Sinead Watt - General Teaching Projects in Sri Lanka
I was 17 when I left school. I just felt like I’d rather be somewhere else, doing something exciting and worthwhile. I planned on going to university but not before I had had an experience of some sort which I would never forget... That’s when I discovered Projects Abroad.
I’d been looking for information on gap years on the internet and, at the beginning, deciding which country to go to was proving to be a difficult choice, but I found the Projects Abroad website and read some of the articles that other volunteers had written. There were heaps of photos to look through too, which brought me to the conclusion that I wanted to visit Sri Lanka.
Choosing to teach over there wasn’t very difficult. I was originally struck by the Care project but I thought it might be too emotional for me, and having work experience in Primary schools combined with the adorable Sri Lankan children and the benefits that speaking English will have for them, I decided that, personally, teaching would be a better option. Sorting it all out was the easy part; it was the waiting before I left that was difficult. Then, come August, I was on the plane about to spend 2 months teaching in Sri Lanka and a few weeks travelling.
Booking the trip was quite spontaneous. It had all just been an idea and I hadn’t really discussed travelling with anyone, but once I had found out about the project my parents didn’t need too much convincing (after all I was only 17 and they were paying for me to go). I can’t thank them enough as it has made such a difference to my life already. I had travelled a lot before, I’ve been very lucky growing up in respect to holidaying abroad and travelling to countries all over the world, but Sri Lanka was new and exciting.
Lal, my host dad, collected me from the airport and on the way home stopped in to visit his cousin and her husband. Straight away I was put at ease as, despite being nervous which most volunteers would understandably be, the Sri Lankan people were incredibly friendly and welcoming. The whole place had a buzz about it which made it even more interesting and the smells were fantastic. I think I was expected to be overwhelmed as well due to the dramatic differences between Sri Lanka and Scotland, but this is where I was less affected as I had been to India a few years before which has many similarities so I almost knew what to expect. This made settling in a lot easier for me.
In the morning on the way into the school the children were sitting at the windows waiting for me, and then they would run out to greet me with the biggest smiles on their faces. Those were the minutes that made the trip most worthwhile. As well as the local people, all the volunteers seemed to get on great with each other. Everyone was always eager to meet up and explore the island so there was never a dull moment. The weekends were always busy with either trips to the ancient cities, white water rafting or nights out in Hikkaduwa. There is such a variety of things to do there and some of the most beautiful beaches and extraordinary sights that you really do appreciate everything.
The whole experience had a huge impact on me. Firstly, I became a whole lot more independent than I was and I made many lifelong friends who I still keep in touch with, as and when I can. Teaching allowed me to become more mature yet I could still relate to the children to an extent because of my age and they were all so keen to learn which made the project worthwhile. At the end of the placement I went travelling to Thailand and Cambodia with another volunteer that I met in Sri Lanka, called Tejal.
As well as the differences this all made to me as a person, it also encouraged me to be aware of everything that is going on in the world around me. Being able to interact with local people, primarily by being hosted with a Sri Lankan family (who were absolutely amazing and I miss them all so much), I was able to interpret how they feel about their situation and how much they appreciate the work which Projects Abroad does.
As well as the impact that volunteering abroad had on me, there have also been many benefits. Not only do I feel that I have achieved something from taking part in the project, I have discovered a new life in Sri Lanka and have many reasons to go back. I can now help other people by explaining what a fantastic opportunity it is being able to participate in schemes provided by companies such as Projects Abroad and help to advertise what an unforgettable experience it was, both for myself and apparently the children (they still send me cards and letters).
My experience in Sri Lanka was much more than I could have hoped for and I really felt at home there. In fact, only 5 months after coming back to Scotland I was on the plane back to the beloved country with another volunteer that I had met whilst volunteering, Cati. I think that shows just how much I loved it and the fact that you really do make great friends.