Sarah Young hoped she’d one day retrace her parents’ journey from Thailand to the Twin Cities. At an elementary school in a Hmong village called Mae Sa Mai this fall, the University of Minnesota senior got that chance.

In September, the university launched a new program in Thailand, which blends coursework and hands-on experiences. The goal was to add a Southeast Asia destination to a successful U study abroad program dating to 1980. But administrators also hoped to attract Hmong students, traditionally less likely than their peers to take advantage of such opportunities.

“I am learning to live a life that my parents once lived,” said Young, a youth studies major from Minneapolis.

Each semester, 60 to 100 students participate in the Minnesota Studies in International Development program, offered in Ecuador, Kenya, Senegal and India. Students of color have long been underrepresented: More than 80 percent of participants are white, compared with 65 percent on the U’s Twin Cities campus.

The new program starts out with coursework in the city of Chiang Mai, including an intensive Thai language class, followed by an internship with a local nonprofit.

“Students are really having their eyes opened to the development issues in Thailand,” said Scott Daby, the U administrator who helped roll out the program.

Senior Ka Yang is working in a clinic, where she’s helped with pulling out needles after acupuncture sessions and measuring blood pressure. The family social science major bonded with clinic staff and patients battling chronic conditions such as diabetes — an experience that inspired her to pursue a master’s in public health.

Young’s internship assisting elementary teachers gave her a new appreciation for the opportunities her family’s journey to America offered. Students enlisted her to tutor them after school.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I never thought I would receive,” said Young.


Mila Koumpilova 612-673-4781