Title: AU nurses go global
Laura Neese, a recent graduate from the School of Nursing at Anderson University, had never stepped foot outside of the United States. She also had never worked with disabled children. So when the opportunity arose last spring to visit an orphanage in Korea for people with special needs, she jumped at it. "I wanted to go as far away as possible," the young redhead said with a twinkling eye. "I had never been out of the country before. It was kind of a challenge for me." Her courage certainly paid off. Neese said the experience was life-changing.
"It was wonderful," she said, "to get different views. I realized we should respect what we do have here and what they don't."
And therein lies the heart of the university's Intercultural Nursing Class, which aims to instill a global understanding that students can carry with them into the medical field.
Beyond learning cultural practices in the classroom, the scholars must take a three-week trip abroad before graduating. In the past, they have visited destinations such as Russia, Belize and India. This year, the nurses-in-training went to Honduras and Korea. Although the students pay for most of the trip, Community Hospital donated a lot of the supplies.
"Our own country is becoming increasingly diverse," said Andrea Koepke, chair of the School of Nursing. "We need to be able to appreciate different cultures."
"There's a bigger world outside of Anderson, Ind.," she added. "We have a pretty homogenous group around here."
Koepke said she tries to incorporate different cultural traditions in her curriculum -- such as folk remedies. Still, the students don't really embrace the lessons unless they are immersed in it.
Graduate Suzanne Ekstrom would surely agree.
Ekstrom was one of the 11 students who visited Honduras. The group traveled to different rural villages each day and set up makeshift clinics. The locals would flock to the medical stations, sometimes walking for miles, she said. After all, many of the villages don't have a doctor. The idea of a family doctor--or a quick place to pick up milk for that matter--is a dream.
"They don't even have simple stuff, like Tylenol," she said. "They didn't have the simplest stuff available. They ran out of vitamins."
Beyond prescribing medication and giving some treatment, Ekstrom studied child growth and development. She was surprised by the severe lack of health education and found preventive care to be almost nonexistent.
For instance, one malnourished 2-year-old weighed only 14 pounds.
"You see parasites. You see children too small. You see stuff that can be prevented," she said. "There's no health promotion, no disease prevention. It's really not a focus."
Still, Ekstrom emphasized Hondurans are wealthy in other aspects, like their sense of intimacy.
"We always focus on how poor they are. But they are so rich in relationships," she said. "They don't have money to depend on. They have to depend on people."
Although differences were evident, other students found there were a lot of similarities between American and international cultures.
Monica Shay, who went to Korea, studied the expression of pain in disabled children. Like here, it often goes unnoticed.
"They're just like us. There is a lack of education," she said. "I don't think the contrast is all that stark."
Regardless, most of the students agreed their experience abroad was inspiring. Some even said they hope to learn a foreign language and plan to travel internationally in the future.
For Koepke, that means mission accomplished.
"There's a real feeling of foreignness," she said. "Obviously, students respond in different ways, but overall, I think it's extremely positive."
JENNA M. MCKNIGHT is a writer for the Anderson Herald-Bulletin .