Indiana State University Newsroom

International workshop provides multicultural perspective to health care

August 27, 2012

In South Korea, it was traditional practice for first-born sons to take care of their parents when they reached old age, as a sense of altruism was created between parents and children.

People realized they wouldn't be alive without their parents, so eldest sons thought "I'm willing to look after them," said Peter Kwon, a member of a delegation from Hanil University in South Korea that gave a presentation on health care practices in the country. The situation has changed in recent years to where siblings will look to who among them is most able to support their parents, while more people believe the government should have more of the responsibility, Kwon said.

The presentation was part of a workshop event about multicultural perspectives on health care at Indiana State University. The event, sponsored by the Center for the Study of Health, Religion, and Spirituality, featured a presentation about multiple health perspectives in South Korea from the Hanil delegation, along with a presentation on multicultural competencies in health care, which included perspectives that some people have about approaching mental health issues and seeking counseling.

A video shown during the workshop featured an international college student commenting to another student about the reluctances some people have to seek treatment for mental health.

"Especially when it comes to counseling, there is a perception that is negative," said Zachariah Mathew, associate director of the ISU Office of International Programs and Services, who gave the presentation on multicultural competencies in health care. "There is a taboo ... so you don't want to admit" that you should seek treatment.

The event included discussions, as presenters regularly answered questions posed by people attending the event. Tom Johnson, associate director of the Center for the Study of Health, Religion, and Spirituality, was surprised to learn that more than one-quarter of the nation's population that identifies as Christian.

Johnson also noted that people in South Korea from different religious backgrounds tend to cooperate more than in some other countries, which can make it easier for the country to be able to address issues.

The presentations and discussions were just one event during a nearly two-week stay in the Wabash Valley for the group from Hanil University. The visit was part of a joint agreement between the two universities for students to learn more about how social work is delivered in each country.

"It was great to have an opportunity to dialogue with other faculty and learn about the state of social work and social welfare in South Korea," said Robyn Lugar, BSW program director of the department of social work at ISU who helped organize the delegation's visit. "Having the opportunity specifically to have this type of exchange strengthens our partnership with Hanil University."

A doctoral student from Hanil created the presentation about health care in South Korea, and undergraduate social work students from the university also participated. The event provided some valuable lessons, as the universities encourage students to participate in research on their respective countries, Johnson said.

"Certainly to do effective cross-cultural research, you need to have enough knowledge of the cultural similarities and differences to create meaningful questions," he added.

The workshop also included lessons for daily health care practitioners. Mathew gave the example of the number of people from a variety of ages and countries who call the Wabash Valley home, and how an approach to health care may be effective for people from one particular background, but not for another.

"It doesn't just matter how skillful you are in terms of professional skills," Mathew said. "Especially in health care, one has to be multi-culturally competent to be able to deliver care."

Photo: (ISU/Tony Campbell)Peter Kwon, a member of the Hanil University delegation visiting Indiana State University, speaks during the mental health workshop at ISU. The workshop covered aspects of health care in South Korea and the U.S., with additional information on aspects regarding mental health.

Photo: (ISU/Tony Campbell)The roundtable discussion during the mental health workshop.

Contact: Tom Johnson, associate director, Center for the Study of Health, Religion, and Spirituality, Indiana State University, 812-237-2445 or

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or

Story Highlights

The event featured a presentation about multiple health perspectives in South Korea from a delegation from the University of Hanil, along with a presentation on multicultural competencies in health care.

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