The Wire @ WPI Online
VOLUME 12, NO. 3     MAY 1999

From left, Kowalik and Peter Chin discuss their IQP with Anond Snidvongs of SEAStart.

Editor's Note: During the winter, 30 students spent seven weeks at the Bangkok Project Center completing nine Interactive Qualifying Projects addressing such issues as environmental quality, sustainable farming practices, and the problems of poverty. Among them was Sean Kowalik (at left), a junior majoring in electrical engineering, With Peter Chin, '00 and Amanda Santos '00, he constructed a detailed computer model of the river basins of Southeast Asia that integrated information about the biophysical and human impacts on these waterways.

Sean and his partners undertook a very ambitious project that required a great deal of technical knowledge and an appreciation of the complex interactions between human activity and river basin dynamics," says Richard F. Vaz, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, who co-advised the Bangkok projects with Karen A. Lemone, associate professor of computer science. "Their results will provide researchers and policy-makers with a valuable tool to better understand how changes in human activity affect water supplies and vice-versa."

While in Bangkok, Kowalik sent the following letter to The Wire, describing the wonder and the challenges of living and working in a culture and nation so different from his Massachusetts home:

"Bangkok. Only halfway around the world and it almost seems like I'm in a different one. Cars travel in the wrong direction and on the wrong side of the road, smog and traffic cloud the air and the streets, and the interesting variety of new, pungent smells never ceases to amaze me.

Then there are those magnificent beaches, the friendly smiles and, of course, sunshine. Thailand is such a beautiful country, but pictures can never capture the best parts: the sounds of music echoing from a nearby wat (temple), the smells from the local vendor's cart as he pushes his wares along the road, and the unceasing sounding of horns as cabbies drive by wondering if you want a ride.

We have had access to anything we needed for our work-almost at the drop of a hat. Within two weeks of our arrival we were already scheduled to tour parts of the Northeast Region to gather data for our model. The trip took us to Ubon Ratchathani Province, then north along the Mekong River to Nong Khai on the border with Laos. It exposed us to a side of Thailand we had never seen. I was able to try many new foods and was allowed to make an offering to the Buddha during a huge festival celebrating the wat's existence. With drums beating, horns screeching, and colors flashing everywhere, it was a truly unforgettable experience.

And who could forget the open-air train ride home? How fascinating it was to see the farmers at work burning chaff at midnight, the blazes seeming to rage out of control. There were smells and sounds of the outdoors we couldn't hear during our air-conditioned ride to Ubon. This trip also introduced us to so many wonderful and talented people like Wanwalai Anthivatpong, vice president for planning and development at Ubon Ratchathani University, and Suraphit Phuphak, of the university's agriculture faculty. They were so kind and helpful in guiding us to what we needed.

Thailand is such a wonderful place, and my experiences here are like none I have ever had. I have come to realize just how fortunate I really am, and that my project may somehow give the people of Thailand the knowledge and capability to be able to afford themselves the same comforts. It is just a small token of my appreciation for their hospitality and generosity, and for making me feel like Thailand would always be my home away from home."

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Last modified: Tue June 22 10:04:51 EDT 1999