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Thai Student Organization hosts Thai Festival to celebrate and share culture

Students and community members were brought together by Thai culture this Saturday at the Multicultural Student Center

Attendees were tasked with writing their name in Thai using printed alphabet guides for assistance.
Attendees were tasked with writing their name in Thai using printed alphabet guides for assistance.

The smell of warm Thai food diffused in the air as Thai alphabet guides littered the tables of the Multicultural Student Center. In the corner of the space sat a mass of brightly colored traditional clothing ready to be worn. Roughly 60 students and community members flooded into this anticipatory atmosphere, eager to experience the Thai Student Organization’s Thai Festival this past Saturday. 

Founded in 1998, TSO is a cultural organization on Grounds that welcomes students of all backgrounds to join and seeks to celebrate and retain Thai culture and traditions. The group also spreads awareness of Thai culture and emphasizes cultural continuity.

“[TSO is] a second home for new Thai students,” said Proud Tantasathien, fourth-year College student and TSO president. “TSO raises awareness and introduces the culture and tradition to people in the U.Va. and Charlottesville community.” 

In the past, the organization has held a vast array of events and fundraisers including HoosShare — TSO’s Campaign for COVID-19 relief in Thailand — which occurred this past summer from July 28 to Aug. 6 and raised over $4000. 

The Thai Festival kicked off at 2 p.m. with a presentation by Tantasathien on Thai culture and TSO’s history and mission of retaining this culture for Thai students at the University. During the speech, Tantasathien informed students about basic Thailand facts and geography, as well as cultural components of Thailand such as the temples and Chut Thai — the traditional Thai costume. Tantasathien also briefly reviewed basic Thai phrases such as “Hello” and “I love you,” noting patterns within the language.

Second-year College student Sophia Wilbourn valued the presentation.

“I love learning about other cultures and experiencing their traditions and food and in general some of their history,” Wilbourn said. “I was very happy [that] there was a really cool presentation.”

A series of activities intended to get attendees to engage more actively with Thai culture took place following the presentation. The first activity was centered around the language. Armed with markers and a blank sheet of paper, attendees were tasked with writing their name in Thai using printed alphabet guides for assistance.

“Writing your name in Thai always gets a lot of attention because names are tied to your identity,” Tantasathien said. “We want to promote our language and get people excited about it. We want to invite them by helping them write their name in Thai.”

After the language activity, attendees were invited to try on traditional Thai clothing called Chut Thai. Chut Thai offered at the event was diverse. Colors ranged from blue, white, red, orange and gold. The brightly colored pieces were also of varying fabric textures and patterns. Some were reflective, others were of satin and a few were intricately patterned. 

Chut Thai pieces available to be tried on at the event included Sabai, a shawl-like piece of fabric worn over the shoulder, Chong Kben, a lower-body garment, and Sinh, a long skirt worn by women. 

Attendees were free to try on the clothing as they pleased. TSO executive members explained each garment in detail as they assisted attendees in correct wear. Attendees also had the option to have a photo taken of them once they were fully dressed in Chut Thai.

The clothing was brought from Thailand by past TSO members spanning as far back as 2007. Tantasathien emphasized the importance of continuing to pass down the legacy of Thai alumni and ensuring current members are provided the opportunity to pass down their own legacies. 

Beyond clothing donations, TSO members preserve the legacy of Thai students at the University through sharing their unique culture with non-Thai students.

“I love learning about other cultures,” Wilbourn said. “I love talking to people from those cultures. It is a much more direct communication when you hear it from the source.”

As attendees were reuniting with old faces, meeting new ones and trying on the clothing, the food was plated. This complimentary Thai cuisine was catered by local Charlottesville Thai restaurant Monsoon Siam. Dishes included a papaya salad, pad thai and spring rolls. Once invited to grab a plate, attendees eagerly dug in and resumed their socializing. 

At this point the festival was nearing its end, but some attendees were not ready for the fun to finish. Those who wished to extend the festivities played “mon sunpa,” a Thai version of Duck Duck Goose. 

When the time finally came for the festivities to conclude, attendees filed out in large groups, stomachs full and hearts content. First-year College student Hannah Saglimbeni shared what the event meant to her as a non-member.

“I liked all of it,” Saglimbeni said. “I liked writing my name in Thai, and they dressed me in cultural dress and the food. It was all good.”

The Thai Festival was made possible by TSO and the Lorna Sundberg International Center —  a division of the International Studies Office which offers enriching programs for the University’s International community and provides opportunities for intercultural interactions within the University and the Charlottesville community. 

Students can get involved with the International Center by registering for events listed on their website. Their next upcoming event is a Charlottesville City Market Outing Saturday. During this event, International Center guides will assist students in transportation to and from the farmer’s market and even buy students a sample from one of the vendors at the market.

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