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Social work major expands cultural competency through Thailand program

RELEASED: Dec. 14, 2010

Lisa Wolfcale and her host mom in Thailand
Lisa Wolfcale and her host mom on their way to the fields to go work in the mountains of Thailand. Wolfcale is a UW-Eau Claire junior social major studying in Thailand this semester. (Photo by Payap University)

EAU CLAIRE — When Lisa Wolfcale decided to pursue a career in social work, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire junior made becoming more culturally competent one of her priorities.

"I became aware of the growing need for cultural competency, especially in helping fields such as mine," said Wolfcale, a Mondovi native. "There is a large Hmong population in the area and I find it only fair to improve my skills to better assist those in need of community services."

Toward that end, Wolfcale has spent the last four months studying at Payap University in Thailand, a country that is geographically close to Laos and home to many Hmong hill tribes.

"I have met amazing people from around the globe," said Wolfcale, who will return to the United States Dec. 18. "Thai people have been very welcoming and gracious. I have had so many positive experiences while living here. The scenery is beautiful, surrounded by mountains and lush landscape. The food is delicious, with many different influences. "

As a part of this program, Wolfcale traveled to the cities of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, and spent five days exploring ancient kingdoms.

Among the highlights of her study abroad experience were excursions to villages where she stayed with host families, Wolfcale said.

"During a visit to Mae Cheam village we had a northern Thai cooking class, visited different temples and learned traditional crafts like coconut leaf weaving," Wolfcale said. "We also got to participate in a Robes Offering for monks."

Another field trip included a five-day excursion to a Lisu village in the Chiang Rai Province, Wolfcale said. As a minority in Thailand, the Lisu people have experienced many hardships, she said, noting that in 1983 the government prohibited opium growing, which was their main source of income. They now grow cash crops such as coffee, rice, cabbage, tomatoes and other vegetables, she said.

"We were very fortunate to receive a first-hand understanding about their culture and way of life," Wolfcale said. "We walked to the fields to go to work with our host families, which are very far up the mountain. We joined a celebration wearing the traditional Lisu clothing, and we participated in the sacrificing of a pig."

Wolfcale said she also had time to travel on her own outside of the school trips, providing even more opportunities to explore Thailand and to meet its people.

"I spent 10 days on the island of Koh Samuii, visited Bangkok, went to Myanmar two times, went to the Golden Triangle, an elephant camp, white water rafting, zip lining, attended Loy Kratong festivities and did a lot of exploring in Chiang Mai," Wolfcale said. "I also was exposed to eating grasshoppers, crickets, grubs, frogs, bee larvae, a cooked blood dish and raw pigskin fresh off the pig. None of these I will be eating again but I'm glad I tried them."

The Thailand experience has allowed her to see the world in a new way, something she thinks will help her personally and professionally.

"This experience was more rewarding than I could've imagined," Wolfcale said as she was preparing to complete her final exams in Thailand. "I have benefitted from this in every aspect of my life. I've become more culturally competent by immersing myself in a culture and language that is opposite of what I am used to. Studying abroad has given me a unique advantage in my future education, employment and social life."

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JB/DW

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