Lunch on Sunday, January 4th
Our first day of school could not have been better! We met Camellia and Hannah (UT students), Airi and Lisa (Showa, Japan students), and Beau, Boss and Tony (Thai hosts and hostesses) in the lobby of our dorm to walk to school. Travel tip of the day: download the Line app before you come abroad. This allows you to text any phone without Wifi. We tried to download it once we got over here, but the app sends you a verification code via text message, not iMessage, so we can’t create accounts without accessing our data!
L to R: Lisa, Airi, Camellia, Erin, Hannah, Megan
All of our Thai friends (there are 10 total that help us out) are 5th year students. Here, one attends the Faculty ofPharmacy for six total years to graduate with a Pharm.D., so similar to American programs that only require two years of undergraduate coursework. There are 75-100 students in each class, and the Faculty of Pharmacy has a 1:10 faculty:student ratio. The 5th year students spend time on rotations in hospitals, primary care clinics, and conducting research. Every student must complete a thesis to graduate, and these get published in books and stored in the Drug Information Center on campus. Mahasarakham University is one of three pharmacy schools in the Northeast, known as the Isan region of Thailand. The entire country has 19 pharmacy schools. Fun fact: The province name where our school is located is Maha Sarakham, but the University name is spelled as one word.
Walking to school with all the students back from their holiday break and just starting a new semester was really fun for us, since we both lived on campus at Auburn for three years. It really does feel like home and it’s great being back at school! #nerdsatheart. The campus is huge and has lots of coffee shops everywhere; a cup of coffee can be found in the hands of almost every student that isn’t riding a motorcycle to class (the main mode of transportation). There’s also a campus and city bus system…the campus bus is free and the city bus is very cheap!
Our main classroom for this rotation, the Rossukon Room, is on the 2nd floor of the Faculty of Pharmacy. We had a wonderful introduction lecture from our preceptors and learned much about the University and the Province. They then asked us what we hope to learn during the rotation, and requested our feedback at the end of the rotation to improve for future exchange students. It’s truly incredible how much the Thai people care about us, we honestly feel like we are princesses. We could not have asked for better hosts! They even gave us Thai nicknames so we feel like a part of the family. Erin’s is Khao Tan, a Thai sweet crispy rice cakes with caramel or cane sugar drizzle. Megan’s is Kao Mao, a young sticky rice.
After our introduction lecture, the Dean came to greet us and present us with gorgeous Mahasarakham Faculty of Pharmacy paperweights and awesome Mahasarakham University notebooks and calendars. It is the Thai year 2558, which is cool to see in our planners! After taking a festive group picture, we toured the labs, classroom buildings, herbal medicine areas, research facilities, and Drug Information Center. We learned that the students here focus heavily on pharmacognosy, or the study of natural medicines. They must be able to recognize all the herbals and give their name and medical indication for an exam. In the center of the building, there is a Buddha of Pharmacy (Phra Phai Sat) to offer support and guidance for the students.
Next, we walked across the street to the Office of the President where we met with the Vice President for Administrations and Assistant to the President for International Affairs, a wonderful Thai woman who was very interested in hearing about potential plans to expand the program. Currently, two Thai students attend the University of Tennessee each September, but it is very, very expensive for them to sponsor students to come to America. We want to look into fundraising to help start an exchange program with Auburn. We also watched the schools promotion video for the US-Thai Consortium meeting, which helped us learn more about the University. It was very impressive. The University motto in the video was “Public Devotion Is A Virtue Of The Learned,” which we both loved. The professors were served tea and students served water by staff of the office during the meeting. This culture of grace is very neat to experience. The Office of the President gifted us with very cool flashlights as well! Gifting is a very big part of the culture here. Travel tip: Bring small things like American candy, pens, keychains, etc. to share with your new international friends!
Six exchange students with the Buddha of Pharmacy
After visiting the Office of the President, we had lunch in a building next door called the MSU Restaurant, which was right across the street from the pharmacy school and overlooked a lake. Our traditional Thai lunch was served in true family style, with many dishes to share, rice, and soup. For dessert, we had Thai “sweet meat” which is like fried dough balls in a coconut milk, which was SOOO good or saaep laai (very delicious) as they say in Isan. Following lunch, we walked back to the Faculty of Pharmacy for a tour of a museum located in the school building that is named for and dedicated to The Beloved Princess, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. This museum houses a replica of an old apothecary style pharmacy with many herbal medicines, a model of the original hospital in this province, and a mural of traditional medicinal rituals. We are so glad we read The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman as part of our HSOP summer reading, because some of the Buddhist rituals are similar to those practiced by the Hmong in that book.
We took a break at a campus coffee shop to hang out and grab a snack, and realized we all share a love for Taylor Swift and the movie Frozen. The winner of the Thai version of American Idol won by singing a Thai version of Let It Go! Later in the afternoon, we went to the campus bike shop to rent bikes which we get to keep for our entire stay here. We had fun biking all over campus and stopped to see the gym, swimming pool, stadium, track, and volleyball courts. We even got in a quick game of volleyball, which was lots of fun! Near the stadium we stumbled across outdoor dancing lessons, and they were kind enough to let us join in!! On Friday, January 9th we get to attend a New Years party at the school, where we will perform a traditional Thai dance. We have another lesson tomorrow night (Wednesday, January 7th) with our friend Mint.
