Jessica He ‘13

My Study Abroad Experience in Thailand

By Jessica He '13

Photo: Jessica He (left) with Nobel Peace Prize nominee Cynthia Maung

I am excited to say I fulfilled one of my greatest desires during the summer of 2011: to study abroad. I traveled to Chiang Mai, Thailand as a Benjamin A. Gilman Scholar under the Education Abroad Network. I arrived at Payap University, my exchange institution, with two missions to accomplish: completing my Sociology minor and meeting as many diverse individuals as I could.

To fulfill my first objective, I enrolled in two classes taught by Fulbright scholars who are paragons in Southeast Asian research. The first course, called “The Struggle for Human Rights in Southeast Asia,” was instructed by Dr. Paul Chambers and focused on the escalating human rights abuses in Burma. To facilitate our learning process, my professor organized excursions to refugee camps for internally displaced Burmese citizens and to a grass roots organization called the Mae Tao Clinic, where I met Cynthia Maung, a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. To further my knowledge, I volunteered at a non-governmental organization (NGO) called the Free Burma Rangers, which helps internally displaced Burmese minorities. I transcribed evidence of human rights abuses executed by the Burmese government to international organizations like the United Nations.

Later, I took a course called “The Economics of the Sex Industry in Southeast Asia,” taught by Dr. Ho Nguyen, which explored the cultural and religious factors that affect the supply and demand of the sex market in this region. Similar to my first class, I participated in excursions that promoted education outside the classroom. My professor led me to the red light district in Bangkok to experience the reality of sex work, and we also met with several NGOs working for and against the legalization of the sex industry.

To fulfill my second objective, I befriended my U.S. classmates, the exemplary faculty and staff at Payap University, the unforgettable individuals from all my excursions, and the inspiring students of Payap, who hail from countries all over the world. It was breathtakingly humbling to have been accepted into their community and welcomed to participate in national holidays, religious events, and social gatherings. My overall experience genuinely challenged and enhanced my knowledge about international health and human rights issues as a Public Health major, and upon the end of my short six weeks in Thailand, I became convinced of the next goal and mission in my life: to continue with my abroad experiences and apply to be a Peace Corps volunteer.