I chose to undertake a Work the World placement rather than a study abroad programme with my college. Study abroad programmes are mostly classroom based, but I wanted a more immersive experience. Interacting with patients from a different culture was important to me. I loved how I could tailor my internship with the Work the World team, and I really appreciated the support they gave me before and during my internship.
I initially chose to travel to Sri Lanka because I hadn't heard of it before. I looked into what was available in Kandy, like activities, historical sites and other things to do. It seemed like a great city in which to undertake my nursing internship, as well as some traveling — you can get around the country so easily.
The house was large and accommodating and all our needs were met. I was so impressed with the atmosphere, amenities and how much it felt like home. Nandika really went above and beyond to get us settled in with the other students!
I flew with a friend from Michigan. The flight was 16 hours, with a layover in Qatar. When we arrived in Sri Lanka, a member of the Work the World team was waiting for us at the airport. This was a real relief as we were so exhausted and got there late at night, it made such a difference to have someone to pick us up. That evening, we stayed at a small hotel in Colombo where we could refresh, relax and get ready for our highly anticipated journey to Kandy the next day!
Everyone was so welcoming when we arrived at the Work the World house. Nandika, the Programme Manager, was so friendly and shared lots of ideas of things we could look forward to. The other students at the house were excited to see us, too. The house was large and accommodating and all our needs were met. I was so impressed with the atmosphere, amenities and how much it felt like home. Nandika really went above and beyond to get us settled in with the other students!
Because I had come from the US, I really enjoyed meeting students from different countries, some of which were from the UK. It was really interesting to learn what their lives were all about! A lot of the girls in the house were on midwifery or nursing internships. There were also physio students, all doing international placements. It was great to talk about shared interests and how their schooling differed from ours, I feel like I learnt just as much about the UK as about Sri Lanka!
The day we were taken on our city orientation was busy. Nandika took us on tuk-tuks (three-wheeled motorbike taxis) to the city and showed us the internet cafes, where to get food and go shopping, and even some attractions. He pointed out where to find some of the more Westernised food, like KFC and Pizza Hut, which, of course, we never went to! Finally, he took us to the hospital to help us get our bearings and prepare us for the next few weeks of placement. For a group lunch, we went to an Asian restaurant, which was delicious and a great way to get to know the other students that we would be living with for the next several weeks.
On the first day of my Midwifery internship, I travelled to the hospital and had an orientation there, and Nandika showed us where we would be working. It was eye-opening and not like anything I had experienced before. There were even lines of people waiting to be seen flowing out of the door. When we got to our unit, we met our consultant. I was impressed with how respected the consultants were, everyone would go silent when they walked into a room.
The midwives and nurses were so kind and I loved making friends with them. They showed us to the Birthing Unit and we got some supervised experience there. The labouring and birth experience was very different to the birthing culture in the USA. The midwives are quite hands-off, and there’s certainly not as much emotional support. It was interesting to see the cultural difference between labour and delivery compared to how we do things in the US.
More so than resources being limited, I noticed the practises were completely different to what I had been taught. There were noticeably fewer ultrasound machines, but the doctors and nurses really utilized the resources they did have, wisely. They did the best with what they had. I was so impressed with how well local staff functioned and how effectively they cared for patients given the circumstances. A patient spoke to us, quite profoundly, about the hospital: "The hospital is invaluable for the patients. Don’t make assumptions about the hospital, the staff are amazing, and do the best with what they have — you may even see some better healthcare outcomes than in the US!"
One memory that sticks out is when I was asked to join a group of Sri Lankan student nurses doing an ultrasound assessment. We stood in a queue, waiting for the doctor to observe our ultrasounds one by one, saying “find the head”, “find the placenta” or “find the feet”. It was really exciting and intimidating all at the same time! I’d never done an ultrasound before so it was definitely a special time during my trip to Kandy which I will never forget.
During the weekends, I spent my time travelling with my friend from the US and some of the other students we met in the Work the World house. One weekend, we went to Galle on the south west coast of Sri Lanka. We went to a few nightclubs and met up with other travellers to chat about their experience. We also went to a turtle sanctuary. Another memorable trip was to Trinko, where we visited Pigeon Island to go snorkeling. They were a really fun group to travel with — we spent a lot of time on the beach, sunbathing!
During the week, after placement, we did a lot of activities that Nandika ana the team gave us tips and ideas for. White-water rafting, and visiting the elephant orphanage were two things we did. We also went to a local hotel to swim in the pool and enjoy the sunshine!
I also was lucky enough to take part in the Village Healthcare Experience, and I really enjoyed the week. It was fascinating to learn about Ayurveda ‘tree medicine’. A big difference between this and my city-based placement was staying with a local family rather than in the Work the World house. I really enjoyed getting to see what a normal family in Sri Lanka was like, and the family welcomed us as their own children. The meals were delicious and there was always loads of activities, there was no time to get bored! We took an ox cart ride, a boat trip and visited the temple to see the buddhist worshippers. We even had full body massages, which was very relaxing after all the activities we’d been doing!
During the healthcare part of the experience, I learnt so much. We met the doctor and saw how he makes the medicine, how he treats patients, and we fortunately got a lot of supervised experience treating the patients ourselves, learning practises like using hot stones, cupping therapy, and using the herbs and barks to create medicine.
If I could say one thing to someone considering a Work the World trip to Kandy, it would be don’t hesitate — take on the challenge of doing the placement! I would also highly recommend the Ayurveda add-on as it truly allowed me to appreciate the alternative medicine that is practiced in Sri Lanka. Staying with the host family was an amazing experience.