Cultural Exchange and Research

An international exchange program brings students from Melbourne, Australia to Chapel Hill

Story by Ryan McDaniel | Published July 3, 2023

Five people sit at the edge of a small fountain

When Yannee Liu and Rimsha Kalia stepped through the front door of the Kappa Psi house, their home for the next two months, they were 10,000 miles from the familiar territory of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. They barely knew each other, much less anybody else in Chapel Hill. They were soon joined by three other Monash visiting scholars in the same situation: Alexandra Steel, Yuko Ito-Kay, and Mohmmed Almosawy.

“I just had so much self-doubt and was like, ‘I don’t think I’ll be able to make this two months at all . . . living alone with only four other Australian people in a completely new environment,’” Yannee reflects. “But we got there, step by step. We helped each other out.”

The warm welcome the five students received helped, too. “Everyone’s taken to us as if we’re already their friends, shown us around, done activities with us, so that’s been great,” says Alex.

Rimsha sums it up in a single sentence: “Southern hospitality is real, and I’m here for it!”

Yannee, Rimsha, Alex, Yuko, and Mohmmed are fourth-year honors students in the Master of Pharmacy Program at Monash. They came to the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy through the PharmAlliance partnership to spend eight weeks conducting research with the School’s Center for Pharmacy Innovation in Education and Research (CIPhER).

The five students completed two research projects working with Jacqui McLaughlin, PhD, Director of CIPhER and Associate Professor in the Division of Practice Advancement and Clinical Education (PACE) and Kathryn Morbitzer, PharmD, Associate Director of CIPhER and Associate Professor in PACE. The first project was a scoping review about how research skills are taught in pharmacy education. The second was a content analysis of health systems administration graduate training programs.

Jacqui says, “Both of these projects help advance our understanding of the core concepts and entrustable professional activities underpinning various aspects of pharmacy practice and will serve as a foundation for several research projects moving forward.”

This eight-week research focus is part of the five-year Master of Pharmacy curriculum at Monash. While all students in the program must complete a section of research (or “inquiry” as it’s known in Australia), only a handful get to experience this in an international setting. “In terms of research, you do things differently here,” explains Mohmmed. “Learning how things are done in America will benefit me in my career in Australia; it will give me a more global understanding of how research works.”

This cultural exchange extends beyond the research, of course. The five students took every opportunity available to them to explore the US. They were able to visit Asheville, New Orleans, Miami, DC, and the Outer Banks. They’ve enjoyed a baseball game and the variety of culinary delights the Triangle has to offer.

Of all these things, one cultural difference that surprised them the most is the strong sense of college pride at UNC and in the Chapel Hill community. “Everyone is so passionate about the sports teams, about Carolina Blue…even the firetrucks are blue!” Yuko says with a chuckle. “Everyone is proud to say ‘I come to UNC’ and, yeah, it’s made me a little bit proud to say, ‘I come to UNC as well.’”

After completing their work in CIPhER, the students are all headed in different directions. A few will stay in the US to explore more. Some are headed to international conferences later in the summer. The final year of their master’s program will see them in internships around Australia to deepen their clinical skills. The work they’ve done will help them develop at least one paper and several podium presentations.

All five agree that the experience of coming to UNC has been transformative, exposing most to research for the first time, giving them new perspectives on career opportunities, and allowing them to grow as scholars and as people. Mohmmed sums it up perfectly: “Any opportunity when you leave your comfort zone is an opportunity to grow.”