Ketia Valcourt has always dreamed of traveling outside of Florida since her last semester as a sophomore at Miami Dade College. She held on to that dream when she transferred to the University of Central Florida.
“I was ready for change and new insight,” she said. “I wanted to do something new and explore a different country and culture.”
Valcourt, a social work senior, seized her opportunity to fulfill her dreams when she joined Tameca Harris-Jackson, a lecturer in the School of Social Work, and seven other students from the College of Health Professions and Sciences for a study abroad trip to Thailand this summer. Tameca Harris-Jackson, Ph.D., M.S.W. teaches in the Master of Social Work online program.
During the trip, Harris-Jackson and the students focused on issues of health and social justice that impacted the LGBTQ+ community, comparing the LGBTQ+’s experiences in Thailand to those in the same community living in the United States.
“Thailand is advertised as a mecca for gay men and transgender women, especially,” Harris-Jackson said. “But for those who live there, it is a very different experience.”
One notable difference that Harris-Jackson and the students observed was how transgender women faced discrimination in Thailand while serving as advocates for the LGBTQ+ community overall.
“We found that the lesbian community was instrumental in moving the equality movement forward, but our observation is that, unfortunately, they are more of an invisible community,” Harris-Jackson said.
Students also visited with various organizations, agencies, clinics and individuals involved with helping the LGBTQ+ community in Thailand, learning more about their work and the struggles they endure.
It was an eye-opening experience for Valcourt, who said it challenged her beliefs, but also confirmed that she was in the right line of work.
“I am glad to finally find my purpose,” she said. “I found my passion to advocate for the domestic violence victims and the black community.”
The trip was open to students in other majors as well. Withshamma Alexis, who is majoring in health sciences, joined the trip to learn about different cultures. She said the trip also taught her how to approach individuals with a different viewpoint.
“We learned how to understand each other and how to put ourselves in another’s shoes,” she said. “That’s something we will take with us throughout the future.”
Alexis, who plans to attend medical school upon graduating from UCF, said she was initially nervous about traveling abroad on her own, but the experience exposed her to how different communities and cultures deal with social and health-related issues.
But the experience also changed her perspective as well.
“One thing I take away from this trip is to be grateful for everything I have in life, no matter how small,” she said.