After months of waiting, today is the day that I finally leave for Thailand! I will be travelling to Khon Kaen University for a global health program. The program is partnered with UM’s School of Nursing, so I will have the opportunity to learn alongside nursing students as well as students from other disciplines.
During the program, I really look forward to learning more about Thai culture. Most statistics say that Thailand is over 90% Buddhist, so I hope to learn more about Buddhist practices and how Buddhism plays a role in the daily lives of Thai people.
Additionally, I hope that this program will provide me with a better knowledge of public health issues within Thailand. During Nursing 421, a class that must be taken along with this program, we learned that liver fluke is a very large issue in Thai communities. That's about the depth of knowledge I have about it, however, so I am very interested to learn more about its scale and what threats it poses to Thailand.
We're about halfway through the program now, and I've been having an amazing time. Thailand is beautiful, and the people that I've interacted with are all incredibly kind and helpful. We've been taking "survival Thai" classes, which have made me feel much more comfortable walking around Khon Kaen without a native Thai speaker accompanying me.
We’ve also learned quite a bit about Thai culture. We've visited several temples and even had the opportunity to participate in almsgiving, where at 6 am community members line up and donate food to passing monks. This activity allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of Buddhism, as well as see how this aspect of the religion plays into the lives of some Thai people.
In addition, we’ve been very fortunate to work with several members of the Khon Kaen University staff from the Faculty of Nursing and Faculty of Medicine. They have given us lectures on liver fluke, nursing, and the Thai health care system as well as accompanied us as we toured KKU’s Srinagarind hospital. They are all very knowledgeable, and they are happy to answer any and all questions we have. My favorite part of the tour was going up to the helipad and learning about Srinagarind’s life flight services. I'm enjoying my time here so much, I'm sad that only have 10 days left.
I made it back home! I’m surprised to notice that everything feels different now that I’m back. In fact, it almost feels like I’m experiencing the culture shock that I didn't have in Thailand in the US. Thailand has a very laid back culture for the most part, so flying into Chicago and immediately being caught up in the whirlwind of people felt like a new (and rather scary) experience again.
One of my goals now that I'm home is to utilize all that I've learned about Thai culture in order to live a better life. For example, Thai people have a concept called “jai yen yen”, which roughly means “cool heart”. They don't like to get angry or stressed; instead, they try to stay relaxed and not let things bother them. I tend to get stressed easily, so I'm hoping that now that I've lived this way for a few weeks, I can keep that mindset now that I've returned.
Overall, I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to live and learn in Thailand. I came away with a much better understanding of their healthcare system and some of the major health issues Thai people face, as well as Thai culture and customs. I loved Thailand very much, and these last three weeks have been incredible. I can’t wait to apply what I’ve learned to my own life as well as share my new knowledge with others.