Were it not for the Peace Corps, it’s fair to say more than 200 Simpson College students would know a lot less about Thailand and Southeast Asia.
That’s how many students have gone on May Term or Study Abroad trips to Thailand and other Asian countries with Lora Friedrich, a professor for the social sciences, and other Simpson professors since 1999.
“I’m incredibly humbled by that,” Friedrich said.
To understand how it began, it’s best to return to Friedrich’s undergraduate days at Huntington College, a Christian school in Indiana. After she graduated, she accepted a Peace Corps assignment to Thailand, where she worked from 1982 to 1985.
“I wanted to understand what it meant to be a minority, and to unpack Christianity outside of a Christian environment, so I could get a sense of what I believed apart from what I was socialized to think,” she said.
The result? Friedrich now describes herself as “a Christian with a Buddha vibe.”
One of the Peace Corps’ three goals is, “Bringing the world back home.” With that in mind, Friedrich launched Simpson’s first May Term trip in 1999 to Japan, Malaysia and Thailand.
“The impetus for my doing the first May Term was the idea of bringing the world back home and wanting young adults to have an understanding of the developing world in Southeast Asia,” she said.
Ten years later, she helped establish the first Study Abroad program to Thailand, in which Simpson students spend an entire semester there. The course has proven to be popular.
“It always fills up,” Friedrich said. “I think students have gotten a better perspective of the world and issues related to the world.”
Which means she has carried out a Peace Corps goal.
“ I hope so,” she said. “I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I think it’s one of the things that’s made the greatest impact on my life.”