I came to the office one morning and gave a letter of resignation to my boss. Colleagues were wide-eyed but confirmed in my decision. I was fine. More than a little. I was going to Sri Lanka without a date, planning to live there and see the world as viewed by Asians.
Most relatives and friends had the only question: for what money I was going to live there.
I’ve searched the web to find freelance work and volunteering programs. Dozens of websites, ranging from custom writing services anywhere in the world to wildlife research expeditions in Africa, tempted to join their projects. It took me an hour to make a decision: a teacher by diploma, I chose this website and went to Sri Lanka to give lessons in English at a local school there.
Several short emails, one long (it seemed endless) flight, and ten hours in a bus – and here I am, in a small village of Hingurukaduwa where a schoolman and a host family meet me. I will spend two months here.
Despite their humble conditions of life, the family had already invited 15 volunteers before me. A 1,5 х 3 meters room, no ceiling but a wooden roof, a bed with mosquito screen, and my bag instead of a wardrobe – that’s what my new home looked.
My first morning began early, around 4.30 am. The locals have no time to sleep but much to do before a workday starts. Adults in my host family worked at two jobs, their children studied seven days a week. I am not sure if the whole Sri Lankan nation is so hardworking, but my family was 100% so.
Jungles of Sri Lanka are full of diverse birds and creatures shedding fantastic sounds. But what awakened me was the “melody” of chopping woods or flaying coconuts, reminding the sound of rubbing foam plastic. Every morning I asked the family to keep quiet, describing the most frustrating sounds, and every morning they found alternative work to do, no less noisy. As I’ve understood later, the local culture doesn’t intend jealousy for others’ sleep: so tired in a day, they fall asleep on the floor and with light or music turned on.
Another stroke of insight: food in Asia needs to be not only cheap but easy of access.
It took an hour to get to the nearest food shop by bus, and that bus appeared once a day with no exact schedule. And yet, we had something to eat all the time. This “something” was rice. The locals cook it for each eating, 3-4 times a day. The only difference is in additions and sauces that are, frankly speaking, many and delicious. My attempts to buy products and cook more common dishes met upset faces of my family members and questions “you are not happy with our food?” with tears in their eyes.
It was so touching and appealed to my conscience most, as their English and my Sinhalese vocabulary kept to “hello, how are you, I’m fine.” Thus, I started my “rice with rice” dieting.
Work and school
The learning center where I worked was the most technologically equipped place in the village. They had several computers, presented by volunteers, and the internet access, which was luxury for the area like that. The school works every day, but English and Programming (C++ and PHP) lessons take place a few days per week.
These are the days when 10-200 students come to classes. And yes, 200 was my personal best. The learning center has no curricula, so every new teacher meets a kind of chaos there. The biggest challenge is children who know no word in English but want to horse around.
At the same time, they are curious and willing to touch you: my face, hair, dress – everything met their eyes. After dozens of vain attempts to plan a lesson, I’ve understood: the only way to hold the attention is gamification. Long live that person who invented “Simon says..,” the game where children repeated my every word and deed!
The most challenging day was Saturday when children from neighboring villages came to the school. Classes took place from 8 am to 10 pm, with a two-hour break in afternoons. I had three days off a week and spent them traveling through the country.
I am not a fan of “must see” places all tourists love to occupy. So my shortlist included Dambulla cave temple, Bahirawa Kanda Buddha Statue, Adam’s Peak (start climbing it at 2 am so you could meet a sunrise there and take part in a spiritual ceremony), and Arugam Bay (a must visit for surfers and elephants admirers).
All in all, I had enough time for everything: self-reflection, productive work, climbing the mountain, surfing, and even a New Year celebration at the end of April. My Sri Lankan family allowed me to delve into the world of their traditions, religion, relationships, and goodness.
And the best cost I’ve brought home after my escape:
Somewhere in Asia, I have two sisters, one brother, and many grownups who need no English word to understand me now.
By Lesley Vos, a web writer from Chicago, contributing to publications on business, content marketing, and self-development. Lesley shares her experience with peers, loves coffee and travels, writes a book, and dreams of visiting New Zealand one day. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @LesleyVos.