I’m currently sat in the departures lounge at Colombo Airport, and London Heathrow is the destination showing on my gate.
For me, departure lounges at airports are special places – they are places in which to reflect, recall and remember my experiences from the country that I am leaving. Whilst this is always a special time, as I sit here in CMB amidst the beeps of security machines, muffled check-in announcements, and the desperate pleas of mothers trying to reason with squealing toddlers, my mind is filled with recollections of a country from which I will be taking more than mere memories. Whilst it is true that I will probably be leaving with the odd sock that one of my fellow teachers lost in the wash a couple of months ago, I mean far more than that! When I arrived at this very airport a few months ago, I was entering Sri Lanka with an over-packed suitcase and an open mind. I will be leaving this airport with not only an even fuller suitcase but also a full heart.
Whilst my role at SVS over the past months has been that of ‘Teacher’, my position in life over this period has been very much that of ‘Student’ – I have learned about people, myself, cultures, language, religions, history…. not forgetting the lyrics to more than a few cheesy 80s hip hop classics that have provided the soundtrack to our teachers’ weekend excursions around Sri Lanka!
So, what will I be thinking about whilst soaring above Colombo?
Firstly, I will be thinking about my students – the primary reason why each of my days in Colombo was sunny. The laughter and smiles shared during our classes are unforgettable – from the role plays they created using the past perfect that had me crying with laughter, down to shouts of ‘Bye Miss Megan, have a great weekend!’ I would hear as they left the classroom chatting with each other excitedly (in English!) after class.
Secondly, I will be thinking about the many adventures I have shared in Sri Lanka with the other teachers. Whilst there have been too many of these to mention here, one particularly special place I got to experience with them was the second location of the SVS foundation in Maskeliya…the most beautiful place I have ever seen. During our weekends there, we swam in waterfall pools, climbed rocks, chatted around campfires, hiked hills, and cooked meals together ranging from chicken curries to fruit crumbles! Whilst all the teachers are from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds, our time spent in Maskeylia allowed us to become a close-knit group learning both about, and from, each other – namely, who is impressively able to sing almost anything completely devoid of tune, who is the best fire-starter (cue the Prodigy classic) for campfires, who has a secret talent for Russian accents, and who should not be left in charge of fried eggs! And whilst all of us teachers are now all leaving Sri Lanka to take up different paths in different parts of the world, I feel extremely fortunate to have shared these experiences with such wonderful people who truly live by the motto; ‘Life is for living and for giving’.
Now, as I leave Sri Lanka bound for a new career awaiting me in London, my students have already made me promise to plan a visit to return and see them in the coming year! So, whilst I set off over the clouds high above Colombo, I will not be saying ‘Goodbye’ to Sri Lanka, but rather ‘Until next time’…
While working at SVS, I truly felt like part of a community. Students of all ages, creeds and nationalities came together to learn English in a lively environment with fellow students who would soon become their friends. Similarly, teachers with different backgrounds and levels of experience came to Sri Lanka to spend cherished time being a part of the SVS community. Sharing experiences with people – students and teachers alike – has been my favourite part of living in Sri Lanka. Connecting with students who are excited to learn English and foster friendships with each other was one of my favourite parts of teaching. I have never been in a school where students were genuinely excited to be there. The students may have learned some English from me but I definitely took away lessons of hard work, community, and compassion from them. From teaching the funniest students to making lifelong friends with teachers, the laughs, frustrations, and memories that come with teaching English and exploring the diverse country of Sri Lanka will never be forgotten.
I am leaving Sri Lanka with immense gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of a project that seeks only to give to others. The staff members of the Samanala Valley Foundation made us feel like a part of their larger vision of giving back to the people of Sri Lanka and fostering a community of inclusion, compassion, and excellence. I am grateful to the SVS staff, especially Mr. Lawrance and Mr. Mark, who have made my time teaching so impactful. While I have been only a small part of the SVS story, SVS and Sri Lanka are now important chapters of my life that I will keep with me forever.
One of my best memories of teaching in Sri Lanka was when (per the curriculum) I got the students in my evening Upper Intermediate class into groups to play Alibi. They were told that at 5:00 the previous evening a giant chocolate cake had been stolen from Divine Bakery across the street and that as members of The Upper Intermediate Class they were all suspects in the crime. The students’ job was to get together with a partner to concoct a perfect alibi as to why they couldn’t have possibly stolen the cake. The students were given twenty minutes to come up with their alibi and to practice memorising all their facts so that their bluff wouldn’t be called when they were separated for police examination. While the suspects were making up stories, the “police force” got together to come up with a rigorous questioning process. After half an hour, the suspects were ushered in by the police and questioned aggressively. Some of the suspects appeared shaken, while others seemed unable to hold back their laughter. There was a moment of trepidation throughout the room as one of the police officers (Cao Kung, our monk from Vietnam) pounded his fist down on a table as a gesture of disapproval for a piece of seemingly ridiculous evidence offered by one of his suspects.
Afterwards, the suspects were led into a surveillance room (Mr Mark’s office) while the police got together to compare their charges’ answers. Discrepancies were noticed and several cross-examinations took place. The students really enjoyed using their interrogative skills to ask tough questions and as well as their flair for fantasy to create wild excuses. The activity called for the use of modals of possibility, obligation, and permission as well as legal vocabulary that was pertinent to our ongoing unit on The Law.
This activity was one of many in the SVS curriculum that makes the Teaching of English so much fun.
It’s after the end of term and I don’t even know how these 6 months flew by. From teaching 3 lessons a day to planning weekend trips and other school events, it has been a crazy ride, one that I have loved every minute of. In my previous blogs, I’ve written about my life in Sri Lanka and about teaching at SVS. In this blog, I would like to mention another major part of my SVS experience, that is, speaking to taxi drivers. Yes, you read that right, interacting with taxi drivers was a big part of my experience here. Sri Lanka has a local taxi service called ‘Pick Me’, and we had to order a Pick Me every evening to get back home, which came after a few minutes. The fun part of travelling home was the numerous conversations we had with the drivers who had varying levels of English. We had some who barely spoke any English, and then we had those whose level of English completely baffled us. So it was a gamble every single day, but never really a problem. Most drivers were interested in where we came from (“Where from?” “Which country?”) and what we were doing. Once I mentioned I was from India, the drivers often got carried away talking about Bollywood movies and the latest news on actors. Some started talking to me in Hindi right away, which always took me by surprise! We’ve had drivers who’s English was as good as ours, drivers who aren’t professional drivers, but the owners of the car, just covering for their driver, and much more. Without really thinking about it, it became a very big part of our experience here, something that I only thought about in hindsight. Needless to mention, I’m quite sad to be leaving Sri Lanka, but now I think I’ve got a family here in Sri Lanka which I can visit on any future trips to this beautiful island!