In International Folk Dance Ensemble, Students, Tour

Ensemble members share favorite memories from their Spring tour

The International Folk Dance Ensemble (IFDE) celebrated its 60th anniversary during a three-week tour in May throughout Southeast Asia. This was the first time in 20 years that the ensemble visited Thailand and Vietnam, and its first time in Cambodia.

Instrumentalist Matthew Baird said, “I absolutely loved visiting these countries and experiencing, even just in part, all the different cultures and languages. Each country had its own feeling. Thailand was busy and exotic; Cambodia was simple and quaint; Vietnam was beautiful and active. Each country was stunning and wonderful in their own way.” 

A sneak peek from the band’s point of view. Photo courtesy of Aubrey Nielsen.

Baird plays the bass in the international folk band. During the tour, he played a travel-sized instrument called a U-Bass. It is similar to a ukulele but with a bass sound.

Dancer Hayley Shepherd recalled the awe she felt at the beauty and character of the landscape and architecture of Southeast Asia, which she found both elegant and modest. “In Thailand, we went to an orphanage in the slums of Bangkok and it was such a humbling experience for me,” said Shepherd. “They had little in terms of worldly possessions yet they were all so happy. They were happy with nothing, yet in America, we have everything and are often unhappy. It put things into perspective for me.”

Baird shared that after IFDE left the orphanage and bussed over to a performance venue held at a huge, extravagant hotel. “The contrast between the poor humble people of the slums to the glamorous decadence of the hotel was overwhelming. It was humbling to become so aware of the harsh inequality that exists among the peoples of the world,” he said.

Hayley Shepherd and Aubrey Nielsen with their host mom in Thailand. Shepherd was happy to be reunited with her. Photo courtesy of Hayley Shepherd.

During their time in Thailand, one of the highlights for Shepherd was running into a host mom that she had lived with in Carson City, Nevada during a mid-semester tour. “I was sitting in church on Sunday and she tapped me from behind. I know it was not a coincidence that we had been sent to that particular ward and that God wanted us to see each other again.”

Baird said the entire tour was special and influential to his life. “In Cambodia, we had the opportunity to spend a Sunday with local young single adults (YSA) in Phnom Penh. After church, we all divided into groups and we each went with a YSA member to their homes. We each had our own unique experiences. I was able to spend the afternoon with two cousins who fed us a traditional Cambodian meal in their small one-room apartment. There was no furniture, there were none of the commodities I was used to seeing in a house. We ate sitting on the floor and it was wonderful.

“Also in Cambodia, we visited the infamous S21 prison, a holding place for Cambodians executed in the killing fields by the Khmer Rouge communist regime. There was a sobering solemnity about the place as we learned of the horrors that recently happened in Cambodia. Estimates say that up to 1/4 of the population was killed in the genocide. It helped me appreciate the freedoms and security that I have enjoyed and taken for granted.”

Baird said the highlight of the trip was visiting the members of the LDS Church in each country. The IFDE members had the opportunity to spend time with the youth and YSA of Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia for at least one Sunday each.

Matthew Baird and Joshua Fawcett eating lunch with local YSA Sunday afternoon in Phnom Penh. Photo courtesy of Matthew Baird.

“In Vietnam, we held devotionals with the members of the church. Because of the Vietnam War and the communist party now in power, the Church is new in the country,” said Baird. “Almost all of the members of the Church are YSAs. It was inspiring to be among these youth who are so faithful despite being relatively alone. It built my faith and helped me appreciate the support that I have had throughout my life, support that many of these church members in Vietnam don’t have. They are true pioneers and it was awesome to see that.” 

Aubrey Nielsen, a pianist for IFDE, said she adored visiting these countries. Experiencing real Asian culture and walking along streets filled with vendors changed her perspective on life. The trip also helped the ensemble become more united. “What stood out to me the most during the trip was how unified our team was. We all got along splendidly,” Nielson said.

Baird said the trip helped him grow as a performer in many ways. “I believe traveling, especially to a place where you experience a different culture from yours, will help you become a better person because you gain a deeper understanding of life. As a performer, I feel that these kinds of experiences have helped me become more sympathetic, and even empathetic, with a larger audience. Because I have traveled, seen what I have seen and felt what I have felt, I can now connect on a greater level because my humanity has deepened. I will always remember this tour.”

Nielsen said, “Walking along this path and seeing the poverty just around the corner will be an experience I am not likely to forget.” Photo courtesy of Aubrey Nielsen.

Nielsen said, “As a tourist and seeing sights alone was breathtaking, but being able to make a difference in people’s lives changed not only how I behaved but how I thought. God truly loves his children and through my performance, I felt the love he had for them. I will never forget walking those unpaved roads.”

BYU Photographer, Jaren Wilkey, joined IFDE during their last week of the tour in Vietnam. His photos can be viewed here.

View videos of the IFDE’s time in Southeast Asia by visiting these links:


During the trip, the IFDE presented five devotionals, seven assemblies and workshops and seven performances to over 8,000 people, while traveling throughout the cities of Bangkok, Pattya, Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Siem Reap.

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