It was near Pelican Rapids last week that the group of students from Udon Thani University, Thailand, stopped. There was about three inches of snow on the ground, and they just had to get out and roll around.
"I'd never seen snow before," said Dr. Paisal Nanudron, the director of the graduate school at Udon Thani Rajabhat University in Udon Thani, Thailand.
"It was funny to watch," said Education Professor Dr. Sharon Kabes, who was with the group for a visit to Brainerd. "Everyone got out and played in the snow."
Nanudron and 26 others from Thailand are visiting SMSU for three weeks. It marks the fifth straight year that a delegation from Udon Thani has visited SMSU.
Twenty-two doctoral students and five advisers are being hosted at SMSU. The students represent a trio of Ph.D. programs at Udon Thani Rajabhat University, and they have been taking a one-credit course at SMSU while visiting area schools, organizations and businesses.
Nanudron has been impressed with the way Americans take care of one another. During their trip to Brainerd, they attended a church raffle and donated a scarf that brought $50 to help a needy family. He was impressed.
Visits to Central Lakes College in Brainerd and Minnesota West Community and Technical College have been educational, he said.
"It has been interesting to see how the educational system can provide many jobs and skills, especially for young people," he said. The province of Udon Thani has four such technical colleges, he said, which offer six-month, one-year and two-year degrees.
Thailand's population will be aging, just like the U.S., in the near future, said Nanudron.
"We need a better health system, our needs are increasing ever year," he said. "It's been interesting to see how disabilities are handled here."
Disabled individuals "are taken care of" in the U.S., he said.
"In Thailand, many, I think, lead a harder life,"?he said.
He is very interesting in the systemic approach he sees in the U.S., as it relates to businesses and groups.
"There's a vision, a mission and a very systemic approach. There is pooling of resources, of money, of people, and it's interesting how people collaborate and cooperate. They talk about it, and follow through on it," he said.
The educational systems in the U.S. are similar to those in Thailand as far as grades, length of the school year, etc.
"We are nearly the same. One thing they can't copy is culture, how people think and act and work together,"?he said.
Nanudron believes that learning from the past is important in moving toward the future.
"Knowledge is power," he said. "You can live without an eye, a hand, a lung, but you can't live without fresh air, clean water, fish. So what is the meaning of life? It's what is the truth."
As far as technology is concerned, there's a huge digital divide in his country as it relates to children in rural settings versus those in large cities.
"In remote areas, you have one teacher, teaching every subject, and they're responsible for all the grades, elementary to high school," he said. "It's not that way in the city."
One knock he does have on the U.S. educational system is that it may be a bit too rigid overall.
"Too systemic, without much flexibility," he said.
The trip to the U.S., his first, has been a real eye-opener. The group has had to deal with temperatures they're not used to and eat food that's a bit foreign to their palates. Still, it's been an experience of a lifetime.
"It's exceeded all of my expectations," he said.