To Thailand, With Love (of Nursing)

The floating market was nearly deserted. The Bangkok sun rendered every color brilliant, from the red canopy over the boat to the green awnings that shaded pedestrian walks along the water. But for Megan C. Laubacher and several of her Penn Nursing classmates, the heat and the absence of the usual chaos didn’t matter: the serenity of drifting down the canal and watching the few vendors working harmoniously on the Coronation Day holiday was awe-inspiring.

It was also a reminder of an important cultural aspect of Thai life, one Laubacher saw in Chiang Mai as well, when community health workers explained why they volunteer their time—namely, always doing good. Doing good is critical because of its connection to the Buddhist concept of merit. Merit is gained by doing good deeds; it determines the quality of one’s next life and helps move a person toward enlightenment. Thailand is approximately 95 percent Buddhist.

Seeing merit-making in action is one of the many reasons the travel component of the Thai comparative health systems course is critical.

Laubacher, now a fourth-year undergraduate, spent the spring 2023 semester learning about the Thai health system and how it is uniquely tied to the country’s religion and culture in Penn Nursing’s Comparing Health Systems in an Intercultural Context course. The course culminates with a two-week field experience in Thailand during which students explore nursing and nursing education with Thai nurses, faculty, and students, as well as experience religious and cultural sites.

Seeing merit-making in action is one of the many reasons the travel component of the Thai comparative health systems course is critical. The experience helps enhance students’ capacity to care for and collaborate with individuals from around the world. Penn Nursing is one of the few undergraduate and graduate nursing programs in the United States that offers travel options in the curriculum.

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