Elephant Crossing

Collecting samples in the field
Collecting samples in the field

Most days at work, I drive my car to a climate-controlled office and sit at cubicle working with a data set, or in a conference room discussing a research project. I try at avoid rush hour traffic in Hartford on my way back to Storrs. Last month at work however, I rode on the back of a motorbike over narrow dirt roads through lush vegetation and paddy fields. I sat outside colorfully painted homes with the participants of the very same research project. I had to be sure to make it back to the field house before the wild elephants came out because they tend to chase down bikes.

Through my internship with the Health Research Program, I had the opportunity to travel to Sri Lanka over winter break and work with research assistants in the field. As a dual degree student with Allied Health Sciences (CAHNR) and Anthropology (CLAS), my internship was already the perfect combination of my academic interests. I work under a medical anthropologist and help study factors associated with the progression of Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology in Sri Lankan agricultural communities, where the disease is endemic and a major public health concern. Factors include environmental exposures, occupational hazards and behaviors, and other clinical components. This means that our research team is made up of experts from the fields of nephrology, environmental science and statistics as well. I had been studying issues relating to the CKDu problems for months, but just a few weeks in Sri Lanka completely changed my understanding of the disease, the families it affects, and the nature of the research.

Visiting Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Visiting Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

I always wanted to study abroad, and as my college career was wrapping up, it seemed like it would be something I simply “didn’t get around to.” When my mentor at UCHC and I realized how well it would work out if I were to travel to Sri Lanka at this timepoint, I knew we had to make it happen. I was able to make meaningful contributions to our team and learn about global health and international research in the process. This trip was the highlight of my college career and will help me in my future studies as I pursue public health in graduate school.

I would encourage anyone interested in research, traveling abroad, or both to actively seek out resources on campus such as the Office of Undergraduate Research and Education Abroad to learn about their diverse array of programs.

I am grateful for this opportunity and I could not have had this experience without the financial support from the Office of Undergraduate Research and the Health Research Program. I am also endlessly thankful to my boss who has been travelling to Sri Lanka for much of his career, and the other members of the research team who have also traveled to the same area as I in the last year, for all their advice and support. Lastly, I’m thankful to the University of Peradeniya, the researchers in Sri Lanka partnering on this project, and the participants who were happy to sit with me and tell me about their experiences.