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Health students get a taste of Cambodia

On the back of four years of study, five nutrition and dietetics students and 13 physiotherapy students have left the classroom behind for the chance to explore nutrition and health practices in Cambodia.

The international student placement is part of UON’s commitment to enhancing global connections, and aims to give our students an international education that supports their student experience and learning.

In mid-November, the 18 UON students boarded a plane for Siem Reap, where they were swiftly immersed in the vibrant Cambodian culture: colourful street food, nimble tuk-tuks and intense humidity.

“It’s hot! Very, very hot!” laughs Jacqui Hallgath, a final year nutrition and dietetics student taking part in the Cambodia placement. “Apart from the heat, one thing I immediately noticed were the Cambodian people: they’re so welcoming and friendly.”

Following a crash course in the Khmer language – which they put to good use at the local markets – the students completed ConCERT training in child protection, providing them with critical insight into Cambodian history and the importance of child protection in the country.

The students will spend most of their international placement at the Cambodian Diabetes Association and the Military Handicap and Development Centre, where they’ll learn about the diverse health needs that exist within Cambodia and how local health professionals are collaborating to improve the nation’s health.

“For us nutrition and dietetics students, visiting the military school has allowed us to focus on health promotion, including healthy eating, oral hygiene and hand washing,” says Jacqui Hallgath.

“We’ve also been on home visits, which are an unreal experience. We’ve been welcomed into ex-soldiers homes, where we sit on the floor together and communicate through a translator. It’s confronting at times, because we are meeting families who lack so much: soap, money, blankets, mosquito nets. But it’s wonderful to work with other health professionals – including the physiotherapy students – and see their assessments and how we can work together to help the community.”

The Cambodia placement has given Jacqui a taste of possible future career pathways within the field of nutrition, as well as fuelling her existing passion for community health.

“I’d love to be working in community programs raising awareness of the importance of good food. I’m also interested in food security and access – even more so since being here in Cambodia.”

“Sometime in my career I would like to work in rural Australia working on food security and access in rural communities, developing and implementing community initiatives with locals to enable the community to make healthier choices and have those choices available to them.”

Jacqui has always been passionate about nutrition and good health, and curious about the links between the two. When weighing up her education options after Year 12, Nutrition and Dietetics was the obvious choice.

“I remember talking to mum about what I should study, she asked me ‘what are you passionate about?’ I replied that I’m passionate about health, exercising and eating right for your body. I want people to enjoy food and experience it! Mum suggested I check out nutrition and dietetics, which would allow me to help people to enjoy food, access food and reach their optimal health through food.”

The nutrition and dietetics group will soon be travelling back to Australia, equipped with new knowledge, experience and friendships. With a solid understanding of international health practices, the students are well prepared for rewarding and successful careers – whether that’s here in Australia or abroad.

“Where possible, students should definitely take the opportunity to go overseas for a placement! It will develop their professional and life skills no other place can.”

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