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Nursing students learn cultural sensitivity in South Korean trip

July 16, 2018

KOKOMO, Ind. — As a future nurse, Lynne Dang plans to ask her patients about any cultural expectations for their care, after viewing the South Korean health care system from the inside.

“Now I’m more aware that not all cultures view health care the same way,” she said. “It will be helpful to ask questions if I have a patient from a different culture than mine, so I can give the best care possible.”

Dang, a junior at Indiana University Kokomo, was one of four students who visited Seoul and Jeonju as part of an annual trip offered by the School of Nursing. The students spend a semester learning about South Korean health care, hospitals, culture, and language, before spending two weeks in Asia, visiting hospitals and historical sites, and connecting with fellow nursing students.

Lesley Connolly, lecturer in nursing, noted this was the 17th year for the exchange program with the nursing schools at Jesus University and Sungshin University. South Korean students usually visit IU Kokomo each winter, with IU Kokomo students and faculty traveling in May.

“This gives both sets of students an opportunity to experience health care, culture, and history in a different country from their own,” she said. “My hope is that the students from both countries will be able to see the similarities and the differences in the health care, culture, and history, and use this as they become caring, culturally sensitive nurses.”

Dang, from Kokomo, found it interesting that in the South Korean hospitals, nurses take care of medical needs only, while patients’ families stay with them to assist with personal care, like bathing and providing meals. Patients are also freer to get up and move, she said.

“When we take a patient to the bathroom, we use a walker or something else to help them, because we’re worried about them falling,” she said. “Their patients are freer to roam and go wherever they want throughout the hospital during their stay.”

She found the hospitals to be very modern, with some rehabilitation equipment she hadn’t seen before, and noted they were very clean. However, she also noticed most were not air conditioned, believing that natural air is better for the patient.

Victoria Strong, from DeMotte, gained an inside view of how Korean hospitals work, after she became ill and had to stay in one. She was thankful for their nursing student hosts, who were able to provide translation services for her.

“If I ever have a patient who doesn’t speak English, now I can empathize, because I’ve been sick and in pain and being cared for by someone who didn’t speak my language,” she said. “You have to read body language, or use motions to communicate until a translator is available.”

While nurses in the U.S. each have their own way of performing tasks, Strong noticed that South Korean nurses tend to do them the same way, and had more patients under their care than American nurses.

She also found that her nurses wanted to keep her covered in blankets from head to toe, and to keep her very warm, or even hot, while she was sick. Dang added that maternity patients in particular believe if they get cold, it will lead to arthritis later in life.

“I will know if I treat a Korean patient, he or she probably will want extra blankets, and that I should not turn up the air conditioning,” said Strong. 

She enjoyed her experience, even though she was sick, and appreciated the chance to see another part of the world.

“I knew I wouldn’t go there on my own,” she said. “Going with IU Kokomo, we met our exchange students with the nursing school, so we had people to show us the tourist sites, but also give us the local experience. It was a really good experience.”

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 07/16/2018