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2009 SAILers

The SAIL program will launch its inaugural eight-week trip this June, and the response has been enthusiastic, especially among young Lao Americans. The program has six energetic students who are ready to immerse themselves in the Lao culture. Our Program Leader, Samantha Miller, who lived in Laos for four years and is conversant in the Lao language, will accompany and assist the SAILers throughout their eight-week stay. The SAILers pictures and bios along with the Program Leader's are below.


Vatsana B.


Vatsana hails from Los Angeles, but was born in Laos. Her family has the distinction of being one of the only (if not the first) families to settle in Connecticut when they came to the U.S. in the early 1970’s. One of Vatsana’s goals is to be more involved in the Lao community, especially to be a positive role model for young Lao girls. She hopes that by participating in the SAIL program she will be able to teach younger Lao-American generations about their culture and bring a strong female perspective – one she finds lacking in the Lao community. She is also excited about the opportunity to learn together with peers and colleagues on the SAIL program and gain a better understanding of her Lao identity.

Vatsana, 36, holds an MA in Special Education from Cal State Northridge, where she was a member of the International Honor Society, Phi Lambda Theta, and has a BFA in Theater Arts from University of Arizona, Tucson. She is a credentialed educator of special education and is currently a full-time Special Educator at CHIME Charter Elementary school in Los Angeles – nationally recognized as a leader in inclusive education – where she teaches grades two through five. Passionate about providing opportunities for children, especially those with disadvantages, to learn and receive the same treatment as those without disadvantages, Vatsana strives to teach others how to support and educate those with disabilities. Vatsana has held several teaching positions in general and special education at elementary, charter, and high schools.

In addition to speaking Lao proficiently, Vatsana speaks fluent French. As an actor, she toured nationally in a one-woman show entitled “Faces of America” for which she won an Outstanding Achievement Award.  She has taught ESL and Acting and has volunteered for several social causes, including the AIDS Walk. Click here to read Vatsana's blog.

Amy B.


Although not of Lao heritage, Amy has come to learn much about Laos and Lao culture through her friendship with a Lao family in her native Wisconsin. Being close to the family has given her opportunities to tell people about the country and answer questions such as Where is Laos again? and What language do they speak there? The lack of knowledge among the American general public about Laos lead to her interest in the SAIL program. Her goal as a participant is to educate herself in order to increase interest and awareness about the country. She also plans to use the program as a basis for anthropological study and knows that learning the local language is the first step in doing so.

Amy, 20, is currently working towards a BS from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in Anthropology. She is a Conversational English Program Coordinator for the Greater University Tutoring Service at the university, which matches native English speakers with ESL students. In this capacity, she organizes and plans events for participants, and has been credited for helping grow and improve the program. Her cross-cultural and interpersonal experience includes working as a caregiver for a 20 year-old with delayed development, assisting at a nursing home, and interning for the International Learning Community where she planned volunteer activities for residents.  She has also been the recipient of several academic grants, including the Academic Excellence Scholarship from the state of Wisconsin. Her long term future plans include continuing her anthropology studies in graduate school.

Amy enjoys belly-dancing and playing the ukulele – skills we expect her to teach other SAIL participants and new Lao friends!  The SAIL program will be Amy’s first overseas travel experience. Click here to read Amy's blog.

Sandra S.


Although a child of mixed heritage (her father is Lao) Sandra grew up learning more about other Asian and American cultures than the Lao culture. She has taken classes in Africana, Raza, American Indian, and Asian American Studies, but has never really captured what it means to be Lao. She speaks conversational Cantonese, but basic Lao. When Sandra learned of the SAIL program, it was just what she had been looking for – the opportunity to find out about her heritage, and at the same time learn the language so she could communicate with her grandparents.  On the program, Sandra hopes to learn as much as she can and “at the same time build the bridges between language barriers and learn about the history and struggles of Lao people.”

Sandra, 29, has a double BA from San Francisco State University in Liberal Studies and Asian American Studies. She currently works at Visitacion Valley Community Beacon Center where she overseas seven youth programs in her role as Beacon Young Adolescents Coordinator and Asian Pacific Islander Community Liaison. She has worked for several youth programs, as a Senior Case Manager at Community Youth Center, and as Program Director for Vietnamese Youth Development Center. Sandra, an active and enthusiastic community volunteer, has donated her time to more than 25 organizations since 1993, including Make-A-Wish Foundation and Citywide Asian Childcare Providers Network, and has assisted in the planning of over 10 festivals, including the Asian Heritage Street Festival in San Francisco.

In addition to Cantonese and some Lao, Sandra speaks basic Thai and Mandarin and has traveled all over Asia. She lives in Daly City, CA. Click here to read Sandra's blog.

Eileen S.


