Professor, students spend summer in Malaysia, Australia

Medicine, dietetics and nursing researched as part of study focused on nutrition and health care.

For Dr. Jay Kandiah and a group of Ball State students, the best way to spend a summer learning about a country and its culture is to experience it firsthand.

Kandiah, along with 17 students interested in the fields of medicine, dietetics and nursing, traveled to Malaysia and Australia July 21 through Aug. 11 as part of a field study focused on nutrition and health care.

"I think this trip gave the kids a chance to be exposed to cultures they had never known about before," Kandiah, a nutrition professor, said. "They ate ethnic foods, visited mosques and temples and learned that Malaysians are far less concerned with material wealth than we are here in America."

The journey gave the students a chance to learn about Malaysia and Australia's health care systems, and included tours of several hospitals and medical research centers in each country.

"I think students were surprised at how many similarities were found between medical care here in the states and in Malaysia," Kandiah said. "But it was interesting to see how much emphasis Malaysian doctors and nurses place on service."

It's not just someone pushing you through the door shouting "'next,' like it often is here."

Kandiah, who is Malaysian, said the idea for the field study first came about two years ago.

"The Center for International Programs had an open meeting for those of us who wanted to learn more about an exchange program an Australian professor on campus wanted to see developed," she said.

From there, Kandiah sent a proposal to Jim Coffin, director of international programs, asking for funding to develop her field study course.

In December 2000, Kandiah traveled to Australia and established connections with physicians in Melbourne, Sydney and Tasmania -- the same three cities her students would visit with her nearly two years later.

"Everyone we met and shared this experience with overseas was very supportive of what we were doing," Kandiah said. "They gave us key tags as souvenirs at the Malaysian hospital and told us they would work with us again."

Amanda Scott, a junior majoring in dietetics, said she came away from the experience with a different view of Malaysian health care than what she originally had in mind.

"Before traveling there, I thought Malaysia was this really small country that was behind in medicine," Scott said. "But their facilities were technologically up-to-date."

While staying twenty minutes outside of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital, the students were given a chance to sightsee in addition to visiting the Spastic Center, a hospital catering to children with mental and physical disabilities, and the Subang Jaya Medical Center.

"They went to the (Petronas) Twin towers, Hindu and Chinese temples, the butterfly park and a pewter factory," Kandiah said. "We also gave them a day to relax and hit the beach."

Steven Kouimanis, a junior interested in medicine, said the week-long stay in Australia had its highlights as well.

"We went to a petting zoo where we got to feed the kangaroos," Kouimanis said. "It was pretty cool to see animals like wallabies and Tasmanian devils firsthand."

Kandiah said the students' experience was well worth the cost of the $3,600 trip.

"Many of the students were happy because they thought that amount was cheap for all we got to do," she said. "And that cost included everything we did from the minute we stepped on the plane in Indianapolis until the minute we got off."

Jones said studying abroad is the type of experience all students should seek out in college.

"You read about a country in a textbook and you have no idea how they live," Jones said. "To go there and interact with these people was such a wonderful experience.

I thought I would learn a lot about nutrition and health care, but I found myself learning even more about religion and everyday life."