Return to Thailand

Raphael “Raffi” Sweet ’12, of Lexington, Mass., has won a Fulbright Scholarship to teach English in Thailand, which he first became intrigued by in 2010 while studying abroad in Bhutan.

“English fluency brings the possibility of access, opportunity and entry into the global community,” Sweet wrote in his Fulbright essay. “An English Teaching Assistantship in Thailand will allow me to play a role in helping students to improve their English reading, writing and speaking skills and ultimately gain access to more opportunities.”

In additional to teaching, Sweet plans to immerse himself in the Thai culture. He got a small taste in 2010 when he took a short vacation there after studying abroad at Royal Thimphu College in Bhutan.

“The trip to Thailand consisted of visits to temples, shrines, markets and other centers of Thai culture. Although we remained in Bangkok, I came in contact with several individuals who had moved from the more rural areas of Thailand in search of education and work opportunities. Their stories made me want to explore other areas of the country.”

During his semester in Bhutan with seven other Wheaton students, Sweet gained experience that will be helpful during his Fulbright. He worked as a tutor in the Royal Thimphu College writing center and interned at a radio station, where he co-hosted a weekly talk show that required him to be creative and collaborative.

The Wheaton College (Norton, Mass.) psychology major says he plans to bring creativity to the classroom to develop a comfortable and enriching environment for his students.

“The way in which I know that a student understands a concept is how well they are able to make connections to other concepts we have studied,” he said. “Promoting participation and hands-on activities can best establish these connections. Lessons that use skits, cross-cultural sharing and debates will enrich our exchange, and encourage students to learn together.

“It is this sense of confidence and collaboration within a diverse learning environment that will make English comprehension and use easier for students. …I also plan to provide meeting time outside of the classroom to build connections with individuals and adapt to different learning needs.”

No doubt his mindfulness research experiences with Professor of Education Mary Lee Griffin will supply him with the tools needed to help students focus.

He has been an Education Department research assistant since 2009, working with Professor Griffin to develop mediation programs for students in grades K-12. This academic year, he has been acting as a teaching assistant and technical advisor for Griffin’s current First-Year Seminar, helping to create digital stories that fuse technology, personal narratives and mindfulness.

He also has been offering mindfulness “services” to students on campus to help them de-stress and relax, especially as they prepare for exams.

Professors who have worked with Sweet describe him as engaging, adaptable, friendly and able to easily connect across cultures.

“Raffi Sweet is the strongest student I have taught in my twelve years at Wheaton,” says Griffin. “He has had a number of classroom and extracurricular experiences, which attest to his insatiable curiosity, diversity of interests, and willingness to explore new territory, no matter where he find himself.”

A member of two honor societies—Phi Beta Kappa and Psi Chi—he has twice earned the President’s Award, in 2009 and 2011, for maintaining a 3.9 GPA. He also has been on the dean’s list for six semesters.

On campus he also has been heavily involved in volunteer work and extra curricular activities, including serving as co-chair of the Wheaton College Hearing Board; working in the Admission Office interviewing prospective students and serving as a tour guide; and singing with the a cappella group the Gentlemen Callers for four years.

After his Fulbright year, Sweet plans to apply to graduate school. “I am sure that this Fulbright opportunity will allow me to increase my real-world experience and expand the perspectives that I develop in Thailand. More importantly, it will allow me to hone in on my passions, find what truly excites me, and apply to a graduate program that is representative of my accomplishments and plans.”