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Gaining Awareness:
UMD Students Travel to Thailand

Traveling to Thailand, UMD students Jenna Wright and Kayla Engebretson, hoped to learn more about that country’s family social sciences, healthcare system, and medical tourism. And while the students gained a better understanding of family life and the healthcare industry there, they also gained a deeper appreciation of diverse cultures and different belief systems; something they say will stay with them throughout their careers.

Students in Thailand
UMD students and U of M Twin Cities students pose with Thai dancers.
Their trip was organized and led by Jill Klingner, assistant professor of Healthcare and Operations Management at UMD's Labovitz School of Business and Economics, and Catherine Solheim, professor of Family Social Science, from the U of M Twin Cities campus.

Both Klingner and Solheim have connections to Thailand. Klingner worked with Cambodian refugees in Thailand in 1986-87. Solheim is married to a Thai and has visited there extensively. Both women are UMD alumni. Klingner received her AA degree in ’76, and Solheim received her Bachelors degree in ‘78.

The three-week odyssey took five UMD students and eleven students from the Twin Cities campus, along with Klingner and Solheim, from cities to villages, from luxurious hospitals to bare bones clinics. Medical tourism is a big industry in Thailand. Doctors there perform numerous elective procedures, basically “anything you can plan for,” Klingner said. Procedures done in Thailand can cost a fraction of what they would cost in the U.S.

Jenna & Therese
Jenna Wright (left) with Therese Nauth, a pre-med student from the Twin Cities campus, on the Mekong river with Laos in the background
Kayla Engebretson
Kayla Engebretson at Wat (Temple) Po.
Jill Klingner
Jill Klingner with a lantern filled with wishes.
Wright is 3rd year student in the College of Pharmacy. She wanted to visit Thailand because she “wanted to see another country’s healthcare system – their quality standards and practices,” she said. Wright noted that the hospitals that catered to medical tourism were similar to five-star hotels.

In the smaller, local hospitals “there is still room for improvement,” Wright said. However she added that while the local hospitals lacked some amenities, the staff “really seemed to care”. In rural areas, Wright found that access to healthcare wasn’t always good. In one village, she was told, “pregnant women had to go 13 miles down hill on a motorbike to get to the local hospital.”

Engebretson is junior and is working towards a double major in health care management and economics with a minor in psychology. She vividly recalls a meeting with Thailand’s Minister of Public Health that the students had. Political unrest has troubled Thailand. The minister spoke of the health budget and said, “with out peace, we can not improve health.” Engebretson was struck by the abject poverty that she saw in the slums of Bangkok which were “some of the worse living conditions” she had ever seen.

Klingner and Solheim provided their students with an incredibly eclectic assortment of activities. The students planted mangrove trees along the Mae Klong River to help prevent erosion, learned to make green curry, pad Thai, and spring rolls at a cooking school, and took a dip in the Gulf of Thailand.

However, it is the memories of the Thai people that remain most vivid for Wright and Engebretson. “I remember how nice the people were – so welcoming and kind,” Wright recalls. Engebretson enjoyed that the rural villagers seemed “like one big family – you never knew who was actually related.”

One evening, the students and faculty of Chiangrai University treated the U.S. students to a special ceremony. After dinner, candles were lit inside delicate covered lanterns. The lanterns slowly filled with hot air and eventually lifted off. The students were told to make a wish as the lanterns floated into the night sky.

Both Engebretson and Wright believe that what they learned from their experiences in Thailand will benefit them in their careers. “I want to do management work. Learning to adjust to certain personalities and different cultures – these are valuable lessons. I’ve learned to expand my view on different cultures and value systems,” Engebretson said.

Wright agrees. “Its important to remember that there are a lot of different belief systems. Learning how to communicate with those patients and effectively treat them while still respecting their beliefs,” Wright said. She hopes this awareness will one day make her a better pharmacist.


Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann,

UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan,
NEW RELEASES, UMD media contact, Susan Latto,, 218-726-8830

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Last modified on 04/22/11 02:37 PM
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