Warriors around the world

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

Students experience public health in Thailand

Sara Tiradossi / Winonan

A group of 19 Winona State University students spent three weeks of their summer break immersed in a different environment and culture as part of the 2016 Health Promotion and Education in a Developing Country travel study.

The experience gave the students an opportunity to learn a lot about a developing country, while attending health classes at a Thai university.

Health, exercise and rehabilitative science professor and leader of the program Peter Sternberg said the travel study came to him through an idea he had with Connie Kamara, the coordinator of health and wellness services on campus.

Sternberg worked for ten years in Namibia and then in Nicaragua, and through those experiences he realized being in contact with people who are part of another culture helped him to understand the world better and one’s place and role in it.

“We both have experience in working in developing countries abroad. We thought the interaction with people from another culture would have helped students to broaden their outlook on the whole world,” Sternberg said.

Through the program, Winona State partnered with Chiang Mai University, who was helpful in setting up a whole program and connection with the migrant learning centers, Sternberg said.

“We wanted the students to have fun but also to learn about the Thai health care system and make them aware of how they do things differently,” Sternberg said.

During the stay, the students did health assessments for six schools that work with refugees and migrants. The assessments included nutrition, administration and medical supplies.

Sternberg explained the students worked with the kids of each school as well, including some who were orphans, making it really important for the students to engage with the kids and provide support.

“We really need to try to understand others and walk a mile in their shoes. I think traveling helps you to do that,” Sternberg said.

Health promotion graduate student Michael Krug and senior health and wellness advocate Cortnie Schierman were two of the students joined the Thailand travel study this summer and loved being able to apply what they had learned in class in a foreign setting.

As part of his Leadership program, Krug took a chief role by being responsible for managing the group’s budget, navigating and setting students up with activities to do.

“I could test myself as a leader and see if I could lead a group abroad. It was pretty successful in the end. I saw the students grow throughout the three weeks,” Krug said.

Schierman said there is always a lot of ambiguity when one first arrives in a foreign country, but she said Krug really tried to keep the group positive. The best part of the experience for Schierman was to get to know the other culture.

“It was just so great being immersed in something so different than what I’m used to,” Schierman said.

She explained how the group stayed in Chiang Mai the first week. There, the students took classes every day on health care in Thailand and went on field trips in health care settings, whereas the second week they had a more practical experience through the health assessments.

Schierman said when she was learning about Thai health care, she realized Americans take a lot of things for granted.

“We think we have a big health care crisis, but in Thailand the health care is almost non-existent,” Schierman said.

After the three weeks, Both Krug and Schierman said the experience helped them to view the world in a more open minded way.

Because the trip was a great success, Sternberg is planning on going back to Thailand to renew the contacts, see what changes the program could benefit from and begin planning for the next trip in 2018.

“Thailand is an amazing culture. People are so loving, giving and friendly,” Krug said. “Even though we were on the other side of the earth, there are still things we can do to help with people who live in situations where they might need help, whether directly or indirectly.”

-By Sara Tiradossi

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