Teaching in Sri Lanka by Simon Jacobs
“Sri Lanka?” I said to myself…"why not!” - it just felt right. After hearing several friends mention the island in passing, I soon decided that this would be my destination for volunteering - the promise of warm weather, tropical fruit, palm-fringed beaches and the undoubtable bustle and life of an Asian country. Choosing this country was to be one of the best decisions I made; three of the best months of my life.
I must admit that on the taxi ride from the airport to Colombo at 2am I had my doubts, but from the initial craziness things improved. It was when I was being driven to my placement in the hills of Kandy that I first felt it…that moment when you connect with a new land, feel at home in a sense. The higher we climbed, the more spectacular it was, with mist rising from the lush forest revealing distant views across small mountain villages.
Arriving in Kandy
On my first brief tour of Kandy I was a bit overwhelmed, like you are in all new cities I guess. I was not confident I would ever figure out which bus to catch, or which way was home. Of course I did, and my daily bus rides home from my morning class at the temple were to become one of the favourite parts of my day - just people watching and taking in the wonders of a foreign country and way of life.
My Teaching Placement
My days were busy - from morning class at the temple where I taught young monks; to my afternoon class at a technical college for disadvantaged children; and my evening class at the local temple. It was hard work preparing classes - trying to make them enjoyable for my students - but I didn’t sign up for a holiday and I enjoyed the challenges! Besides, if it ever seemed like too much, the busy weeks were always bearable imagining what adventures awaited me on the weekend!
Initially the shyness of my students made it somewhat challenging to assess their actual abilities, but after a few days (and a few games of cricket!) they soon opened up. Classes consisted of grammar, reading, dictation and informal spoken English….and plenty of games of course! The spoken English was most challenging, both for me as a teacher and them as students. Just trying to help them overcome their self-consciousness and foster an environment where they weren’t afraid to just give it a try was difficult. However, as my time there drew to a close, being able to sit back and listen to them talk in English amongst themselves - it was all worth it!
Waking every morning I knew I would be treated to the most amazing food I had ever tasted, knew I would be challenged, knew I would experience something for the first time, knew I would learn something about myself, and the world I live in. It was a great way to be - a feeling of being completely present, completely alive.
My Experience in Sri Lanka
As my 5 weeks of volunteering drew to a close I sat on the terrace outside my room, listening to the sounds of Kandy drift up the valley, drinking one of many cups of tea; I couldn’t believe how at home I felt, how much things had changed within me. I had been welcomed into a family, a community and a country, and that is a special gift I will always treasure. All this in just 5 weeks of volunteering…and now I had seven more weeks of travel through this magical Island to look forward to. Life was good…