Earlier this year, as part of my BSc Adult Nursing course, I completed an elective nursing placement in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, with Work the World. I didn’t know what to expect, and I knew it would be a lot of work to organise and fund, but I love travelling so the opportunity to do a placement abroad was too good to pass up – and I am so glad I did it.
Despite considering myself to be fairly open-minded and culturally aware before my trip, the whole experience was a complete eye-opener. I learned so much about Sri Lankan culture, healthcare and myself – both as a person and an aspiring nurse.
I did encounter some problems, often as a consequence of the language barrier, such as being unable to communicate with staff and patients as well as I had been able to during my UK placements. At times I also felt helpless or disheartened when observing differences in practice, which were often the result of limited resources or contrasting cultural beliefs. However, these issues were all overcome by making a conscious effort to learn about the language and culture before and during my time in Sri Lanka – and discussing these observations with other students, staff and local people. That really bettered my understanding and I learned how lucky we are in the UK to have such easy access to compassionate and evidence-based healthcare and that’s something which I am sorry to say that I previously took for granted.
My time in Sri Lanka highlighted to me the importance of being assertive, resourceful and compassionate and, following my placement, I put together a piece of reflective work for the King’s Experience Global Award. This programme is one of several extra-curricular learning opportunities which are facilitated by King’s Experience and are available to all students across the university who wish to receive feedback and recognition of personal learning experiences outside of normal university setting. This may have come from community service, travel opportunities, research or even from learning another language.
Writing about my time in Sri Lanka prompted me to thoroughly reflect on my experience, to explore the impact of culture on health and care, and to evaluate my own cultural beliefs and the way that these could potentially influence nursing practice. It was also a good way to receive some external feedback on my academic writing style!
All students in my cohort undertook an elective placement and enjoyed their time as much as I did while working as student nurses in the UK or abroad. However, for me personally, the King’s Experience scheme and my international elective were incredibly rewarding experiences. I feel that I have broadened my horizons, enhanced my communication skills and vastly improved my self-confidence. I would definitely encourage other students to take up either opportunity during their time at university, and I hope they have the same rewarding experiences as I did – wherever in the world they choose to go.
Ellen Madhani, second year student in the Faculty of Nursing & Midwifery