The founder of a school and a textile business in Thailand, this savvy American expat has always found pleasure in serving others
MANY expat women arriving in Thailand like to take advantage of life’s comforts offered here. Not so Rose Marie Wanchupela, who has dedicated her life to serving society.
As the founder of the Rose Marie Academy, a private, internationally-oriented Pre K-12 school situated in Nichada Thani Estate in Pakkret, Nonthaburi, this talented American teacher, who has over 30 years’ experience teaching in Thai and international schools, has made it her life’s mission to help others – not only through education, but also through textiles.
She arrived in Thailand in January 1962 with the United States’ Peace Corps program, established by then President John F. Kennedy as a means of taking American culture around the world (while also giving those serving the chance to learn about the cultures of their host countries), and this two-year service laid the foundations for her future.
During this time not only did she perfect her Thai language skills living among Thais in Songkla and Korat (skills still flawless to this day), but she also met her husband, Prinya, who hails from Kalasin province in Isaan (the northeast of Thailand).
While Rose Marie’s university work and time in the Peace Corps provided the perfect outlet for her to further her knowledge and skills in education, she had another passion she also wanted to pursue, one instilled in her by her mother and grandmother who treasured all forms of textiles – weaving.
Adding further inspiration was her talented mother-in-law, Sommai, who was a master weaver. And so Rose Marie found herself embracing parallel roles – as teacher and weaver.
Post Peace Corps, and now a married woman, Rose Marie taught at the newly established Bangkok College (which is now Bangkok University) – Rose Marie fondly recalls how she and her colleagues used to write the English curriculum while sipping tea in the iconic Erawan Tea Room (not to be confused with today’s Thai food restaurant). Next was a stint in the US, where she continued to teach while her husband studied and earned an MBA degree from Syracuse University in New York.
Back in Thailand, Rose Marie taught inclusive classes (special education) from 1971 to 1975 at the intermediate and secondary levels at the International School of Bangkok (ISB), which was then situated along what is now the Vibhavadi Rangsit Highway (presently the site of the Thai Airways International office).
In 1976 H.R.H. Queen Sirikit established the Foundation for the Promotion of Supplementary Occupation and Related Techniques (SUPPORT), with the aim of preserving and reviving dying Thai crafts. This was a boon for weavers throughout the country, many of whom participated in Her Majesty’s project.
Sommai was one such weaver impressed by the project, and she encouraged Rose Marie to follow her passion and put her in touch with weavers in Isaan. So, in 1982, Rose Marie took time out of teaching to try her hand at textiles.
During this year she learned much about the craft – the process of dyeing, threading the loom, weaving, as well as the lives and culture of the Isaan weavers. And as her mother-in-law was skilled not only in weaving, but also in in creating dyes and mudmee (ikat) – very special textiles that are woven of pre-dyed threads that are matched to create a design during the process of weaving (an extremely difficult task, and much treasured today) – Rose Marie had the best teacher she could hope for.
During this period Rose Marie also had the opportunity to re-evaluate her life. She had become committed to helping the weavers in the northeast villages, enriching their lives as well as her own. Consequently, she was invited by companies and villages to advise them, while at the same time she learned additional skills from them. She would later use these skills to establish her own textile business – Easarn Fabrique.
“That was a future building year,” she says. “It was a two-way communication – I took new ideas to the village weavers who happily adopted them, and they taught me new skills too.”
In 1984 Rose Marie set up her first textile shop in the Sukhumvit area with the help of textile designers. Several other locations followed, ultimately leading to her current shop at Nichada Plaza, in the Pakkret area of Bangkok.
Despite her success in textiles, however, education was never far from Rose Marie’s heart. And she seized the opportunity when new Thai laws, established under the leadership of Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, permitted international schools to open and allow Thai children to attend.
In 1992 Rose Marie and her husband Prinya opened the International Education Institute, a precursor to Rose Marie Academy, which in 1995 came into existence close to ISB offering services to the community of that fine institute.
Today the school is located on two-and-a-half rai of land rented from Nichada, and accommodates 100 students with the capacity of up to 100 more.
It is evident that Rose Marie Wanchupela is a much accomplished woman, who determinedly struck roots in her adopted country to make it truly her own.
Rose Marie Academy, 39/932-933 Soi Nichada Thani, Samakee Rd. 02 960 3663. rose-marie.ac.th
Easarn Fabrique, 39/999 Nichada Plaza Floor 2, Unit 2, Pakkret, Nonthaburi. 092 279 0800. easarn.net