Sage Scholarship takes ASU students to Southeast Asia

For the eighth year in a row, ASU will award the Sage Family Southeast Asian Studies Scholarship to an undergraduate student for travel and study in Laos. The Sage Scholarship is a tribute to ASU alumnus William W. Sage’s interest in and lifelong work in Laos and Southeast Asia, and is in loving memory and honor of his parents, Lloyd G. and Twyla M. Sage.

Laos, a small country in Southeast Asia (about the size of the U.S. state of Utah) traces its first recorded history and its origins as a unified state to the emergence of the Kingdom of Lan Xang (literally, "million elephants") in 1353. Under the rule of King Fa Ngum, this powerful and wealthy kingdom held suzerainty (allowing limited domestic autonomy) over much of what today is Thailand and Laos.

About half the country's people are ethnic Lao, the principal lowland inhabitants as well as the politically and culturally dominant group. The Lao are descended from the Tai people who began migrating southward from China in the first millennium A.D.

The predominant religion is Theravada Buddhism. Animism is common among the mountain tribes. Buddhism and spirit worship coexist easily. There also are small numbers of Christians and Muslims. (Country information from U.S. Department of State).

About this opportunity, last year’s recipient and ASU anthropology major Pamela Kunkle says, “I was extremely honored and grateful to receive the Sage Scholarship. I spent three weeks in Laos, visiting Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Don Det. I had never been to Southeast Asia before and it was an amazing opportunity to experience the people and culture of Laos.

“I was lucky enough to meet with some of Mr. Bill Sage's contacts in Laos including a professor at the National University. Prior to my trip to Laos I had interned with ASU Collections and worked with a collection of textiles from Laos. I was interested in how tourism development had changed and altered the textile industry in Laos. Textiles and weaving are a big part of traditional Lao culture.

“I got the chance to visit and tour Carol Cassidy's studio in Vientiane, as well as many other textile galleries in Luang Prabang and Vientiane. I also learned how to weave on a loom and dye a scarf. I came away from this trip with the knowledge of how a textile is made, beginning to end.

“I was lucky enough to visit very different towns in Laos. Vientiane, the capital city, Luang Prabang, beautiful UNESCO World Heritage City, Vang Vieng, backpacker town, and Don Det, a rural town on the banks of the Mekong. The differences between these places highlighted the different stages of development tourism is in. I loved every minute of my time in Laos and cannot wait for a chance to go back.”

James Rush, a professor of history who oversees the scholarship, says that the most important thing about the scholarship is that “it provides an opportunity for an ASU student to gain an in-depth exposure to Laos during an extended study tour.

“Although recipients do execute a specific project in Laos, the larger value of the experience lies in traveling throughout the country and being exposed to its variety and beauty, becoming acclimatized to Laos’s tropical climate and human habitat, meeting and living with Lao families, and being exposed to aspects of Lao culture – including language, food, religion and social customs,” Rush says. “Travel like this can be transformative.”

Students interested in applying for the 2012 Sage Family Southeast Asian Studies Scholarship can find application materials and more information on the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies website.