN. The demonstrations, which have been going on for a couple months now, aim to force Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign. CNN reported that Monday’s demonstration was the first of a planned month-long protest.

Strauser said he was told the professor should return by next week. He said he and his friends were holding off on some of their travel plans — that involve flying out of Bangkok — until after the February elections in Thailand were over. He also hopes to spend time in Bangkok after the protests stop.

Webster Thailand Director Ratish Thakur said in an email interview that Webster will continue classes unless they feel the safety of students, faculty and staff is at risk. He said the protests thus far have been kept peaceful and that most of the country is unaffected.

Webster’s main Thailand campus is in Cha-Am, which is about 160 miles south of Bangkok. Webster’s graduate classes are taught out of Bangkok Center, which serves around 60 graduate students. Thakur said Webster has been monitoring the protests and taking advice from outside parties including the U.S. Embassy and the American Chamber of Commerce.

Alexis Wolf, international relations major at Webster’s Bangkok campus, told The Journal in December that she has seen protestors near Webster’s Bangkok campus, but they never made her feel unsafe. She has lived in Thailand for two years.

Thakur said Webster plans to relocate the graduate classes to Cha-Am if the situation in Bangkok becomes dangerous.

“We will treat the situation with the seriousness it deserves, we consider a rational and balanced analysis as important,” Thakur said. “We take each day as it comes, monitor what is happening and then make appropriate decisions.”

Strauser said students and teachers in Cha-Am haven’t said much about the protests and do not seem worried. He said being around the local students in Cha-Am has made the study abroad students more comfortable.

“I think a few of us are skeptical about going up there right now, especially after Monday,” Strauser said. “The students in Cha-Am made it seem like it wasn’t really a big deal so it made us more relaxed.”

Strauser said he has read some media coverage of the protests but not a lot. He said he does not know how intense the protests are capable of becoming.

CNN also reported that several of the rally sites are in popular tourist areas, although several areas of the city are unaffected. Protests are mainly held near government buildings.

The U.S. Embassy in Thailand advised U.S. citizens to avoid demonstrations and be aware of their surroundings in a Jan. 10 security message on the Embassy’s website.

“While protests have been generally peaceful over the last two months, some have resulted in injury and death. Even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can turn confrontational, and can escalate into violence without warning,” the Jan. 10 message stated.

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