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  • Writer's pictureREI

An Important Exchange

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

by Tim Moore, Director of Short-Term Professional Teams & Exchange Fellowships, REI HQ

“Orgil is my colleague and friend and has become part of our family – the REI and Raunikar family,” Dr. Austin Raunikar explained. Dr. Raunikar is an REI volunteer and Pediatric Cardiologist at Prisma Health Hospital in Greenville, South Carolina who is hosting Orgil as an REI Exchange Fellow.

Dr. Orgil with Dr. Raunikar and his family

“Lien is an absolute sponge soaking up everything she can in labor and delivery. I think she will be a good model to go home and effect changes,” said Dr. Laura Bishop, an OB/GYN Doctor, Memphis, Tennessee who is an REI volunteer hosting Lien as an REI Exchange Fellow.

The REI Exchange Fellowship Program has been going on for many years now. It operates under the auspices of the U.S. State Department, which requires REI to have a minimum of five fellows come every calendar year on a J-1 Exchange Visitor visa for study and observation. The fellows are typically in the medical field (doctors, nurses), business students and professionals, or educational faculty – any profession that REI experts work with to develop.

This program also provides cultural exchange as fellows see local points of interest, go to the grocery store, shopping centers, church, movies and share their culture with their American hosts. The fellows stay in host homes and get to know the family, and for a short time become a part of the family. Fellows then bring their professional skills back to their country for the continued improvement and development of their country. Fellowships are typically one to two months but can be as long as a year.

The Exchange Fellowship depends on relationships developed when REI’s short-term professional teams go to REI countries for one to two weeks, often twice a year. We build relationships in each country with universities and hospitals, institutions and the heads of departments and their key staff. A select few are then chosen to be J-1 Exchange Fellow candidates, triggering an application process with REI and the U.S. State Department.

Currently REI has three Exchange Fellows in the U.S.: Lien Ngo, a midwife from Vietnam; Orgil Sengeragchaa, an adult Cardiologist from Mongolia; and An Ly, a former HANU Business student who is REI’s newest staff member in our Vietnam office.

Terry McHugh (left) with An and Hien

Terry McHugh, Business Team Leader for REI’s short-term professional team trips traveling twice a year to Vietnam, is hosting An and her friend Hien. He says: “It has been a busy ten days. An and Hien have toured various companies and learned about investment analysis, integrated communication, sports media technology, radio broadcasting, and high-tech medical devices. They found the time to relax, visiting shopping destinations, touring Washington D.C., New Jersey and New York City, and catching a few fish on a North Carolina Beach.”

Dr. Raunikar, who has been on several short-term professional team trips to Vietnam and is interested in Mongolia, is hosting Orgil currently and says: “Orgil has embraced the American culture and our healthcare system. He is unafraid to ask questions about culture, healthcare, and simple needs he has at home or at work.” Dr. Raunikar also says, “By volunteering with REI, I’ve learned to be flexible and roll with the demands and limits of each day, to be a curious learner pursuing the goals of the time together, and to recognize the resource that we exchange is ourselves and our experiences.”

Lien (front and center) with Jessica (2nd row, behind Lien) and staff

Jessica Armerding, an OB/GYN nurse who went earlier this year with a medical team to Vietnam, hosted Lien Ngo while she was in Greenville, South Carolina for three weeks. Lien had the opportunity to work with multiple Certified Nurse Midwives as well as attend a three-hour, hypnobirthing class led by a doula, who was so excited to have a midwife from Vietnam in her class, she insisted on getting a picture to commemorate it.

Historically, REI has only had Exchange Fellows come from Vietnam, but in recent years has hosted a couple fellows from Laos, and now Mongolia. As REI expands bringing fellows from other REI countries, it is essential to maintain an exchange of professionals from the U.S. traveling on short-term professional teams going and building these key relationships. Through this important exchange with the fellows as well, REI hopes to build people who will go on to build their own communities and nations.

Dr. Orgil at the hospital in Greenville, South Carolina

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