I went to the University of Connecticut’s School of Nursing and graduated in 2017. The university offered a few study abroad programs specifically for nursing students. During my junior year I started to investigate university options as well as other travel abroad programs.
I came across Work the World, an organization that specifically caters to students interested in gaining experience in health and medical related fields — they checked all the right boxes including destination and rotation experience in a developing country. I was most interested in Sri Lanka, where some of my relatives had lived in the past.
My first impression of the hospital in Kandy, Sri Lanka, was that it was big, bustling, and very welcoming.
I spent my first week on the labor and delivery ward. The nurses there were so helpful in explaining certain procedures on the unit. Towards the end of the rotation, some of the local nurses took me to their cafeteria. This was outside the hospital grounds near where they lived. They were kind, open-minded, and allowed me the opportunity to connect with hospital staff outside of a hospital environment.
One of the most eye-opening experiences was observing a breech birth delivery. It seemed to be a rare event for the staff. They did not have access to a fetal heart monitor and there weren’t many pain medications available. I appreciated the fact that they encouraged me, a foreign student, to learn from that birth as well as gathering around medical students, nurses, and staff to witness and learn.
They didn’t use pain meds, so it was particularly eye-opening.
Thanks to living in the Work the World house, I met and became close friends with other medical, nursing, and dentistry students from England, Ireland, France, Scotland, Canada, and the U.S. We traveled together on the weekends and explored the city of Kandy on weekday afternoons.
On average, births were processed with speed, mostly because it seemed that the women were admitted just before they were ready to deliver, and the goal of the unit was to make sure the newborns were safe and healthy before discharge. This hospital in Sri Lanka had a significantly higher patient admission that I was used to.
Living in the Work the World house was where I met and became close friends with other medical, nursing, and dentistry students from England, Ireland, France, Scotland, Canada, and the U.S. After work each day we explored the city of Kandy and learnt about the culture and history of the people and the area. On the weekends we planned trips to other parts of the country.
Ten of us spent a weekend at the beaches in Trincomalee, snorkeling and swimming in the Indian Ocean. I spent another weekend in Ella where we took the famous train journey through historic tea plantations.
We then hiked Little Adams Peak and Worlds End. On another weekend we travelled to Colombo — the capital of Sri Lanka — where we explored the bustling city.
I returned to the USA after 5 weeks and approached my senior year with a global perspective of the different aspects of healthcare.
I was 20 when I went abroad to Sri Lanka. I learned so much from the hospital and staff but also from my housemates - students from around the world who shared their ideas in health care. It expanded my horizons and I learned how to be independent and welcome the challenges of the unknown. I overcame language barriers, examined alternative techniques for patient care, and embraced a diverse and culturally rich environment.
I’m now 24. I work and live in New York City as a Trauma Surgical ICU nurse. I look back on the experience I had in Sri Lanka with appreciation and fond memories and encourage any health care related student who is looking for an adventure to seriously consider a trip like this!