Valpo Students Experience Thailand

The College of Nursing and Health Professions provided students with three opportunities to study abroad and expand their horizons over spring break. Three groups traveled to Costa Rica, Thailand, and Morocco in an effort to learn how health care operates in countries around the world, and to expose students to cultures and communities that they wouldn’t typically encounter. The trip to Thailand allowed students to immerse themselves in a rich culture, while studying the Thai health care system. 

Valpo students posing in front of Thai monument in Thailand holding Valpo flag.

“My mom has been to Thailand back when she was studying abroad in college in Taiwan,” says Sofia Portugal ’26. “She loved it and encouraged me to go on this trip. I am also on the track to be in the occupational therapy program and this was a trip focused on that aspect of healthcare, so I figured it would be beneficial to learn more about my future career.”

Students visited a Thai university, interacted with college students despite the language barrier and learned what it would look like to be on the health care track as a college student in Thailand. 

“The language barrier at times was difficult when trying to communicate with some of the students at the university or just servers at restaurants and such,” says Sofia. “I definitely want to learn more Thai before I go back because I went into this trip not knowing any of the language.”

Students and accompanying faculty members Sara Story, Ed.D.,OTD,OTR/L, BCG, CAPS program director and associate professor of occupational therapy and Erica Allen, DNP, MBA, RN, assistant professor of nursing enjoyed sight-seeing, hospital tours, and frequent visits to Thailand’s famous night markets. 

“This experience has helped me to step out of my comfort zone and try new things,” says Camille Jefferson ’25. “I have tried many foods that I would not normally eat and activities that I have never done. My perspective of the world has broadened in that there are so many different ways of doing tasks around the world that can vary depending on the country that you live in.”

Valpo students kneeling in Thai temple.

Thai culture is rich in history and tradition and Valpo students were able to tap into an immersive experience that allowed them to see just a few aspects that define the country. 

“My favorite memory was the Thai cooking class we did in Chiang Mai. I felt fully immersed in the culture that night because we tried a lot of traditional Thai foods and were able to cook our own Pad Thai, which is my favorite Thai dish and just one of my favorite foods in general,” says Sofia. “We also tried betel quid chewing, which is a cultural act that Thai people and many other Asian cultures partake in. I was not a fan of the taste, but being able to try all these new things was truly such an amazing experience. I have such a newfound respect and appreciation for Thai culture.”

A life changing experience such as the Thailand trip is just one of many immersive learning options available in Valpo’s College of Nursing and Health Professions. We believe that expanding students’ view of the world will lead to more compassionate, understanding health care professionals. The possibilities become endless when students seeking knowledge are given the power to put that knowledge into practice. 

“I truly mean it when I say this trip changed my life. It opened my eyes to the opportunity of study abroad and now I am making it my goal to at least spend a semester abroad at one point in my academic career,” says Sofia. “Prior to this trip, I thought I would hate being in a foreign country and I would be miserable, but I did not want to go home by the end of the trip. Seeing the occupational therapy wing in the hospital in Chiang Mai and being able to learn more about the career, as well as getting closer to the director of the OT program, Dr. Story, helped me realize that this is something that I want to do for the rest of my life. I’ve always considered doing travel occupational therapy and now I know that is something I am super passionate about and definitely want to experience during my life.”

Thai students sitting at table eating in Thailand.

At Valpo’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, learning is not limited to the classroom and opportunities such as these will continue to allow Valpo students to achieve their goals and ultimately become compassionate servant leaders in the health care field.