Eileen is the youngest member of the program and is the only high school student admitted to the SAIL program on a special arrangement. Eileen is an American-born Chinese with a Lao father, who grew up in a diverse household, which gave her an appreciation for language and history. Entering her Senior year of high school in the Fall, Eileen has already thought about future career possibilities. With the eye of an artist, Eileen believes that art is a great way to bring awareness to young people about the outside world, and has considered one day teaching art. Her interest in art has fueled her ambition to explore and learn about other people, races, countries and languages. Learning languages has made Eileen appreciate the usefulness of computers in accessing information from all over the world, and she has even considered a path in computer science or engineering. Whatever Eileen decides to do in the future, she “plans to aim high and work as hard as I can to get there.”

In Laos, Eileen would like to volunteer as an English teacher and at the same time, learn from the viewpoints of the Lao to influence her art and design as an engineer.  Although she loves photography and capturing the emotions of what’s going on at the time, she has also explored other art forms such as origami and stained glass, which she finds provide alternate ways for people to express their emotions. She enjoys hiking and design, and lives in San Francisco. Click here to read Eileen's blog.

Brandin V.


Born to Lao and American parents, Brandin, 21, has always wanted to connect with his Lao heritage on his father’s side. Asked why he was interested in participating in the SAIL program, Brandin had this to say: “Since I was a child, I have always had my mind set on Laos, even though Laos has been an enigma all my life; even today. People always ask me where I am from, out of temerity I often say ‘America,’ however the fact that I am much more than just American pushes me to say ‘Laos.” Laos is the land of my forefathers. There is a fire inside me that burns with the desire to learn about the country in which they lived in hopes that I may in turn learn about myself.”  Brandin hopes that the SAIL program will give him the tools to communicate with his Lao grandparents living in Iowa.

In May 2009, Brandin will receive a BA in Theater Arts (with a focus in lighting and sound design) from the University of Iowa. Brandin’s future ambitions include getting a Masters in Theater Design.

When not doing theater work, Brandin can be found on a local bike path enjoying the scenery. He also speaks fluent Mandarin. The SAIL program will be Brandin’s first overseas experience. Click here to read Brandin's blog.

Yaengsaeng X.


Being among the first generation to leave Laos for the U.S., Yaengsaeng, a Tai Lue (Lao Lue) and her family had to overcome much adversity – an experience which greatly influenced her desire to help others in need. Yaengsaeng’s motivation for participating in the SAIL program is to help enrich the lives of those living in Laos, and learn from them as well. Like many SAIL participants, she wants to discover her roots, and be able to share what she experiences with Americans unaware of Lao culture and people.

Yaengsaeng, 26, holds a BS in Biochemistry from UCLA and has extensive lab skills in organic chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology and molecular biology. She is currently finishing up her prerequisite courses at Peralta College and hopes to enter into a Masters Program in Nursing in the Fall of 2010. Since 2005, she has worked as a certified Senior Product Technician at Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals in Berkeley, and in 2007, was awarded the Premier Circle Award for going above and beyond the scope of her work.

Yaengsaeng has served as a member of the Circle K Community Service Club, where she worked in a soup kitchen and as a member of the Asian Pacific Coalition, she worked with other students to create forums on educating others about diversity.  As part of Project Mac, Asian American Tutorial Project, and Wat Thai Tutorial, she served as a mentor/tutor and helped create and implement a curriculum for tutorial programs for underprivileged kids in Los Angeles.  She also volunteered at a medical center where she spent time with in-patient children. Yaengsaeng sees herself as a student of various fields, who is always enthusiastic to learn new ideas and believes that “anything is possible as long as you apply yourself.”

Yaengsaeng’s long-term career goal is to become a nurse-practitioner – perhaps a traveling nurse – and maybe one day establish a free clinic.  She lives in San Pablo, CA. Click here to read Yaengsaeng's blog.

Samantha M.

SAMANTHA M., SAIL Project Coordinator and Progam Leader

Samantha is the SAIL Project Coordinator and Program Leader for 2009. Before discovering her true calling of working with Southeast Asian cultures, particularly Lao, Samantha was a book publicist for Hyperion Publishing in New York. In this capacity she wrote and designed press materials and arranged media tours for dozens of authors. After leaving the industry and spending over a year traveling in Southeast Asia, Samantha sought a way to return to the area, and found it as an English teacher in Houay Xai, Laos with Volunteers in Asia (VIA). She later became an independent consultant for Netherlands Development Organization (SNV) in Vientiane, supporting the organization’s capacity-building initiatives. At this time she became proficient in speaking Lao. Upon returning to the U.S., Samantha obtained an M.S. in Development Management at American University (she has a B.A. in English Literature from Colgate University).

Aside from Laos, Samantha is passionate about other Southeast Asian cultures, people and causes, and has volunteered for several Asian-focused organizations on both the East and West Coast, including US Campaign for Burma, International Rescue Committee, and Refugee Transitions. In addition to her work with the Center for Lao Studies, she is Project Coordinator for the Refugee Healthy Marriage Project at Lao Family Community Development in Oakland, CA. Samantha is looking forward to leading SAIL’s inaugural trip to Vientiane, and sharing her love and knowledge of Laos with the SAIL participants. Click here to read Samantha's blog.




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