GlobeMed Thailand trip raises international unaccompanied student travel questions

Rachel Alexander

This summer, three Whitman students will travel to Thailand to work on a women’s health project. As members of GlobeMed, they have partnered with a group called the Burmese Women’s Union, which strives to empower Burmese refugees living in Thailand.

For club members, the trip will be an exciting opportunity to learn more about global health issues on the ground.

“I want to be a nurse practitioner eventually, but I am extremely interested and invested in global health,” said GlobeMed Executive Board member Abbey McGrath in an email. “Issues of monitoring and evaluation are central to debates among experts in the field right now, and it’s exciting to be part of the movement.”

Whitman’s GlobeMed chapter was founded earlier this year, and its members hope that their first trip project will be the beginning of a long partnership with BWU.

“We hope to set the foundation for a framework for monitoring and evaluation of the outcomes and longer term impacts of the projects we’re funding,” said McGrath. “We want to ensure that the project meets the actual needs of the local population.”

The GlobeMed team has fundraised over $3,500 for BWU, which will be used to support women’s health trainings. The cost of the trip itself is being paid for by the project members individually, who will be holding individual fundraisers to offset some of the cost. A grant from the national GlobeMed organization will also cover about 25 percent of the total trip cost for two of the three students going.

McGrath said that it’s been challenging to fund the Thailand trip without support from ASWC or the college.

“The Whitman ban on international travel has been frustrating,” she said.

The college’s ban on funding unaccompanied international student travel has been in place since the fall of 2010. To date, only one student group has an exemption to this policy––Whitman Direct Action, which has partnered with an NGO called Semilla Nueva in rural Guatemala.

WDA was allowed to continue their summer project trips to Guatemala after a faculty member visited the community the group travels to and did a site assessment. Treasurer Peter Harvey said that aside from safety concerns about unaccompanied travel, the policy is designed to encourage Whitman groups to form long-lasting relationships with the communities they work in.

“We’re trying to come up with meaningful community-based service projects,” he said.

WDA was selected as a guinea pig because of their decision to form a permanent partnership with a local organization and return to work with the same community each summer. Harvey said that the college hopes to move towards a model similar to study abroad programs, where groups doing similar projects with a local partner can be reviewed by a faculty member and approved for unaccompanied travel.

Junior WDA president Natalie Jamerson would like to see other clubs approved to travel, but stressed that developing a local connection was crucial to making this successful.

“By partnering with another organization, it ensures that development work has longevity and will continue,” she said. “Partnering with an organization is the best model for student development overseas, regardless of school policy.”

Though still in its first year, Whitman GlobeMed is committed to developing a similar partnership with BWU and focusing on the needs of the local community they are working in.

McGrath hopes that GlobeMed’s ongoing partnership with BWU will someday allow them the ability to receive ASWC funding.

“That would be an ideal,” she said. “We’d have to look into that next year once we go on the first trip.”