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A transformational trip

Posted 12:01 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023

24 UWL students studied in Chiang Mai, Thailand through a faculty-led program.

Faculty-led Thailand trip sheds light on health, psychology

Studying abroad gives students a chance to earn credit toward their degree while experiencing their education in a new place. Sometimes it’s in another state; other times it’s halfway across the world. 

UWL students, most majoring in public health and community health education or psychology, had the chance to study in Thailand through a faculty-led health and psychology program this summer. 

Accompanying the 24 students was Public Health and Community Health Education Professor Keely Rees and Psychology Professor Ryan McKelley. McKelley, who has been participating in faculty-led experiences since 2010, says this trip has been the best one yet. 

Keely Rees and Ryan McKelley led the summer trip to Thailand.

The faculty-led program to Chiang Mai, Thailand, gave students the opportunity to earn six credits toward their degree by learning about women’s health policies, cross-cultural differences of public health systems, and different models of emotional well-being and mental health in an international setting.  

“The two classes we took were a Psychology in Thailand course and a Women's Health course,” explains Sophia Root, a senior Public Health and Community Health Education major. “Both were structured as a comparison between Southeastern Asia (Thailand specifically) and Western culture.” 

In addition to traditional classroom instruction, assignments and cultural excursions allowed students to visit local temples, Hmong village, Chiang Rai, and clinics providing mental and physical health services to enrich students’ experiences and opportunities to engage with citizens.  

“One of the most memorable things we did during our trip was visit and work with a rural village,” says Ari Peroutka, a senior Public Health and Community Health Education major. “They welcomed us with open arms and were more than happy to teach us about their agriculture and cultural practices.” 

McKelley explained that during that excursion to the rural village, a community leader asked the UWL group to help build a dam in the forest to re-route run-off. 

“We formed a 30-person chain up the side of a mountain and transported about 80 rocks, buckets of water and cement bags until the dam was built,” McKelley says. “Not a single student complained, and that day ended up being one of the highlights from the trip. At one point, the rain was pouring down and the students were all smiles.” 

The UWL group went on many excursions in Thailand to enrich their experience and engage with citizens.

Thailand is an ideal culture to study in terms of health outcomes. Chiang Mai received a grant from IBM in 2011 to make the city and University Medical Clinic a medical hub and improve the efficiency of hospitals for improved service delivery.  

“Something that put things into perspective for me was the difference between government and privately owned healthcare practices,” Peroutka says. “Because the United States doesn't have any form of universal healthcare, that's something I have only seen and learned about from a textbook. Seeing these places in person and hearing from the people they helped was truly beautiful.” 

McKelley and Rees plan to offer a similar study abroad experience in summer 2025. 

“Over all the years of leading faculty-led groups abroad,” Rees says, “my absolute favorite part is watching and facilitating the deep connections among our students, watching them embrace all the new cultural experiences including food, language, dress, and deeply immersing themselves into maternal and child health, policies, and public health systems in a different county.”  


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