Guest blog post by Caroline Nelson, MPH-RD student, Kenan Foundation Asia Joan Gillings Public Health Intern

This summer I’ve had the opportunity to live in Bangkok, Thailand for ten weeks to participate in the Kenan Foundation Asia Joan Gillings Public Health Internship in Asia NextGen Healthy Aging Program. Though challenging at times, this internship has been a once in a lifetime learning experience that I am very thankful to have accomplished.

When I arrived in Bangkok, I was rather nervous to spend ten weeks in a completely new environment, surrounded by a different language, culture, and way of life . This soon changed once I was introduced to the incredibly warm and kind people that make up this beautiful country. As soon as the other interns and I entered the Kenan Foundation Asia office on our first day, we were immediately welcomed with open arms. My preceptor, nicknamed K. Pop, has been very supportive of this educational experience, and has included me on several important projects and events.

My favorite event was a community health event that took place in the Khlong Toei community of Bangkok. This district contains some of the largest wealth gaps in Bangkok and a goal of the Kenan Foundation Asia is to improve health disparities for refugees and lower socioeconomic citizens. This event was led by community leaders and change agents who are working to provide better public health resources to their elderly neighbors. Thailand will be a super-aged society by 2030 and the geriatric population already is struggling with obesity, type two diabetes, and hypertension, so Kenan is aiding communities in preventative healthcare education. The community leaders led aerobics classes, meditation sessions, provided blood glucose and blood pressure checks, and massages. It was very informative to observe this health event and see how engaged the community is on their collective health. Participating in this event helped me realize that listening to the community and understanding their personal needs is more impactful than instilling one’s own desires or goals as an outsider.

Khlong Toei Community Health Event sponsored by the Kenan Foundation Asia. Pictured are community leaders and their families, Kenan employees, and the Khlong Toei district representative.

My main project as an intern is to create a Health Literacy Training Event for key change agents in Khlong Toei. This falls under the Pfizer Healthy Aging Project in which Kenan has focused on providing preventative interventions to the super-aging population in Thailand.

When we are not in the office, the other interns and I travel around Southeast Asia. So far, I have visited Laos, Cambodia, and various cities in Thailand such as Phuket, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, and Ayutthaya. The other interns and I get along very well, and we have enjoyed traveling throughout the area together.

(L-R) Jack Deering, Andrea Prego, Jessie La Masse, Alexa Young, Caroline Nelson, Catherine Sugg. All are UNC students interning with the Kenan Foundation Asia. Alexa and Caroline are master’s Students at Gillings and the others are undergraduate business students at Kenan-Flagler. Here we are visiting the temple ruins of Ayutthaya in Thailand.

Here we are attending the ASEAN SMEs Regional Conference on Health Tourism in Bangkok. These are various employees of the Kenan Foundation Asia, including the President, K. Piyabutr Cholvijarn. We are making the Korean hand sign known as the ‘mini chi’, aka small heart, that is very popular in Bangkok.

(L-R) Catherine Sugg (Undergraduate Business Intern), Caroline Nelson (MPH Nutrition Intern), Alexa Young (MPH Health Behavior Intern).
Here we are attending the WATS conference in Bangkok.

– Caroline