Projects Abroad in Sri Lanka
My internship with Projects Abroad in Sri Lanka was unlike anything I've ever experienced. I rotated at Balapitiya Base Hospital in both the emergency and internal medicine departments, and I was able to see firsthand the way heath care was utilized in this country. During my time rotating, I got to see a variety of medical conditions, some of which are common in the United States and others that are extremely rare. I also attended two medical seminars given by physicians from Sri Lanka. At the first one, we were taught about the health care system in Sri Lanka, which included the different types of hospitals they have (government-controlled versus private hospitals), the citizens' access to health care, and how their lack of technology makes their jobs much more difficult and very different from other countries. At the second seminar, a physician taught us about Ayurvedic medicine, and we were given a tour of an Ayurvedic hospital that had just opened. Throughout the tour, I saw various patients being treated with alternative medicine, which differed significantly from Western medicine.
Although health care is free in Sri Lanka, there are areas of the country without doctors or hospitals close by, so a few times per month, physicians and pharmacists from a larger city set up a clinic at a temple in a more rural area. I volunteered at one of these clinics, and I was very surprised at the large number of people who attended. At these clinics, every patient was screened for diabetes and high blood pressure, and then they were interviewed by the physician and one of the volunteers. If any medication was needed, they could obtain it right there at the clinic without having to worry about getting to a pharmacy.
While in Sri Lanka, I was able to experience the culture firsthand. I stayed with a Sri Lankan family in Ahungalla along with four other girls from around the world. Two were from Switzerland, one was from Australia, and one was from England. The family took care of our meals, and the food was absolutely delicious! Over one of the weekends, the other girls and I traveled to another area of the country called Kandy, which was a three-hour bus ride followed by a three-hour train ride from where we were staying. When we visited Kandy, we were able to do a lot of sightseeing. We interacted with monkeys and elephants, visited a spice and herbal garden as well as a tea factory, watched a traditional Rangahala Kandyan dance and fire show, climbed the Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha statue, and visited the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.
There are three languages most commonly spoken by Sri Lankans, with 74% speaking Sinhalese as their primary language, 18% speaking Tamil as their primary language, and the other 8% speaking other languages, including English. Although there was a language barrier, many of the individuals could speak and understand English. Some couldn't speak English, but they were able to understand it when it was spoken to them. So even though I was not able to speak to all of the patients that I saw, all of the physicians spoke English, so they would translate when I didn't understand something. Also, I took a ten-minute bus ride to and from the hospital every weekday, and individuals would always approach me and start asking me tons of questions. They always asked where I was from, and they seemed genuinely interested in what the United States was like and how I was enjoying my time in their country. Everyone I talked to was extremely welcoming.
Overall, this was an invaluable experience, and I am so grateful to have had this opportunity. This was my first time out of the country, and because of this experience, I could see traveling and global health in my future.
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