Going abroad leads TWU grad student to serve at home

At Trinity Western University Amy Kobelt found a window to the world with opportunities to serve others. After some TWU-inspired international work experience, she says her calling is right here at home.

The Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology student spent much of her undergraduate years at Trinity Western University wanting to spread her wings.

Born and raised in Langley, B.C., Kobelt chose to stay local and study psychology at TWU. Having never traveled outside North America, a TWU Global Projects trip to Haiti in her second year was a life-changing experience.

“It gave me a taste of the world beyond Canada and I wanted more. It definitely planted a seed that influenced my path forward,” says Kobelt.

Back at TWU the following year, she learned about NightLight International, a non-profit organization in Bangkok, Thailand, that provides job training and a fresh start for women negatively impacted by sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. In her final year, working with NightLight became her goal after graduation.

Armed with a TWU Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Human Services Certificate, Amy spent six months in Bangkok volunteering as a support worker for women who have experienced trauma like sex trafficking.

She came away knowing that human trafficking would be her career focus. However, she needed to advance her education to get there.

“I initially looked at other universities for my Masters degree since I had been at TWU for four years already,” says Kobelt. “But in researching my options and speaking to faculty and graduate students, I heard the faculty at TWU is amazing and more flexible compared to other universities. You don’t have to jump on your faculty advisor’s research. At TWU, they want to help support you to pursue your passions and I really feel that is the case at TWU.”

This year she is completing her thesis on human trafficking locally. Combining her key learnings from Bangkok with a new understanding that sex trafficking can happen anywhere. Although it’s somewhat hidden in Canada, it affects women, even in the Langley area.

For her research, Kobelt is seeking women to confidentially share their stories of healing and resilience after experiencing sex trafficking or exploitation in Canada. Her hope is that 50% of the personal stories are those of Indigenous women to represent the numbers in prostitution and trafficking in Canada. 

“Through my research, I have learned a lot about how Indigenous people are so impacted by this issue. My heart has expanded and broke for the Indigenous people in Canada,” says Kobelt. “I can’t not do something about this now that I know about it. My focus is that their voices are not lost in this research. That is a really important value of the research for me.”

Conversations with TWU University Siya:m Patti Victor, as well as her research advisor Jennifer Mervyn, PhD, who is Métis, and faculty advisor Janelle Kwee have been instrumental in helping to steer her research.

“TWU has been super supportive of my research project. There have been challenges because of the topic I’ve chosen, but the faculty have been so supportive. I have personal relationships with the faculty members and I feel like I can go to them anytime,” says Kobelt.

In addition to her graduate research, Kobelt is completing an internship at Child and Youth Mental Health in Abbotsford. She needs to complete 280 practicum hours with clients - more than number required by some other universities - before graduating with her degree and qualifying as a Registered Clinical Counsellor.

“The TWU Faculty push me to produce good quality, highly ethical research that will be truly useful and not just sit on the shelf,” says Kobelt.

As Kobelt recently told the Langley Times, “I’m hoping to give a platform for women who have been sexually exploited to share their experiences–not just negative–but on the healing experience they’ve had, how they got there, and to celebrate their resilience and strength.”

If you, or someone you know is a survivor of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking in Canada and would like to share experiences of healing please, Amy Kobelt would welcome your email at amy.kobelt@mytwu.ca.

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