Caroline Gasao (Senior, Biology and LSC) studied abroad in Thailand on the UW Microbiology and Public Health in Northern Thailand program.
How did I prepare to go abroad or how did I choose my program? I chose UW Microbiology and Public Health in Northern Thailand because a friend of mine who went on the program the previous year had a wonderful time while she was abroad. In terms of academics, I was able to earn credit for the Biology major because the curriculum for the program includes Microbiology 304. In addition, the program fulfilled the field experience requirement for completion of the Global Health certificate. I would also consider myself a heritage seeker, because many Hmong people live in northern Thailand and my own parents had lived there for a short time. Thus, I was eager to see what the country was like and to imagine what it could’ve been like for my parents as they grew up.
What was the academic experience like? For this program, the first week is spent in Chiang Mai where we learn the basics of Thai language and culture through a program under the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute. The next 5 weeks is spent in Chiang Rai at Mae Fah Luang University. Here, students take 5 credits which consists of two classes taught by UW faculty: Microbiology 304 (2 credits) and Languages and Cultures of Asia 300 (3 credits). Classes are taken with other UW students in your cohort, and class is taught Mon-Thurs each week. Every Friday, excursions were scheduled and included visits to several different sites including an elephant sanctuary, a Karen hill tribe village in the mountains, and wetlands in Chiang Rai. These excursions were complementary to what we learned in the classroom. For example, at the elephant sanctuary, we were able to swab the elephants for microbes, which we were then able to take back to the lab to isolate for a single microbial species. Prior to visiting the wetlands, we learned about the history of the area and how the shrinking of the wetlands affected the health and wellbeing of locals. Overall, all excursions were an immersive educational experience that contributed to students’ growing understanding of global health.
Most memorable moment? My most memorable moment was an excursion that took us to visit a non-profit organization in Chiang Rai called The Freedom Story. This NPO provides scholarships for young girls who are at risk of being trafficked, while also assisting local villages in sustainable development efforts. The staff shared a short documentary of the first child they sponsored, who is now an undergraduate student pursuing a college degree. While we visited the site, we tie-dyed shirts using the dye from butterfly pea plants, a trade that villagers use to make a living. This experience opened my eyes to the reality of human trafficking. As an American who grew up in a small Wisconsin town, human trafficking was always something distant that I only heard of in the media. Learning about how common it is in Thailand, I felt strongly that I wanted to pursue a career in the future that focuses on helping young girls who are at risk of being trafficked.
Advice for future students? Go in with an open mind and be adaptable. From the food to the people and the culture, there is not much in Thailand that is familiar in America. There is so much to learn and experience though, so don’t be afraid to try new things! In terms of clothes to bring, people in Thailand generally dress more modest than in America, so even though it will be hot, bring a minimal amount of short shorts and tank tops. You’ll likely be visiting a lot of Buddhist temples, so clothes that will cover your legs and shoulders is necessary. Lastly, make sure to bring sunscreen!