September 17, 2008 — On Sept. 9, professor John Kirchgessner's "Intro to the World of Nursing" class at the University of Virginia got a little firsthand perspective on the "world" part.
With the discussion led in part by eight visiting Taiwanese students, the class heard about the past, present and future of Taiwanese health care.
The Taiwanese students, all from the Kaohsiung Medical University College of Nursing, and their professor, Shu-Yuan Lin, were the first group to take part in a new exchange program between Kaohsiung and U.Va.
During Kirchgessner's class, Doris Greiner, director of international initiatives at the U.Va. School of Nursing, used the Taiwanese students' visit to implore U.Va.'s students to be aware of those around the world who need their help, in both the educational and medical fields.
"We must try to think carefully about countries that are needing assistance relating to the disease of poverty, and what needs to happen globally," she said.
After Greiner's presentation, the Taiwanese exchange students directed the attention to both the successes and needs in their country.
The class presentation was one highlight of the Taiwanese students' month-long visit, which ended Sept. 12. The seeds of the exchange with Kaohsiung were sown in 1999, when Gwo-Jaw Wang, then chairman of U.Va.'s Department of Orthopedic Surgery, returned to his native Taiwan to become president of the Kaohsiung Medical University, Greiner said. He maintained contact with his colleagues in Charlottesville, and they began to explore ways to start an exchange.
The eight Taiwanese students arrived in Charlottesville in August — to a major culture shock.
When asked what the most difficult part of their experience was, the response was unanimous, and nearly in unison: "Speaking English!"
For the first week of their program, the students took English classes every morning, which helped to lower the language barrier.
The rest of the trip was a lot more fun. They had dinners with U.Va. President John T. Casteen III and the members of U.Va's International Host Program, and took a number of field trips to local attractions.
"We went to Monticello, and to downtown, and to Washington, D.C," they said. "It was cool! You have so many museums!"
Once U.Va. students returned for the fall semester, the visitors experienced American classrooms.
"In class, I liked the interaction between teachers and students," one visitor said. "I found that students here are very brave. In Taiwan, we don't talk in class — we just listen, and take notes. I think it's good stimulation."
The eight students worked hard, learning nursing and English simultaneously. Their progress in both was impressive.
"I think the School of Nursing is quite supportive, and they were very helpful in many ways. It made the experience really wonderful," said Lin. "And I'm not just being diplomatic. I really mean it from my heart."
The Kaohsiung partnership is one of a rapidly growing number of international opportunities for U.Va. nursing students. New semester-long programs have sprung up in South Africa, Denmark and, most recently, New Zealand.
"It's possible to spend the first semester of your fourth year in Auckland, New Zealand, at the University of Auckland," Greiner said. "This year, we have our first two students in Auckland, and there are two students from Auckland here. Our curricula are close enough so that fourth-years here can meet the objectives of the courses that he or she would be taking here by being in the program in Auckland, and being successful in that program."
In addition, nursing students can attend classes in any one of nine locations during the January Term.
International study is a growing part of life at the University, and the Nursing School is committed to providing worldwide experiences for its students, Greiner said.
The students relish the opportunity to study in a culture outside their own. One of the Taiwanese students, braving the language and cultural barriers, said, "Many times I have to encourage myself to speak, to ask questions of my friends or strangers. ... I've learned to challenge myself. Because it's a different culture and we are not familiar here, we must be curious. I always remind myself why I'm here, and what is my motivation.
"It's a meaningful question for myself, to think about why I'm here. I like it."