Margaret Harris volunteers at Chiang Mai University
Skills in nursing and academia are a winning combination. Research is vital to the ongoing development of the nursing profession and clinical ability is valued the world over. Margaret Harris is one nurse who is using her expertise in both fields to contribute as much as she can to vulnerable communities.
Margaret is on a one-year sabbatical from her position as a Lecturer in Nursing within the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of Newcastle and is working on a voluntary basis as an Academic Consultant at Chiang Mai University in Thailand. Margaret has a research interest in Thai children who have been orphaned by AIDS so in order to gain a more intricate insight into their lives, it made sense to immerse herself in the culture for a while.
"As a lecturer, I have always felt a responsibility to have interesting and challenging experiences within different cultures," she says. "I hope to inspire and encourage my students and perhaps influence their perspective on the health care issues and wider social and environmental issues."
Margaret also assists by teaching a small group of students who are studying in English.
"Back in 1990 I studied at the University of Newcastle with a large cohort of students from Hong Kong," she says. "I began to understand some of the challenges that face students learning in a second language and since then I've been looking for ways I can help."
Margaret has also taught an International Masters of Nursing Administration and was fascinated by the exchange of cultural information.
"The students were from a variety of South East Asian countries such as Myanmar, Vietnam, China, Bhutan, Nepal, Laos and one student from Africa. The teaching was so enjoyable," she says, "for them as well as myself. Our classroom discussions were a new style for them as they are used to a more formal, didactic approach. We were also able to mix outside the classroom."
Chang Mai University is a large University with an excellent reputation in Thailand, South East Asia and the world.
"The main campus is set in beautiful bushland, the world of art and culture is rich and wonderful and there is a strong international atmosphere," says Margaret, who is relishing her new role. "For example, there was a study tour of students from the University of Montana and I was able to tour hospitals in Chiang Mai with them. One of the most fascinating tours was of the local—and only—psychiatric hospital. In South East Asia, mental health receives much less focus and money and there are some very interesting and different social values and attitudes in this challenging field."
Margaret has relaxed into the new rhythm of her days, cycling, swimming and sampling the local restaurants but she is also facing the same challenges anyone must come to terms with living in a different country.
"There have been some illnesses and deaths including the death of my beloved dog while I have been living overseas. These experiences are challenging and present a need to find some new coping mechanisms. They affect my perspective on life, raising questions about what is important."
Any questions raised will be no doubt be similar to the international students who come to study at the University of Newcastle, valuable empathy she can add to her international teaching experience and research interests.