Learning Abroad Center

Maria in Thailand

Recipient of the Joshua and James Haglund Memorial Peace Scholarship

“My experiences at Mae Sa Clinic have been priceless. I have not only learn a great deal of the Thai language, but I have harnessed skills of working well under a great deal of ambiguity.” —Maria

Tell Us About Your Research

My research project was done at a clinic in Mae Sa, a village just north of Chiang-Mai. This clinic serves around 7000 people, and the primary activities performed there are the filling of prescriptions, dressing of wounds, house visits for newborns and bedridden patients, and a weekly clinic for the frail elderly. My research was about best practices for regaining independence in the frail elderly population over the age of 65. I did independent research on risk factors for disability related to physical independence, and used those results to make suggestions for the clinic. My objective was to help make goal oriented policies within projects such as the one at Mae Sa.

With independent research I studied which types of disability most associated with physical dependence or inability to perform daily living activities without assistance. My observations of the clinic found that there could be improvement in the elder’s program to address these risks. As I had developed a good working relationship with the staff at the clinic I provided suggestions for the elders’ program. These included an aspect of walking exercises as endurance while walking is a key aspect of independence for elders. In this village there are many barriers to endurance training, so I believe performing it as part of the clinic would be helpful. In current research about health and aging it has become known that falls put elders at a high risk of losing independence. As a part of my project I assessed which fall risk test would be the most appropriate Mae Sa Clinic, and suggested that they use it to determine which of their elders could benefit from balance training, and specified physical therapy to prevent falls.

What Did You Learn?

There were no staff at the clinic that spoke English, so I was pushed to learn quickly, and also find creative ways to get the information I needed for my research paper. I ran into many very challenging moments of cultural differences related to body image, gender, and the view of hierarchy that at times felt like more than I could handle. However I believe it was an excellent way to practice working well along people who have very different world views from my own. I have developed an appreciation for the Thai work environment. Saying this comes along with admitting that at the onset I struggled with differences that I initially saw as negative ones. As I got to know the people, and see how their working style mirrored the overall style of community in Thailand, I began to see it as functional and culturally appropriate.

What Were Other Highlights of Your Experience?

Working at Mae Sa clinic has allowed me to see how projects are conceptualized in the Thai context. I was lucky enough to be allowed to review the funding requests and proposals of most of the projects that are going on at the clinic during my time here. I have seen how the clinic makes do with very few resources and staff (only 8 full time) and still runs a multitude of projects successfully.

What’s Next?

This opportunity was especially valuable for me due to the line of work that I am going into. I will attend graduate school this fall to begin my Master’s in Global Health. It is my plan to one day be a project manager of public health initiatives.