The international food and nutrition study tour is now a regular feature of our undergraduate and postgraduate nutrition programs. For 2015, the group was Asia bound to Singapore and Malaysia and group member Kelly Ekenberg reports on her experiences.
When you’re a nutrition graduate, the job opportunities are highly competitive, as too are the post-grad options. Anything you do outside of your regular studies sets you apart from the crowd, so when I was selected for this study tour, I jumped at the chance to go!
It turned out to be a delicious and informative (and hot!) trek through Singapore and Malaysia. For foodies like me, it was a dream come true to be selected to eat my way through two countries! But it wasn’t just amazing food, we had multiple site visits each day with some of both countries’ most forward thinkers in the food industry, public health, government regulation, food service and innovation/sustainability sectors.
The purpose of the 2015 Deakin study tour was to teach key differences between nutrition/health-related sectors in Australia, Singapore and Malaysia We learned about group behaviour, how to function in a professional manner in a different culture, problem solving, critical thinking and how to reflect on our assumptions/prior learning.
Differing Healthcare Standards
The healthcare systems in all three countries have their positives and negatives. Whilst they all claim universal healthcare, coverage for the population differs depending on location. Treatment options also depend on whether you have enough money to afford private health insurance. In all countries citizens with a higher socioeconomic status (SES) tend to have better health outcomes. Rural areas in Malaysia and Australia have tend to have a lower SES, fewer healthcare options and people may need to travel for specialist care. For poorer members of society, this travel could be a barrier to treatment. Unfortunately, there are some concerns about the inequality growing between private and public healthcare.
Singapore and Australia have excellent policy and out-of-the-box solutions to promote health. Their public health initiatives are plentiful and multi-tier to reach all members of society.
Both Australia and Singapore have public health websites that are easy to navigate with clear language, easy to understand for the layperson. Malaysia has good public health policy but an outdated website. Malaysia struggles to inspire the public with their health programs, as evidenced by their obesity epidemic.
Our Malaysian hospital visit was with the Prince Court hospital that caters to medical tourism. Their standard of care was very high and the walk-through of their kitchen facilities was very enlightening! Patients can order from a variety of dishes designed for different cultural backgrounds, their menus change seasonally and their kitchen facilities are top-notch!
The first thing that struck me about Singapore was how orderly everything was. It seemed to be a well-planned, educated country with a place for everything and everything in its place. It is clear a lot of forethought and planning went into the development of the small country of Singapore. Even with this in mind, there was a clear, visual divide in the areas of rich and poor, highlighted by the difference between the food on offer at the hawker centres and the luxury food ($75 for a bunch of grapes!) sold in department stores.
From a personal perspective, visiting Singapore’s Health Promotion Board (HPB) and Healthy Living Festival was a highlight of the trip. Their aims are to have the population get active, eat smart, have health screening tests by a doctor, think positive and quit smoking. These five tenets are a good step towards a healthy life. Their work is supported by the government and are given free reign to try a range of health promotion initiatives to keep the population healthy. The HPB work with food companies, suppliers, supermarkets, the MRT, school and community workshops, and writing physical activity guidelines. It is a job that I don’t think you could ever get bored in because the scope is so large and the possibilities are endless.
One of the most interesting things the HPB has achieved is providing rebates to cooking oil suppliers to promote healthier oils. Instead of appealing to the public, who often don’t cook themselves, this means that the suppliers do all the health promotion work to receive their rebates.
Malaysia’s government supports the majority Muslim population by investing in the Halal Research Centre at University Putra Malaysia. The centre aims to work with food producers to provide halal food to consumers. I honestly didn’t think this would interest me too much, but it turned out to be one of the most fascinating visits! The research centre helps to find alternatives to the haram (forbidden) foods many Muslims are not allowed to eat and works with industry to tweak products with haram ingredients so they become halal. This includes not only food products, but pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and even tableware!
Another highlight was the visit to Kechara Soup Kitchen in Malaysia. It is a great example of a grassroots organisation working with the most marginalised members of society. Kechara provides hundreds of vegetarian food packets at their home-base and around the city each day. They also has a roving ambulance to treat minor injuries or transport sick people to the hospital. Their outreach work enables them to build trust with homeless people, connecting them to services or to help them find a room or a job.
Now, as I get ready for Trimester 1 to begin again, I want to express how glad I am that I took this summer unit, and I urge anyone reading to take an overseas study opportunity whenever possible. You’ll make life-long friends and learn practical information that will help you grow as a nutrition professional.
Big thanks to Susan Torres, Gie Liem and Megan Thornton for all their hard work in making this study tour possible.