Foreign exchange students discuss their time at UTPA

To be 8,848 miles away from home while immersed in a foreign culture can be scary, but UTPA foreign exchange students Prattana Aroonrattanateawan and Kanyarat Pratrairach are doing it this summer, and getting the chance to study nursing in a new light.

The pair of 23-year-olds graduated in February with bachelor’s degrees in faculty of nursing from Naresuan University located in Muang, Thailand. Upon entering their senior year of college last fall, they signed up for the school’s Cooperative Program Nursing Project linked with UTPA.

The four-month project consists a total of 12 hours of UTPA nursing courses plus weekly trips to the McAllen Medical Hospital for clinical observations. Once Aroonrattanateawan and Kanyarat complete the program, which is equivalent to a graduate program at Naresuan, they will each write a research paper on how the American medical profession differs from the Thailand health system.

According to Naresuan’s website, the university is a leading research institution collaborating with top international colleges around the globe in countries such as Australia, France, and the U.S. UTPA and Naresuan have been in partnership since November 2011 and will renew the agreement in November 2016.

One month after receiving their diplomas, the girls packed their bags and boarded a 22-hour flight from Shanghai, China, bound for McAllen.

Throughout their stay, the women experienced life as American college students. They met new friends in class who helped them get accustomed to campus and the pair was invited to shopping sprees and trips to the movies.

Aroonrattanateawan explained how their stay at UTPA’s Bronc Village apartments is coming to an end because they will be heading back to Thailand July 21. Once back home, the pair hopes to become more educated on health care in order to receive work as nurses.

THE PROJECT

Aroonrattanateawan is completing her nursing project on transcultural nursing, an anthropology-based science focused on how professional nurses treat a patient from a different background from their own. She explained how her project will be based on her belief that doctors in the Rio Grande Valley should be more educated about Mexican traditions and beliefs.

According to Baylor University’ BearSpace webpage, a network file storage space for students and faculty, many from the Hispanic background believe problems that are primarily spiritual in nature can be treated with prayer and ritual. However, research suggests most Hispanics use medicine such as antibiotics to a far greater extent than traditional or folk methods.

“It’s all about how you would take care of a patient who comes from a culture that’s not your own,” Aroonrattanateawan said. “I would say the Mexican culture is dominant here, so doctors have to be educated about the Mexican culture.”

On the other hand, Kanyarat is writing her project on maternity nursing, also known as labor and delivery nursing. While at UTPA, she said she has seen how the Thai and American programs differ.

“Here, I would say nursing is taught a little less strictly,” the Udonthani, Thailand, native said. “In Thailand, it’s required for nurses to have their hair pulled back in a hair net, no makeup, no nail polish and no jewelry, but here it’s only required to pull your hair back.”

When first arriving at McAllen Medical Hospital in March, the women said they were amazed to see the amount of technology that is available to patients, such as a medical vending machine. Such machines hold medicine, personal care products, and even first aid supplies that can be bought like snacks from a machine. Hospitals can also use them for prescription medications.

In Thailand, much of this equipment goes to leading hospitals instead of rural ones.

“(Hospitals in the U.S.) have a lot of good technology,” Aroonrattanateawan said. “But in Thailand, nurses need to provide the patient with their medicine…we don’t have much, but some hospitals do have it.”

NEW TERRITORY

Along with being amazed by American medical technology, the women were astonished by how much American culture differs from their own.

“In the Thai culture, we don’t touch much or kiss, and here everyone does that,” Aroonrattanateawan said. “I like the fajitas and (Kanyarat) likes the tacos, which is different from Thai food like rice. We can have rice every day with every meal. And driving on the opposite side of the road was also a challenge.”

When it came to their schoolwork, speaking and writing in a foreign language was the toughest challenge the pair faced.

“I think talking is the hardest. Every Thai student has to take an English class starting in the first grade,” Aroonrattanateawan explained. “We don’t get to use it much. We only speak Thai, and even in English class we speak Thai. But we learn from watching movies and listening to music. Music helped a lot; my favorite is Taylor Swift.”

Despite being overwhelmed by a new language, Aroonrattanateawan knows all the hard work will eventually help her to save lives.

“I would say if we walk on the road and we see someone who is need of medical attention, we have the power to help them immediately,” she said.

Kanyarat said after she completes the nursing project, she would like to find work as a perioperative nurse, meaning she would assist doctors during surgeries, as well as work with patients who are having invasive procedures.

“When I think about nursing as a career, I think I can help a lot of people who will need my help in the future,” she said.

The girls admit they have enjoyed the countless shopping trips, parties, and trips to the movies with their new friends. They hope after turning in their research projects and boarding a 22-hour flight back home, they will be able to return one day, to visit the place that became their temporary home.