Building Nations Through Exchange Fellowships
By Tim Moore, Director of Short-Term Teams & Exchange Fellows
For more than two years REI hasn’t hosted J-1 Exchange Fellows or sent Short-Term Professional Team trips due to Covid-19. As travel has opened, these short-term teams have started again, and J-1 Exchange Fellows are now coming to the U.S. for professional training and cultural exchange.
While REI’s short-term professional teams head to Vietnam and Mongolia this fall to provide medical and business training, Dr. Mo and her husband Khen arrived in the U.S., helping reignite REI’s Exchange Fellowship program.
Dr. Viengsakhone, or Dr. Mo as we know her, and her husband Khenthavy (Khen) have worked with REI in Laos for many years. This opportunity to come to the U.S. for professional training and exposure to a wide variety of medical specialties has broadened Mo’s understanding of how to begin meeting the overwhelming needs of Laos’ medical community, ranging from administration to medical training and services.
During their five weeks in the U.S., Mo and Khen traveled to seven states including California, Oklahoma, Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas and Washington. Mo learned more about cochlear implants, observed a neonatology ward and watched babies being born. She shadowed several surgeries and observed follow-up with 90 patients in four and a half hours, marveling at the efficient teamwork between doctors, nurses and medical assistants.
In addition to the professional training, Mo and Khen enjoyed cross-cultural exchanges while they stayed with various hosts eating American food as well as preparing Laos food for their new American friends.
Other cross-cultural highlights include Khen’s dream-come-true fishing trip in North Carolina, Mo’s surprise birthday celebration at REI’s HQ office in Colorado Springs, chugging to the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado’s renovated cog rail and the many newly made friends.
As REI professional volunteer, Dr. Walter Lee of Duke University said, “Dr. Mo has built a new network of professionals that now join her in helping to improve healthcare for the Laos people. And these are active collaborations. For example, both she and I will be attending the same medical conference in Singapore in November, and I plan to visit Laos in the spring.”
Mo and Khen’s professional and cultural experiences these five weeks represent opportunities for enhanced medical services and resources for the Laos people. As Mo and Khen return to Laos, REI now looks forward to working together to finalize a new Memorandum of Understanding with the Laos Ministry of Health that will allow us to continue to bring in long-term staff and short-term professional teams to fulfill our vision of training leaders to train others.