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“Celebrating 20 Years of SEASREP and Southeast Asian Studies” was held (SEASREP)

update:February 5, 2016

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Audience of the Plenary Session

On 4-5 November 2015, SEASREP (Southeast Asian Studies Regional Exchange Program) celebrated two decades of engagement in Southeast Asian studies with a symposium aptly titled “Celebrating 20 Years of SEASREP and Southeast Asian Studies” at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, with support from the Toyota Foundation and the Japan Foundation Asia Center.  The symposium brought together former SEASREP grantees, as well as graduate students, researchers and academics from universities, research institutes and non-profit organizations from within the region and other countries, including Japan. Bound by their common interest in Southeast Asia as a region and its individual countries, the participants actively took part in more than 80 presentations in 25 panels, film showings and roundtable discussions.

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Speakers of the Plenary Session
(from the left: Danny Wong, Maria
Serena I. Diokno, Charnvit Kasetsiri,
Taufik Abdullah, Maitrii Victoriano Aung-Thwin,
Morragotwong Phumplab, Misael Racines)

The SEASREP founding members – Taufik Abdullah of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Charnvit Kasetsiri of Thammasat University, Maria Serena Diokno of the University of the Philippines – opened the symposium by sharing their personal and professional journeys in Southeast Asian studies. They looked back at their mentors, as well as books and events that shaped their perspectives of the region and how eventually they came together and formed what is now known as the SEASREP Foundation. Sorely missed from the session is another founding member, Shaharil Talib of the University of Malaya, who was not able to attend for personal reasons. When they established SEASREP twenty years ago, according to the three founding members, scholars in the region have little knowledge on their neighboring countries. Unlike the robust academic offerings on Southeast Asia in universities in the United States, Europe and Australia, there were only few universities in the region, which offered Southeast Asia as a field of study. Driven by their desire to fill in this gap, they sought the help of Toyota and Japan Foundations, which they felt were interested in their ideas, on how their plan can be realized.

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One of Panel Sessions

The first meeting was held in Kuala Lumpur in May 1994 to design the program and this was followed by two more planning sessions in Ayutthaya (January 1995) and Bandung (August 1995) before SEASREP finally put together its vision for Southeast Asian studies in a meeting in Manila in November 1995. During the past twenty years, more than 500 grants were given to Southeast Asian undergraduate and postgraduate students, academics and researchers in the region. Many of whom are now leading scholars and administrators of Southeast Asian studies program in the region. While there is still much to be done in Southeast Asian studies in the region, the founding members felt it is now time to pass on the baton to the next generation of scholars in the region to continue their work.

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Borobudul Temple

It is but fitting that the talks by the founding members were followed by three young researchers on Southeast Asian studies, all of whom are SEASREP alumni, – Danny Wong of the University of Malaya, Morragotwong Phumplab, Thammasat University, and Misael Racines, Australian National University – who also shared and reflected on how they became interested in studying another country in the region Vietnam for Danny and Morragotwong, and Indonesia for Misael, and they were extremely grateful to SEASREP for supporting their interests. On the last day of the symposium, Misael led young scholars from Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam in announcing and launching two new platforms for the continuing promotion of Southeast Asian studies in the region. The first, is the creation of the Southeast Asian Studies Association in Southeast Asia (SEAs in SEA), a regional organization which aims to bring together scholars on Southeast Asian studies in the region and the second is the online Regional Journal of Southeast Asian Studies (RJSEAS), which will serve as venue for the exchange, publication and dissemination of scholarly works on the region.

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Launch of RJSEAS and SEAS in SEA at the
Candi Borobudul site

With a bright promise for what SEASREP has planted twenty years ago, the symposium’s final session explored new approaches in Southeast Asian studies through the presentations of prominent Thai scholar, Thanet Aphornsuvan of Thammasat University and emerging Filipino scholar, Rommel Curaming of University Brunei Darussalam. The two presentations urged young scholars in the region to draw from the experiences of the past and challenges of the present in defining the futures of the region where they live as well as of Southeast Asian study in the region.

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