‘I’m the guy in shorts, wearing a red t-shirt’, read the text I received after landing at Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport. After the swift visa check at customs, I quickly found my (over?) packed bag on the carousel and the easily recognisable Mark in the airport’s main hall. I’m really here, I realised; this is really happening. A big smile decided to lodge itself firmly on my face over the next hours, as the Sri Lankan heat engulfed me on the way to the car.
I had never been to Sri Lanka before, let alone did I know anybody here. So meeting the team at our shared house was something I was looking forward to. Where are they all from? Have they been here long? How old and experienced are they? To me it is important to connect with my colleagues. After all, we are going to spend the next 5 to 6 months together. It took about half an hour for Nidhi, Jen, Ashany, Sebastian, Mark, and myself to find out we were going to be just fine. Good laughs, open minds, shared interests, and a curiosity about each other’s stories, what more could I ask for?
We spent the next day talking, settling in, and coping with our jetlag. Powernaps all around, cheese toasties, lots of cold water, and introducing ourselves to the coolest dog in Colombo: Cassius. That evening we had our first night out, which ended at the rooftop bar of a hotel.
The following day we went to the school for the first time. We saw our classrooms for the first time and checked our lesson materials for the following week. Soundbites, handouts, videos, games, music, group exercises, testing, and of course: what level are we going to teach? Everything was discussed, which helped all of us find our bearings and prepare. But the key ingredient was of course still missing: our students!
It was a joyous, organized chaos on Monday, as hundreds of students were trying to make their way to class via the reception desk. In true Sri Lankan fashion, everybody was friendly, patient, and kind. And 4 new teachers watched it all unfold while trying to keep their cool. I’ll never forget my first class: a wonderful mix of Myanmar Buddhist monks and nuns, Sri Lankan, Chinese, and Vietnamese students. I wrote my name on the whiteboard, and off we went. My first two hours of teaching were over in a heartbeat, and it felt amazing.
During the following days, my classes and I got used to each other. Baby steps from either end, and we met in the middle on a Wednesday. It never ceases to amaze me how functional laughter and fun can be. Even on Friday, before they took their first test, my students could laugh at my silly jokes, intended to calm their nerves.
My first week in Colombo, my first week at the school, and many more firsts. Of course, my friends and family back home were eager to hear about my first experiences. I sent them a simple message: ‘I taught the word ‘awesome’ to Buddhist monks today.’