When I landed on Thai soil to gear up for my cohort’s fourth global residency, I didn’t realize that up until this point, I hid my Southeast Asian identity from myself. I honestly have struggled with my cultural identity for as long as I can remember. As many Filipino Americans will tell you, I asked myself questions like, “Do I identify as a Pacific Islander? Am I Asian if I don’t look like East Asians?” Also, I learned from a distant relative that my lineage goes as far back as Spain and Portugal—it just felt too much to deal with internally.

For most of my life, I chose to accept my mixed heritage, but I never really felt I had a cultural identity to fully embrace. I’ve always felt culturally like a nomad and learned to make peace internally with that. This all changed in my Thailand experience, and especially after learning Muay Thai. (I wrote about that in my last blog.)

David Curameng and 16 of his Global Executive MBA classmates and their program coordinator crouch together for photo in alley at the markets in Bangkok, Thailand
Me (front, left) with my Global Executive MBA classmates at the Bangkok markets, April 2023

Embracing My Cultural Identity

When I traveled to Bangkok for our residency, I soaked in every visual, sound, and experience I could soak in. For the first time in my life, I felt welcomed to be my authentic self. Everywhere I turned in Bangkok, I saw remnants of my upbringing such as seeing loving families that reminded me of my parents. I saw hardworking shop owners, taxi drivers, and company employees in Thailand that reminded me of an inherent cultural Filipino philosophy I’ve always known but was never verbally defined—make the best of your situation, remain positive and happy, and always move forward.

I saw and ate Thai food that was very similar to Filipino food I grew up eating at home and Filipino community parties. My entire Thailand experience helped me reflect on my childhood and teenage years, and it helped me rediscover my Southeast Asian identity that I had shunned growing up. I truly was sad leaving the country when our residency time was up, and when I flew back to the U.S., I couldn’t help but reflect that I had come of age in rediscovering my cultural identity.

David Curameng, Global Executive MBA '24 at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, training with his Muay Thai master Kru Ped at his gym in Bangkok, Thailand
KruPed (right) adjusting the form of my elbow strike, April 2023

Relaying back to Muay Thai, my brief training time with Master Jaroenthong, nicknamed KruPed, has helped me find a way to continuously honor my Southeast Asian roots today. Since traveling back to the U.S., I have kept in touch with Kru Ped and Miss Tuithanya as I intend to return to Bangkok. I want to continue my martial arts journey after graduation when I am able to take a few weeks off from work down the road.

Since returning back from Thailand, I have been lucky to find and train under my new masters, Kru Chon (Master Thanat Tanachon) and Kru Roger (Master Sangob Man) of The Little Giant Muay Thai (school), further refining my technique and learning Kru Chon’s and Kru Roger’s unique Muay Thai styles. I am driven to learn and improve from every single class I take under them as I want to honor Thai culture and honor my Southeast Asian roots.

Kru Roger and Kru Chon of The Little Giant Muay Thai
My Muay Thai masters, Kru Roger and Kru Chon of The Little Giant Muay Thai

Understanding and Celebrating Our Differences

As of this writing, my global residencies have come to an end. I miss traveling the world already. Before joining the Global Executive MBA program at Fuqua, I truly did not understand what it meant to be a “global citizen.” After traveling to Chile, the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, and Germany, I have a better understanding of exactly what it means now. It means to be understanding of cultural differences and understanding of different processes, and regardless of our country of origin, philosophy, or practice, the human being in each and every one of us is metaphorically the same. All of us in the world are far more similar than we are different.

I found meaning and purpose for the next phase of my life beyond my personal career scope. If not for the Fuqua’s Global Executive MBA program, I would not have discovered nor tapped into this new purpose. I am entirely grateful for this global experience, and I am excited about how I can continue to make a positive impact on the world through business and other life-changing experiences that I have had.