Postcard from Thailand: Arnold School student on front lines of community health intervention programs
August 7, 2012
(Editor’s Note: Amanda Smith, a senior in the Arnold School of Public Health’s undergraduate public health program, shares this first-person story about her efforts to learn more about international public health needs and efforts to improve people’s lives in Thailand.)
My study abroad endeavors have brought me to the northeastern region of Thailand in a small city known as Khon Kaen. The program is a Community Public Health program through the Council of International Educational Exchange (CIEE). The program has seven people who are from and attend colleges all across the country, but all share a common interest in public health.
The program is divided into three sections with a total of four classes, all centered around public health efforts in Thailand. The first third of the semester is class driven, spending time with Thai professors and doctors learning about the Thai health care system and the different level hospitals located throughout. This third of the semester also brought us to northern Vietnam for 10 days where we spent five days in Thai Nguyen, Vietnam, learning about the Vietnamese health care system and five free days to explore the beauty of Ha Long Bay and Hanoi, a city influenced both by Asian and French culture.
The second and third parts of the semester are focusing on community health intervention. We have the opportunity to spend most of our time in rural villages throughout Thailand addressing health issues that local villagers are experiencing.
To address these health issues, we first identify the problems and then will create a public health intervention initiative in hopes of helping villagers improve their health status. The villages where we will be staying include a farming village known for extreme pesticide use, a railroad community that is considered a Thailand slum, and a community that lives in and lives off a landfill.
On an academic and career driven side, this program is opening my eyes to real-life applications of public health. It is introducing me to the different fields of public health and how these fields are applied to health situations within a country. On a large scale, this program is helping me to determine my future educational goals as well as career goals in public health. On a nonacademic side, being in Thailand is opening my eyes to a world that is incredibly foreign to me.
To live in a developing country is far different from living in the United States, and I am reminded of this every day when there is no hot water in my bathroom. Toilet paper and napkins are rarely provided, and poverty can be seen on every street corner.
Regardless of these things, Thailand has a beauty about it that is almost indescribable. Thai people, with their smiles and welcoming eyes, are some of the most friendly people whom I have ever met. Serenity can be found daily in the miles and miles of farming fields that are located just outside my apartment door, and the spice of Thai food brings new and amazing flavors to my taste buds.
Thailand is certainly a place of adventure and somewhere I am so blessed to have the opportunity to explore. So far, I have ridden elephants and pet tigers in Chiang Mai, visited ruins built in the 11th-century in Phimai, hiked through one of the top ranked national parks in the world in Khao Yai National Park, visited breathtaking temples in Bangkok such as Wat Po, Wat Arun, and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and relaxed on some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen in Phuket.
In only a few short months, I have seen so many of the things Thailand has to offer and I cannot begin to explain how excited I am to spend the rest of my semester here, continuing on with my public health experience and visiting more of Thailand and Southeast Asia.
(The Council of International Educational Exchange is a nonprofit, nongovernmental international exchange organization. To learn more, visit www.ciee.org.)