A Political Scientist in Development: An Interview with Kaan Jittiang

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Kaan (right) at graduation with his mentor.

Hi Kaan, tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? What brought you to the Elliott School?

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My name is Bhanubhatra Jittiang, but most of my friends call me “Kaan”. In Thailand, where I’m from, almost everyone has both a real name and a nickname. Kaan is a shorter version of my Thai nickname—Kaankaew.

Before coming to the Elliott School, I was living in Thailand. I graduated with a B.A. in Political Science in 2011 from Chulalongkorn University and then spent two years working towards my Ph.D. in Political Science at the same institution, until I completed my coursework and passed the qualified examination. I was also a teaching and a research assistant. I came to DC because I was granted a scholarship from the Royal Thai Government to pursue graduate studies abroad. After finishing both the Master and PhD, I’m required by the scholarship to work as a university lecturer in Thailand.

I chose the IDS program at the Elliott School because I wanted to study development in Washington, DC, a center for international affairs. While I will be working in academia in the future, the IDS program gives me a chance to gain practical knowledge and expertise. I think this is very important because it will allow me to understand the practical limitations to theory. I’ve chosen democracy and governance as my concentration and want to learn about development from a political scientist’s perspective.

 You have decided to write a thesis instead of completing the capstone. Why? Tell us a little about your topic.

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Enjoying Washington, D.C. with friends

It was a big decision to opt-out the capstone and choose to write a thesis. I hope to gain a strong research background for my doctoral studies.  More importantly, working on the thesis will allow me to deeply investigate the topic in which I am particularly interested.

I will investigate the No-Dam Movement, an environmental movement in Thailand. I am researching how social media is used to gain supporters, mobilize them offline, and to urge the government to reconsider its plan to construct a dam in a national forest area.

The case study that I will investigate in Thailand is interesting because  social media has never before played such a vital role in mobilizing popular support for an environmental cause, especially to urge the government to reconsider its plans and to halt the construction of a dam. This topic will allow me learn more about social movements, social media, and environmental politics, topics that are not seriously investigated in Thailand. I hope my education in the US will provide me with expertise on these issues so I can contribute more in my home country when I return.

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Kaan participates in the Young Leaders Program, The 25th Asia – Pacific Roundtable

How has it been adjusting to life in Washington DC? What are some of the challenges to being an international student? What are the benefits?

Although I previously lived in the US for a year long student exchange from 2005 – 2006, I was still afraid of re-adjusting to life in the US before arriving last year. However, living in Washington, DC has not been difficult for me because it is a very international city. I can easily find foods and other things that I prefer. Moreover, living in DC allows me to meet, talk to, and exchange views with new people who have various backgrounds and come from several countries around the world.

The biggest challenge for me is that I do not like living in a busy city (though I had lived in Bangkok for several years before coming to the US). I have to balance the time that I spend in the city and the time that I go out to the countryside. Luckily, I can easily escape to the forest in DC since there are several huge green spaces located in and around the city.

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