College of Nursing

Trekking for Cultural Understanding

8/9/2017 8:00:00 AM - Nathan Brown

Amy Boswell looked down at her hiking shoes and sighed. The deep tread on the bottom had long since filled with mud and was now useless. She had known there would be a lot of trekking on the trip, but this went beyond that. Going straight up the mountain, no switchback trails, she wondered how the native guides ahead of her did this day in and day out. Suddenly her foot slipped. Startled, sliding, skidding, she fell. Finally stopping, covered with mud, she looked up to see a smiling guide, hand stretched out to help her back up.

In spring 2016 BYU College of Nursing students traveled to Vietnam for the first time. There they experienced a clinical practicum for the Public and Global Health Nursing course unlike any other. Students journeyed to a remote region in northern Vietnam, visited the hill tribes there, lived with local families, and provided instruction on healthcare. This cultural immersion provided an exceptional experience for students to gain perspective they will apply in their future careers.

 

THE PREPARATION

Associate teaching professor Cheryl A. Corbett (BS ’89, MS ’96) knew she needed to find a site where students could learn from a truly foreign culture. She knew Vietnam would fit the bill, but she did not know how enthusiastic students would be.

“One of my concerns was if I would have students who would want this kind of experience,” Corbett says. “We needed students who could sleep with the bugs, live in the rafters with the people, and eat their unique foods—things which might put someone out of their comfort zone.”

Corbett pressed forward with her plan and traveled to Vietnam for a two-week scouting trip. She found great clinical opportunities among some amazing people and came back ready to take students who were willing and ready to go on an adventure.

 

THE TREKKING

Nestled near the Chinese border in the hills of northern Vietnam is a town called Sa Pa. Residents include people from several ethnic minorities, including the Hmong, who also live in scattered tribes across the surrounding countryside. Nursing students spent three weeks trekking up and down mountains to reach these villages. With the help of their three Hmong guides, the nursing students were able to reach several isolated communities, sometimes hiking 10 to 12 miles per day.

“Our guides were literally in slip-on sandals running up and down the mountains,” says Boswell, a sixth-semester nursing student. “Here we were in these beautiful hiking shoes slipping and falling everywhere we went. I remember one guide, named Mai (we called her Mama). She would always help us up after a fall. I especially had a reputation for falling up and down the mountains.”

With the nearest healthcare facility more than eight hours away, students had to rely on their own abilities and use caution. However, even though the trekking was more intense than expected, the group realized it was worth it as they became immersed in the unique culture.

“The people in the hill tribes are shy, but they want to share,” says associate teaching professor Karen M. Lundberg (AS ’79). “Our Hmong guides were able to get us into tiny villages that we wouldn’t have been able to get into otherwise.”

The group found that simply spending time with the people worked best to help them open up. Rather than quickly asking to see homes and healing practices, they stopped and took the time to communicate with them through gestures, smiles, and exchanges. And with the help of their guides, the students felt the Hmong people become receptive.

Read the rest of the story on our blog (byunursing.wordpress.com).