There is a market on campus called the small market, or thalla noi. To us it’s actually a HUGE and boasts around 100 food stands with everything you could ever want. This is where students eat most of their meals. We had dinner here the first night; we tried Khao poon (Lao rice noodles) with a green curry sauce. For dessert, we had Khanom bueang or cripy pancakes with coconut cream. To get back to our dorm, Mint escorted us home on her motorcycle so that we had enough light on our bikes. The amount of time and effort put into our happiness and safety is overwhelming. We are learning a lot about becoming gracious hostesses and hope to serve others in the same way that we are being treated here.
Upon arriving at home, we explored the dorm complex a little more. We discovered a washer and dryer on the third flood and then walked around campus to take a picture by the main entrance sign in true Samford Hall fashion. Then, time for bed! Fan-dee (sweet dreams)!
This morning, we were feeling adventurous and decided to wake up early and ride our bikes to the small market. We figured out how to ride on the left side of the road, order coffee, and got these incredible frappuccinos. Have we mentioned the amazing weather?? The bike ride was so pleasant. After our breakfast of champions, we toured the University Mushroom Museum, which houses over 2,000 species of mushrooms, both medical and experimental. Some have active chemical components very similar to hormone structures that have anti-cancer properties.
Today also included a visit to the campus bookstore (we got awesome coffee mugs, go MSU) and the library. Needless to say, we were in heaven. The library here is amazing! It’s four stories and has an entire section dedicated to the Isan (Northeast region) culture. In this section, the bookshelves are shaped like symbols of the culture, such as a sticky rice basket and a Wot, or musical instrument. After our touring we ate lunch at the small market and tried Pad Thai for the first time. Talk about incredible!!!
Following lunch, wehad our first lecture. The topic was the Health Care System in Thailand and the Scoring System for the Development of the National List of Essential Drugs. Thailand is the Southeast Asia WHO region and has a population of 67 million people, 14% of whom are over the age of 60 and the average life expectancy is around 75 years. Western medicine was started in 1828 by King Rama III, but there has been a trend in recent years to return to the herbal or natural medicine tradition. HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases are the leading causes of death, but this country has the 4th highest death rate due to accidents in the world and is also seeing a tremendous rise in non-communicable diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular health. Universal Health Care covers 80% of the population, and health expenditure is 6% of the national GDP. Half of these costs are medication related, as all HIV/AIDs patients are provided free medication. Health care is provided by three main groups, the government (Ministry of Public Health), non-profit organizations like the Red Cross, and the private sector which consists of doctors offices, community pharmacies, and private hospitals. There are five different types of hospitals that are classified by number of beds. In the Northeast Region (of which Maka Sarakham is the heart), there are 1,000 citizens per hospital bed, so they have a huge need for more facilities and healthcare providers. There are about 15,000 pharmacies in Thailand. Here, pharmacists play the role of Consumer Health Protection, or ensuring that patients don’t use bogus products that people claim have medical properties. They can also prescribe medications in groups 4-6, which includes anything but sedatives, hypnotics and controlled substances. Here, steroids are group 1 drugs and codeine is group 2. Benzodiazepines are group 3, antibiotics and NSAIDs are examples of group 4, and our OTCs are separated between 5-6, which a few more things being available over-the-counter here. The Essential Drug list is a national formulary to promote cost effectiveness. Drugs are grouped into 5 categories, A through E. Category A drugs are things like antihistamines or “simple drugs.” Category B is anything with more than one indication. Category C is a “more complicated” drug that can only be prescribed by a specialist—Coreg is category C! Category D drugs are very expensive and if they are used, the prescribed must complete a drug use evaluation. All herbal and traditional medicines are included on this National Formulary as well.
After class (which, not going to lie, it was fun for both of us to be back in class and taking notes!) we toured the MSU Museum and Mini Zoo. This consists of replicas of old Isan style homes and a dedicated room to MSU alumni. Your first year at MSU dictates which generate you are in and since we started pharmacy school in 2011, this makes us the generation of the Yak. This means we are brave! There is a wall dedicated to people of the different generations, and we got to leave our note here. The Mini Zoo was adorable; here, they have deer in the zoo!! Walking through, our Thai friend Prim found a mah kra dare herb on the ground that she gave to us. It has medical properties and is short and spiky; apparently, it hurts elephants when they step on it!
To finish our full but awesome two days, we journeyed into town to rent traditional Thai dress for the party on Friday. Erin got to be the model, and the outfit was so beautiful and intricate. We cannot wait to wear them!! On the way back to the University through town, we stopped at a Vietnamese restaurant for dinner where we again ate family style (which we love). Our favorite thing was Yum pak bung krob, or crispy deep friend Morning Glory. Spicy food is definitely growing on us and we fear when we get back to America nothing will taste seasoned enough. At dinner, our friends taught us how to pronounce the school motto in Thai. They also promised to teach us how to write it, because we think the language is so beautiful and would like to have this written to frame when we get home! In exchange, I am going to give them a copy of the Auburn Creed.
Tomorrow we will visit the Paleontology Research Center (the only University in Thailand with this type of study) and the Samakkee Primary Care Health Unit. We are excited to experience our first patient interaction in Thailand.
We hope everyone back home has a wonderful day as we’re going to sleep. GOOD LUCK AT YOUR GAME TONIGHT, COLIN ZEEK!