LGBTQ+ study abroad program will allow UMD students to learn from 'change agents'

The University of Maryland’s LGBT Equity Center has joined arms with the school’s Education Abroad office to create an LGBTQ+ Empowerment study abroad program in Thailand that includes working with “change agents” and gay monks, and visiting a cabaret.

According to the program’s overview, “this hands-on program” will teach students “through conversations with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) and allied change agents from activists to practitioners to funders. And you will grow from deep group and personal reflections with your fellow course participants.”

The summer program, entitled “Thailand: Leading for LGBTQ+ Empowerment,” will last three weeks and will take place primarily in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Pattaya, Thailand. Students will earn three credits for the program, which is labeled as an Education Leadership, Higher Ed and International Ed class, or EDHI488T.

For an estimated cost of $5,490 students will visit a kathoey cabaret, meet with various LGBTQ+ leaders and organizations, attend lectures from practitioners in international programs like the UN and USAID, and conduct their own independent fieldwork while also getting an understanding of the “greater cultural context of Thailand”.

The trip includes a multitude of LGBT-related topics “from preventing HIV among gay and bisexual Buddhist monks to advocating for kathoey/transgender people to be able to access proper identity documents, from fighting discrimination in employment and education to building tom-dee/lesbian community and visibility.”

The program aims to have students “learn frameworks to deepen their analysis of social change and community impact” by exploring “the idea of self as international practitioner and the opportunities and ethical challenges that can come up for international practitioners,” per the program’s page.

"There are a few really interesting LGBT study-abroad programs out there that U.S. institutions are running, and almost all of them are in Western Europe," Nick Sakurai, the program’s director and associate director of UMD’s LGBT Equity Center told The Diamondback. “I'm not aware of there ever having been something like this in Asia or any other region of the world.”

The Diamondback uses the pronouns “ze” and “hir” to describe Sakurai and his contact description on the program’s web page is devoid of pronouns altogether.

Sakurai said he got the idea for the trip after the Education Abroad office called for proposals for an innovation grant.

Moira Rogers, Education Abroad’s Executive Director, said that through the program, “students will learn about how issues of LGBTQ leadership are articulated in other contexts, so they will get to see how these issues are addressed and how they can learn from their experiences abroad for their own leadership skills.”

UMD’s Education Abroad office lists an array of resources for LGBT students who want to study abroad.

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