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Idaho State University Counseling faculty, students to visit Thailand during holiday break to learn, serve

December 19, 2014
ISU Marketing and Communications

While many Idaho State University students and personnel were finishing up and readying for the holidays with their families, ISU Department of Counseling Professor and Chair David Kleist was packing his bags, preparing to leave for a three-week trip to Thailand on the last day of fall semester.

Kleist will be leading a group of eight, including four master’s and two doctoral Department of Counseling students, during a series of activities in Thailand including visits to an orphanage, a domestic violence shelter, a university and a Buddhist meditation center. The ISU students, who will earn two credits for the trip, will join him in Thailand on Dec. 27.

Hillary Merkley, ISU counseling master's student and ISU assistant track coach, is among the students heading to Thailand over the holiday break.“One of the main reasons we offer opportunities like this, is from a counseling perspective, our students need to have a cross-cultural perspective,” Kleist said. “We are challenged in Southeast Idaho to provide students with rich experiences with cultural diversity and how different people from different cultures view mental health problems and the receipt of care.”

Studying and experiencing mindfulness is a significant part of the group’s itinerary. Mindfulness, defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”

“Mindfulness is something we work a lot on in mental health counseling,” said Hillary Merkley, ISU counseling master’s student and ISU assistant track coach, who is going on trip. “It is a concept that is used in the Buddhist religion. We will be staying in a Buddhist temple a couple of nights to visit with monks and we will be learning about this topic from people who study it. It is a big part of their religion, lives and culture.”

The students will have the opportunity to learn and possibly serve at the domestic violence shelter and at an orphanage.

“We won’t be able to make a profound impact at either the shelter or orphanage during a few-day visit, but we’ll do whatever we can that is useful to them,” said Anna Elliott, a third-year doctoral student in the ISU counselor education program.

The ISU contingent will also meet with the counseling faculty at a university, getting exposed to what is similar and what if different in the Thai people’s approach to mental health counseling and education.

This is the ISU Department of Counseling’s first trip to Thailand for international studies. In previous years the department has taken students and faculty to a variety of other countries. Part of the agenda for this trip is to make and develop contacts for future potential collaborations.

“My ultimate hope is to develop a relationship with some universities and agencies in Thailand so our students can return and provide and receive training for mental health counseling,” Kleist said.

The trip promises to be an adventure and a learning experience for the ISU students.

“I love the opportunity to do some service, which we may get at the domestic violence shelter or the orphanage,” Merkley said. “I hope to learn a little bit about how they do counseling in Thailand and how that is different than how we do it in the United States.

“I’m also excited,” she added, “to see an elephant.”


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