Elya Filler's Global Studies thesis on the East Asian sex industry and its historical background won that interdepartmental program's top honor for 2008-09. Now she is volunteering at a school in Cambodia and thinking about how best to continue her education while helping to battle poverty.
I grew up being taught that the only thing important in life is what you do to make the world a better place.
Earlier this month the Global Studies interdepartmental program recognized three outstanding 2008-09 senior theses that were submitted online by the students. Elya Marie Filler won the top honor for a 44-page thesis completed under the supervision of UCLA School of Law and Global Studies Professor Kal Raustiala, the director of the Burkle Center for International Relations. Focusing on East Asia, the paper looks at historical links between the Japanese military's use of foreign "comfort women" as sexual slaves, prostitution centered around U.S. military bases, and the present sex industry.
Two honorable mentions went to Andrew Bertolli and Joseluis Martinez. The four-year-old Global Studies interdepartmental program graduated 74 students for the academic year.
The daughter of missionaries who've served in many countries – more than 50 in the case of her father, who was born in the Philippines – Filler is currently in Battambang, Cambodia, working as a volunteer with teachers at the English-language Marie Mason school. She will go on to teach English for one year in Seoul, South Korea.
Since meeting youngsters who cannot afford $300 a year to attend university in Battambang, Filler dreams of establishing a scholarship fund for needy Cambodians.
"I grew up being taught that the only thing important in life is what you do to make the world a better place…. I know that the majority of the world lives in poverty and cannot be ignored," writes Filler in an email.
Filler completed part of her primary education in the Netherlands and made childhood trips to the Philippines.
"I also just have the travel bug," she explains. "I have traveled to Argentina, Uruguay, Spain, England, Germany, The Netherlands, France, Italy, China, The Philippines, Cambodia, Mexico, Canada, and Austria. I studied abroad in both Shanghai and Madrid and will be traveling through Vietnam and Thailand in less than 3 days. So I guess that's why I was interested in Global Studies and why I ended up focusing on Asia in my thesis."
The award-winning Global Studies theses are available via alumni profiles on the UCLA International Institute website. Filler's thesis is here.