Over the summer, an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary group of nearly two dozen stu­dents par­tic­i­pated in a Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­gram in Aus­tralia to learn about mental health and health psychology.

The pro­gram opens stu­dents’ eyes to how things work in other parts of the world,” said Deb Franko, the pro­gram fac­ulty adviser and a pro­fessor in the coun­seling and applied edu­ca­tional psy­chology pro­gram.

In some ways, health­care sys­tems in Aus­tralia and the U.S. are very dif­ferent. Aus­tralians, for example, are required to have health­care, which is entirely paid for by the gov­ern­ment. But both health­care sys­tems tackle the same sort of problems.

There are many more mental health prob­lems and health issues among the abo­rig­inal people than non-​​indigenous Aus­tralians,” said Franko, who also holds the title of asso­ciate dean in the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences and con­ducts research on eating dis­or­ders in young adults. “In some ways this mir­rors our pop­u­la­tion in terms of our ethnic and racial minorities.”

Over the course of the experiential-​​learning oppor­tu­nity, stu­dents got a close look at how another country’s health­care system man­ages sim­ilar chal­lenges. Franko explained that expe­ri­ences like these could help our future clin­i­cians and health­care leaders employ a more well-​​rounded and broader approach toward solving those challenges.

As part of the Dia­logue, a dozen guest lec­turers from Swin­burne Uni­ver­sity in Mel­bourne met with the stu­dents to dis­cuss mental health issues such as forensic psy­chology and abo­rig­inal health. The stu­dents also made 10 site visits, including trips to the Cancer Council of Vic­toria and an Abo­rig­inal Health Col­lege on tribal land.

Stu­dents char­ac­ter­ized living for four and a half weeks in the midst of a dif­ferent cul­ture as an edu­ca­tional expe­ri­ence. “Subtle things threw you off,” said Nicholas Braica, who is studying graphic design and inter­ac­tive media. “It put me in a new, really uncom­fort­able posi­tion and I took a lot away from that.”

Nursing stu­dent Allison Shep­herd mar­veled at the country’s unique patient-​​management system, which requires patients to visit a gen­eral prac­ti­tioner before seeing a spe­cialist. While Franko noted that this method has the poten­tial for some less-​​recognizable mental health dis­or­ders like autism to go uniden­ti­fied, Shep­herd won­dered if the glut of choices offered to Amer­ican patients is some­times more wasteful than useful.

Other places in the world have dif­ferent models,” said Franko. “I think it helps to think a bit more crit­i­cally about what works, what doesn’t and why.”