University of Stirling students Joanna Rogerson and Maria Christodoulou recently returned from volunteering on a mental health placement in Sri Lanka with SLV Global – an international exchange programme. They’re sharing their stories and encouraging others to consider voluntary placements.

Joanna Rogerson

Earlier this year I decided that I wanted to broaden my horizons and I started to look for an international opportunity that was in-keeping with my psychology degree. I heard about the SLV Global mental health placements and decided to apply. I joined the scheme in time for the July 2016 intake and completed a five-week mental health placement in Sri Lanka.

I was incredibly nervous to be travelling to a country so far away from home and one that I had never been to before – or even knew that much about. It was an incredibly exciting feeling but also filled me with nerves too.

Arriving in Sri Lanka

However, the second I arrived in the country I was made to feel completely at ease. All the Sri Lankan nationals, and the current volunteers, did everything possible to put all my worries to rest.

My homestay mum, Savi, made me feel so welcome. Nothing was too much for her, and she even spoke to my mum on FaceTime to reassure her that I was in safe hands whilst I was there! It was one of the things I was most nervous about when going to Sri Lanka, but Savi and all the homestays are such an important part of why my SLV experience was amazing.  I just loved her lady fingers and jack fruit curry, yum!

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Immersed in the culture

My placement started off with a full week of training. This was great as it made sure I was ready to hit the ground running. After the training I was out working in the local community in a psychiatric hospital and also in a rehabilitation centre. I really began to feel immersed into Sri Lankan culture

Learning about mental health treatment in another country has really enriched my knowledge of global mental health and is advantageous for those looking to pursue a career working with individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Going to Sri Lanka was such an incredibly valuable experience for me. It was truly an unforgettable experience and I recommend it, or any other kind of international volunteering, to anyone hoping to work in psychology or mental health. 

Maria Christodoulou

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It is so important for psychology students to gain practical hands-on work experience. So, I was delighted to find out that during my placement, I would be joining the rest of the volunteer team to run therapeutic activity sessions in psychiatric facilities for Sri Lankan individuals living with a range of mental health issues. I also spent a lot of time at a hospital, and worked at numerous schools getting involved with children and adults with disabilities.

To top that off I also taught English to some of the local community members.

It wasn’t all work and no play though. Sri Lanka was so beautiful and during my weekends I was free to do what I wanted so I spent many days roaming the lush, tropical island to uncover its many secrets.

Valuable experience

I feel that by participating in an international volunteering scheme has not only developed my skills in but also given me an in-depth understanding of mental health from a different cultural perspective.

Through working, and living abroad, I have developed many transferable skills too. Most obviously, I found that by not having a common language I needed to discover new ways to make myself understood.  I needed to be flexible and show that I could be cool under pressure and remain composed, even when things aren’t going to plan!

Now that I am back home I look back on my time and I honestly feel that it was the most eye-opening experience of my life and I miss every minute of it.