Penn GSE Student Spends Summer Working in Vientiane, Laos

Ever since she was a 6-year-old living in the Philippines, University of Pennsylvania student Mary Encabo knew that she wanted to be a teacher. 

While she had a strong sense that she had to teach the world something, she didn’t know exactly what that something was at the time. 

It’s surprising just how much her idea of “what a teacher is” has shifted, she says. 

Encabo always thought that she would be teaching young children in an elementary school classroom in the Philippines. But that dream has taken a back seat to something much more broad. 

Now enrolled in Penn’s International Educational Development Program in the Graduate School of Education, Encabo is focusing on curriculum and pedagogy, teacher education, school leadership and social entrepreneurship with an eye toward East and Southeast Asia. 

This summer, she is working for 10 weeks in Vientiane, Laos, as an education intern with World Vision, a Christian relief, development and advocacy organization. She assists its education team with projects and programs that require updating. She’s also getting the opportunity to work on health and finance-related projects. 

More specifically, she’s looking into microfinance and village development funds to determine how they can be used in the future to assist local communities and alleviate poverty. She’s collaborating with the health team on a project helping children to establish good hygiene habits. 

Applying the knowledge she’s learned in class is a key part of her internship, says Encabo. 

“Theories and ideas can stimulate our thinking, but, if they are not applied, then can I say that I have really learned?,” she asks. “We often talk about adding value to the world. In all that I do, regardless of setting, I try to find ways to make small positive contributions.” 

By the end of the summer, Encabo hopes to contribute to and learn more about the challenges of implementing projects in the communities that the organization intends to serve. In the meantime, she’s blogging once a week at about her work, with reflections on themes and how they relate to what she’s learned at Penn. 

As each week passes, she plans to build on the knowledge and insight from previous weeks, hoping that her readers will find continuity in her journey. Encabo also plans to write about more leisurely things, giving readers a glimpse of the city. 

This isn’t Encabo’s first study abroad experience. She’s also been to the United Kingdom and Japan. 

This summer she’s hoping to explore the many provinces in Laos to see the diversity of the country in its landscape, ethnicities and communities. 

“So far I've enjoyed being in Vientiane. It is still very much a developing area so, unlike the other capitals in Southeast Asia, it is a lot less crowded and has fewer infrastructures particularly health care,” Encabo says, noting that she appreciates the relaxed pace. 

She’s excited that she has gotten to meet and work with a diverse group of professionals, which she says is valuable. 

“I’m leveraging their wisdom and experiences to shape my own professional identity and hone my thinking and skills,” Encabo says. 

Returning to Penn this fall, Encabo is scheduled to graduate from GSE in December.

Story Photo