Thailand Study Abroad

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  UMD and UMTC students in Thailand  
UMD and UMTC students experiencing culture and learning from the locals of Thailand.

Families and Healthcare Business in Thailand: Not Your Average College Class

This past January Term, a group of sixteen students from the University of Minnesota Duluth and University of Minnesota Twin Cities made the decision to step outside of their comfort zones and travel to Thailand. Led by Jill Klingner of UMD's Labovitz School of Business and Economics and Catherine Solheim of UMTC, this class emphasizes understanding the globalization of healthcare and the influence of culture on family dynamics. Along with a new understanding for worldwide healthcare practices, students are immersed in a new culture and are able to learn more about the people and traditions of Thailand.

Open to students throughout the nation of any major, the class has been offered every other year during J-term since 2009. Klingner, associate professor in the Department of Operations and Healthcare Management, Finance and Management Information Sciences, explains how she and Solheim got the idea for the course. "I worked in Thailand with refugees as a nurse in 1986–87 and knew the culture and country would provide a great experience. My friend and colleague, Catherine, has long-term relationships in Thailand, so we designed an interdisciplinary course that would meet learning objectives for students in both of our programs."

"The average height of a man in Thailand is 5'6." That's a foot shorter than me," says Tom Lonergan, pictured here with a Thai woman who is wearing traditional Hill Tribe clothing at a Hmong New Years celebration

"I had always wanted to study abroad," says UMD senior Tom Lonergan, "but they recommend you go as a junior, making it hard to fulfill your class requirements." Not wanting to fall behind in his major, Lonergan did a little more research and discovered shorter study abroad opportunities offered during May and J-Term. At UMD, Lonergan studies healthcare management and sociology, so when he found the course listing for Klingner's class, it seemed like a perfect opportunity. "For me, it was a good combination of the business of healthcare and sociology."

Lonergan quickly gained respect for the people of Thailand when he observed how they lived their lives and faced problems. He learned that Buddhist philosophy teaches you to keep your suffering to yourself and not share it with others. Lonergan was truly amazed by this, especially when he saw the struggles of locals running their own businesses. He explained that many of these families running their own businesses do not get help from the government. "You can see that people have hard lives, but they are happy with them."

During the trip, the group visited four different cities: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Pattaya. The students’ days started with lectures exploring the healthcare system in Thailand and by doing things like touring schools, hospitals, and homes for the elderly. During free time, students were allowed to explore and interact with the locals. They were encouraged to go to the market to sample new foods and try bartering to get the best price. The goal was to truly understand the culture by taking part in it. Klingner and Solheim tracked students' learning by having them write blog posts. In these posts, students talked about what they learned that day and how their experiences impacted them.

UMD professor and students at Hmong New Year celebration  
At a traditional Khantoke dinner celebrated with faculty and students from Rajabhat University in Chiang Rai, lanterns were lit. When the lanterns were released, participants were to also release their worries and send forth their hopes. (From left: UMD student Becca Goeman, Professor Jill Klingner, Chiang Rai Rajabhat University student Numbeau Ummatanee, and UMD student Samantha Solmonson)

UMD senior in healthcare management, Samantha Solmonson, discovered how learning about the Thai and Hmong cultures helped her learn more about herself. “My mom is Korean, but she was adopted, so we don’t know much about our heritage or our culture.”

While in Thailand, Solmonson was stopped and asked multiple times if she was Thai or Hmong. This brought on much confusion about her identity. “I began to feel lost, and I didn't know who I was anymore.” By taking part in cultural practices like a celebration where lanterns were released to signify letting go of concerns and learning more about Buddhism through talking with monks, Solmonson was able to discover more about herself and what made her different. “I'm from a small town, and I never felt different until I was submerged in a different culture.”

After this experience, it is her goal to bring her mother back to South Korea to learn about her own culture. “I want my mom to have the same experience that I did to help her identify with our heritage,” Solmonson said.

  Student on Thai raft
Julie Ann Orenstein rafting with a local Thai man.

Julie Ann Orenstein, a family and social science major at UMTC, discovered a deep connection to Thailand. “Personally I come from a Jewish background so it was really unique and special to me to make ties to people from another culture.” She explains that the class is a very "hands on” experience in which the students are able to interact with the people of Thailand.

During the trip, the students stayed with families of Thailand and spent time with local students and town officials. Although there was a language barrier, it did not hinder the students from getting to know the people of Thailand. Orenstein says, “When you’re out of the country and in a new place, it’s so easy to make bonds with people.”

Follow the link to the class blog to learn more about the students' experiences in Thailand.

Students ziplining in Thailand  
Students eager to start their zip lining tour.


Written by Katherine Revier Feb. 2014


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