Regional General Manager, Southeast Asia
From guiding travelers on OAT's Discover Thailand adventure to becoming the Regional General Manager of our Southeast Asia offices, Rung Chatchaloemwut has worn many hats at OAT. "Since I joined the company in 1999," says Rung, "my life has changed from that of a quiet woman to a leader, from a young Trip Leader new to the American market to a high-ranking performer in the company."
In 1993, Rung obtained her tour guide's license from Bangkok's Silapakorn University, which is well known for its focus on historical arts and culture. For five years, she led tours for a Belgian-based company and then took a year-long break to study in Belgium. When she returned to Thailand in 1999, she joined Overseas Adventure Travel, which had just opened a new office in Bangkok.
A big step behind the scenes
For five years, Rung was passionate about her work as a Trip Leader—and then she decided to use her expertise in a different way when she was invited to work in the Bangkok office. "I took a big risk," Rung says, "and fortunately, it paid off!" Among her many duties as Regional General Manager, she has worked hard to add authentic learning and discovery experiences to OAT adventures—and she has helped to give back to the people of Southeast Asia by recommending eight new communities in need of support from Grand Circle Foundation.
Her adventurous spirit and appreciation for personal connections help her to relate to the people who travel with OAT—who, in turn, are eager to relate to the real Thailand. "When I travel, I love to experience anything that's new and different from my everyday life," says Rung. She makes sure that every OAT adventure in Southeast Asia is filled with the types of unique experiences that she personally enjoys when she travels—from fun modes of transportation to traditional cuisine.
"Rung is always willing to step up and try new things to make sure her travelers have an excellent experience in Thailand," says Susan Harvey, Executive Vice President of the Pacific Rim & Asia. "She's not afraid to make a decision, even if it might be a mistake." Susan also gives Rung major credit for stepping out of her comfort zone to negotiate with vendors in order to offer travelers the best value possible for their dollar. "Negotiating was not something Rung had ever done," says Susan, "but after one training trip, she took on negotiations and continues to deliver terrific value in Thailand as a result."
A proponent for the people
For Rung, though, of utmost value are opportunities to meet local people and share in their day-to-day lives. "It's a great pleasure to meet the people of Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia," says Rung. "These are all Buddhist countries, and the people are very respectful." She cites the Foundation's Day in the Life program as a great opportunity to see how the people live and to understand their daily routine and the responsibilities of running a family. "I also think it's important to see another side of the story at local schools," says Rung, who is a passionate supporter of the Foundation's World Classroom initiative.
Most recently, Rung has been instrumental in expanding the influence of Grand Circle Foundation in Thailand by overseeing our latest Invest in a Village project: the Agricultural Cooperative in the village of Don Chum. The community is already close to Rung's heart, as the Foundation has been supporting the primary school there since 2004. "Most of the residents of Don Chum village are farmers," explains Rung, "and they are very low-income because they have to borrow money from suppliers in a nearby city in order to maintain their farms."
Rung's dream for the village is simple: independence from big city suppliers and a sustainable means of providing food for the village. The co-op will also provide jobs for retired farmers who no longer have a source of income. (You can learn more about the Don Chum cooperative here.) "Our hope is to see the cooperative members have better lives, enough food, and enough income to support their families," says Rung.
Rebuilding the community, building relationships
She is also a strong proponent of community service, and helps to organize numerous community service events for her team every year. Most recently, in 2009, a total of 97 volunteers convened at the Baan Pu Ong Ka School to help change the lives of the children and the community. Rung rallied regional associates, Trip Leaders, vendors, students, teachers, and villagers to participate in the event. Divided into six teams, the group spent the day fixing and repainting toys and equipment at an outdoor playground, repainting walls, repairing doors and windows, tiling the kindergartens, and cleaning and improving the cafeteria at the school, as well as building a new bathroom for a host family for the company's home-hosted event. "It's very good for the organization to build good relationships with the community," says Rung.
While any traveler would be lucky to have Rung guide them through Thailand as a Program Director or Trip Leader, her work behind the scenes at Grand Circle and OAT has helped her to have a much greater influence—and not only for travelers who journey to Southeast Asia. Rung has been a guiding light for Grand Circle Foundation, leading us to the people of her homeland who most need our support, and helping us learn how best to support them.