Internship takes senior to Thailand to teach English

Editor's Note: This story is part of an ongoing series about student excellence at the university. To read more about some of ASU's outstanding students, click here.

For many, summer vacation means hanging out with friends and lying by the pool. But what if you could trade this for the opportunity to change the life of child in need?

Brett Troeger, a senior at Arizona State University in the Department of English, spent his summer in a remote Akha village in Thailand teaching young women and children how to speak English.

The internship was coordinated through ASU and Winnie Cain, an Arizona local, who founded the Ahka Women’s Foundation to empower the women within the Ahka village by providing them with education and health care programs that would otherwise be unavailable, due to a severe lack of finances. In fact, many Ahka girls are sold into prostitution by their families who are in desperate need of money.

To combat this harsh reality, Cain and students like Troeger dedicate their time to educating the girls so that they may secure paying jobs. For Troeger, the three-month endeavor left a lasting impact.

Upon arriving in the village, he was introduced to his host family and immediately began learning the local culture. Due to its remote location, locals have acquired a self-sustaining way of living. They grow their own crops and keep cattle as a food source. For entertainment, villagers enjoy playing soccer, something Troeger had in common as he once dreamed of playing the game professionally.

“I didn’t speak any Ahka and I was the only white person in the village, so I was almost like an outcast. Once I showed them that I could play soccer they began to respect me more. It was a great way to connect with them,” he said.

When he wasn’t playing soccer, the Indiana native spent his mornings teaching the schoolchildren. He tried to make each lesson plan fun and educational to keep the attention of the youngsters. However, Troeger says that he quickly saw a power-shift between boys and girls. After their morning lesson, the boys would leave and play games. The girls would stay to finish their schooling and then return to the village to work in the fields or do other chores.

“The girls do everything in the village. It’s amazing though, because they are so brilliant and studious. The foundation is the only opportunity they have for education and the chance of life outside of prostitution,” he said.

If his lessons were completed for the day, Troegar would often hike around and explore the land. He would also go fishing with his new friends and sit under the stars joking around. The group became so close that Troeger said he had to fight back tears when his journey ended.

“I’m definitely going back. I learned so much from them and had a great time. It was also rewarding to see them go from not speaking English to being able to tell me their name, age and things about themselves,” he said.

Now back in the United States, Troegar is working to complete his final year at ASU. He is still unsure of his exact career path, but is considering joining the Peace Corps or breaking into the travel writing business.