My trip to Sri Lanka started with mixed emotions. It began with a nervous, tiring flight on my own but then as soon as I arrived at the airport and was picked up by the Programme Manager, I felt very much at ease and a large weight had been lifted off my shoulders as the hardest part was over. He made me feel very welcome and explained everything that would be happening over the next few days.
The journey to the house was very scenic and once I arrived I met all the other students who were all lovely. They were very valuable to speak to about their experiences and places to see.
The house was always so clean, my room was very spacious, the views from the balcony were picturesque and sometimes we could even see cute monkeys playing around in the garden!
The chef cooked delicious meals and some evenings after a tiring day at the Hospital we would play monopoly and card games.
The placement at the general hospital was quite different when compared to UK standards, especially with cross-infection! I was shocked at the fact that they re-use gloves after certain procedures! I spent most of my 4 weeks in the main OPD clinic, working alongside another dentist. After gaining a good rapport and demonstrating my competence, I was able to assist with things like giving local anaesthetic, temporary GIC and amalgam fillings, and scale and polishes. All the dentists and nurses were very friendly and most were able to speak English so communication was not a barrier.
I spent a day in the orthodontic clinic and gained experience on the different types of malocclusions and how to treat them. I also spent some time observing maxillofacial surgery which was fascinating. The dentists also taught me a few key words in the local Sinhalese language such as "open mouth" and "close mouth" so I could communicate with the patients more effectively and when I used the words they became quite impressed!
The dental elective really opened my eyes to poverty and made me realise and appreciate how lucky we really are to have so much more advanced equipment and medication compared to less developed countries.
In our free afternoons we sometimes headed into town to experience some of the local culture. A fun part of any journey was riding a TukTuk 3-wheeler — being in the Hill Country with winding roads was entertaining and feeling a nice breeze in the hot weather was well worth the rides! The local people were all very friendly and always happy to help. The local fruits are tasty and Sri Lankan dishes always stimulated the taste buds! There were plenty of opportunities for sight-seeing in the afternoons — trips to the Elephant Orphanage and beautiful Botanical Gardens are a must!
During my time I was lucky enough to see the Perhara festival - a bright colourful parade of locals dancing and elephants dressed up in stunning textiles!
On weekends we planned trips together to travel further towards the different coastal areas. The beaches in Unawatuna and Trincomalee were like true paradise and I did not want to leave! I also had such an exciting time learning how to surf in Arugam Bay!