Gaining hands-on psychology experience as a graduate-without-experience in the UK is next to impossible. I had spent so long trying to find someone who would take me on to get me some experience at home and just didn't have any luck.
Traveling is something I really enjoy, and I had volunteered abroad a couple of years before, so the thought of gaining my psychology experience in a different country in East Asia just seemed like too good an experience to pass up!
Why did you choose SLV.Global?
When I was thinking what to do to gain experience, I remembered a friend from my course had gone on a volunteer program gaining psychology experience in Sri Lanka. I looked into what it was that she had done. Her program was through SLV.Global, so I did a bit more research on the company.
That was when I realized that I would be getting a really varied experience working with lots of different service users and professionals, while also having so much support from the company, and getting completely immersed within the culture.
What was your favorite part of your experience in Sri Lanka?
I ended up fortunate enough to be placed in a homestay outside of the city. My homestay was new to the program and was set right on a lake; the setting could not have got more beautiful. I was so thankful to be in a rural area, and as much as I wanted some western food at times, I would not have traded the more genuine cultural experience I gained while being out of the city. It also meant that transportation was a little less crowded. I experienced the culture really fully, whereas in the city there would have been easy access to a lot of more modern amenities.
What made your experience abroad unique?
I think my experience abroad was made unique due to the complete immersion I had within the culture. I had taught in Thailand before with a voluntary program and only once did I stay in a homestay. Having the homestay and becoming a part of their family is something which will always stick with me. It meant that you really had the chance to understood their culture and see how much of an impact your work was having, while also reminding you how much more still needs to be done.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The local staff were honestly all incredible. They were there every Monday morning when we were session planning and always helped out, giving us info what past volunteers have done on particular projects, and what's worked best for the service users. Not only that, but they helped us get to and from projects —making sure we were on the right buses and not going to the opposite side of the island!— as well as helping us with the language and pronunciation.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
Some of the workshops had me a little out of my comfort zone and so I didn't get as involved as I maybe should have to get the most out of the experience. Some of the activities, in particular for the music and drama therapy workshop, I chose to watch instead of participate since it was not something I felt comfortable doing. But I think if I could go back, I would probably want to push myself past that point to get the most out of my time.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
Most days during my placement I would be up at around 6:45 a.m. - 7:00 a.m. and rush to the bathroom before someone else did! I would have a super refreshing, admittedly very cold for the morning, shower and get ready for having breakfast cooked by my Amma with the other volunteers in my homestay.
After this we would head out to our homestay village to catch the public buses to our projects, which was always great as a bit of time to reflect and get some 'me-time'. I would then go into my morning project —whether that be a special educational, mental health or teaching project— and facilitating it with a few other volunteers, before catching the bus home to quickly grab a bite for lunch. And then we’d do the same again for our afternoon projects.
Most evenings were spent having a now refreshing cold shower, having a delicious dinner with my homestay, and then finishing preparing resources and plans for our projects the next day. Sometimes you had spare time in the evening because your projects were already prepared, in which case I'd either call home or just chill out on the patio listening to the sounds of Sri Lanka, catching up with other volunteers days!
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
As the days were busy, one of the main things I enjoyed in my evenings was just taking that time to chill out and relax —catching up with the other volunteers and family back home, and listening to some music or planning for the weekends.
We often had a few dance socials with all of the volunteers from my homestay area which was great fun! During the weekends and Poya Days, I enjoyed finding a beautiful beach to relax on or finding a huge mountain to climb —both of the two extremes— eating a lot of good food, and sightseeing in some towns.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best it?
I was fortunate enough to be placed in a new homestay. The home was all one floor, which I loved as it meant we were really integrated with our homestay family, especially fun when young family members came round!
My room was really spacious and shared with four of us girls. And our bathroom was really lovely and homely. While it didn't have the modern technology or decor that we would be used to back home, it had absolutely everything we needed and was extremely comfortable.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
I think one thing every volunteer should know before joining SLV.Global on one of their placements is to really be prepared to push yourself out of your comfort zone and really do as much as you can during your time there. I did spend most of my days completely busy from start to end, hot and tired, but also extremely happy with my time there and the work that I was doing. It is an extremely rewarding experience, but definitely one which you have to be prepared to put in work to get the most out of each moment. And like I said earlier, if things are a bit uncomfortable, try to push yourself passed that barrier!
Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?
My time in Sri Lanka has really had an impact on me with regards my perception of just how lucky we are here in the UK with the way mental health is viewed and also the facilities we have available. While the mental health care is in no way ideal in Western cultures, the awareness and care professionals do have is just a completely different level to how it is in the East.
It is something that will stick with me as a reminder of why it is so important for us psychology students to do the work we do, but also to take our knowledge and experience to places who need it more than us. We need to help make a difference in any way we can.
Would you recommend your program/provider to others? Why?
Absolutely! Whether gaining experience for the first time or the tenth time, there is a program for everyone with SLV.Global. The work that you do with them will stick with you and help you to make a difference in the lives of others, while also improving the prospects for yourself and building your own career.
Not only this, but gaining much needed experience in a beautiful setting, and meeting other people from all ends of the globe, is definitely an experience I encourage everyone to take part in!
Shannon Doyle is a 22 year old from England who recently graduated from the University of Lincoln with a BSc (Hons) in Psychology with Clinical Psychology. Back in 2016, she spent a month in Thailand teaching English and doing some conservation work with elephants. She has traveled a lot, but that was her first voluntary experience before her time with SLV.Global in Sri Lanka.