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Sri Lanka Reflective Essay

This semester I enrolled in ENGL2089 for two reasons: The first being that it is a
required course for my major and the second was that it gave me the opportunity to travel
to Sri Lanka. My roommate took advantage of this experience last summer and after
hearing her stories I couldnt wait to enroll. Leading up to our departure, we researched
specific topics that we would then explore once we arrived in Sri Lanka. This was an
excellent way to learn about the culture and lives of the people in Sri Lanka and gave me
just a glimpse into the beautiful country I was about to be part of. After a semester of
research and learning about Sri Lanka, we departed to begin our journey. A little over two
weeks were spent in this country. The first week was dedicated to traveling and exploring
Sri Lanka while the second week was spent at Volunteer Sri Lanka where we devoted our
time to helping people in an orphanage, a girls home, a nursing school, and an elderly
home. Volunteering was the most significant aspect of this trip. Going into this
experience I had no idea just how powerful volunteering would be. It made such an
impact on me and continues to make that impact 30 days after. Seeing and interacting
with people who have gone through such terrible experiences, yet they continue to smile,
was so moving. This experience will continue to impact me for the rest of my life and is
one of the main reasons I want to go back. I felt like I did so little for the people I met,
but I have the potential to do so much.
The entire experience completely exceeded my expectations. The people I met,
the lives I impacted, the country I lived in- it all was amazing and so much better than
what I was expecting. Sri Lanka is a beautiful country. Before my trip I had looked at
pictures on the Internet, but those were nothing compared to seeing Sri Lanka in person.
The entire country is so lush and green. The scenery is just breathtaking. Not only the
country itself, but also the people of Sri Lanka surpassed anything I could have ever
expected. Everywhere we went Sri Lankans would come up to us and ask what country
we came from. They would smile and ask how we liked their country. Complete strangers
constantly smiled and waved at us. It was such a friendly, welcoming atmosphere and
really facilitated the adaptation to Sri Lankas culture and time difference. Before this trip
I had many volunteer experiences both in the United States and in Spain, so I was
expecting the volunteering in Sri Lanka to be very similar. However, it was so much more
impacting than anything I have ever experienced. I saw the other side of the spectrum,
which not only gave me a new appreciation for my life, but also it has motivated me to
continue to contribute to the Volunteer Sri Lanka project while I am in the states. Every
single aspect of this trip exceeded my expectations.
During the week I spent volunteering in Sri Lanka I possessed awareness of the
purpose of service, including need for reciprocity, understanding of social issues, and
ability to see those issues from multiple perspectives. Before the trip I had a lot of
experience volunteering with children, specifically in school systems. I have been a
dedicated volunteer for Bearcat Buddies and also the Reds Urban Youth Academy. Both
of these organizations focus on mentoring and tutoring younger children. In Sri Lanka I
took on similar responsibilities, but in a different country. Recognizing the cultural and
societal differences between Sri Lankan children and American children helped me to

become more aware of the purpose of service and gave me the ability to see these issues
from multiple perspectives. Before leaving for Sri Lanka I found that the majority of
children in orphanages are products of incest or have been abandoned by their parents
due to financial issues. They will rarely, if ever, be able to move up in social class status
because of their background. The children were unaware of these kinds of social issues,
as their only interests consisted of blowing bubbles and eating cookies. It was difficult to
treat these children as any other child after having this knowledge about their future- their
future that they are oblivious to. However, when volunteering at the orphanage all of the
children acted as any other kid would. All they wanted was some attention and were
constantly smiling and laughing. Specifically volunteering in the orphanage gave me an
understanding of the social issues in Sri Lanka. Many children are not able to live with
their families because there is not enough money to support them, resulting in them living
in the often unsanitary, small orphanages. It made me realize that the purpose of service
is not to save others from their situation, but to better their lives through creating
relationships and making them aware of their importance. I think the moment I came to
this realization was when I was tickling a few of the children. They were bursting into
laughter as I said, Tickle, tickle, tickle! None of the children spoke English, and if they
did it was limited to hello. Soon a few of the kids ran up to me saying, Tickle, tickle,
tickle! My heart grew heavy, but I smiled because I knew how much this laughter meant
to the children. This was the moment I realized that we were there not to save them from
their situation, but to make a difference in their lives, no matter how small. I was able to
see the importance of volunteering through the eyes of the children. We were there to
make them smile, and to the children this was something that made them happy.
These experiences helped me to understand my own role as a citizen of the
community. Through my participation in the school, womens home, and orphanage I
became aware of the effects of my volunteering and how they can better the community
as a whole. It gave me a better understanding of how I can work to benefit the lives of
others. I became aware of my role as a mentor, teacher, and friend. Understanding ones
place in the community is very important in helping you to not only find yourself, but
also to find others. Finding others in a literal sense by exploring volunteer opportunities
and building relationships, but also finding what others are interested in and what you can
do to benefit their lives. This experience of interacting and helping native Sri Lankans
gave me a better sense of this countrys culture and way of life, which helped me to better
immerse myself in and appreciate their way of life.
To inform my volunteer experience I referred to #InstagrammingAfrica: The
Narcissism of Global Voluntourism by Lauren Kascak with Sayantani DasGupta. This
text made me aware of the purpose of volunteering, which is not to elevate a social media
status, but to better the lives of others. I think it is important to recognize that the goal of
volunteering it to better the lives of others while also learning about yourself. This
reading helped me give everything I could offer to those I was volunteering with, it made
me selfless. The words of this text were especially helpful when I was at the orphanage.
Not once did I think of myself while I was there, I was completely focused on the
children. I think it was here that I became aware of the purpose of volunteering- bettering

the lives of others. This idea was discussed in Kascaks text, which I think allowed me to
immerse myself in the volunteering experience.
Because I continued my research of batik when I arrived in Sri Lanka, before
leaving I referred to the text, Continuity and Change: Women Workers in Garment and
Textile Industries in Sri Lanka by Swarna Jayaweera. This text discusses the economy in
Sri Lanka and the effect of garment factories on the population, specifically women. My
research paper focused on the economical effects of batik, and so this reading was
especially helpful in enhancing my research. In Sri Lanka we visited a batik factory and it
was there that I continued my research. One of the women there explained the process of
making batik, and it was consistent with what I had written in my paper. Jayaweeras text
explains the importance of batik on the female population in Sri Lanka, and I had the
opportunity to discuss this with some of the women working in the batik factory. They
informed me that almost all of the workers at this particular factory were women and told
me that working there was very economically beneficial. Although a single batik can take
up to months to create, the profit is very large. This text allowed me to be informed on
the batik industry and its effects, especially to women. It provided me with the
knowledge I needed to communicate my ideas with the women in the batik factory.
Today I continue to think about Sri Lanka and the impact it has made on me.
Currently I am replicating photographs I took, either by painting them or simply printing
them. Once Im finished I will sell these to family, friends, etc. and then donate the
money to Volunteer Sri Lanka. I am also working on buying a fan for the orphanage, as
the founder of VSL told us they are in dire need of a few. This experience continues to
impact me today. It has motivated me to continue volunteering both in America and
abroad. Witnessing how some people live in Sri Lanka has given me the desire to help
other people in similar situations. In the girls home I heard many terrible stories about
what the girls have gone through, which really changed my perspective on life. I no
longer take what I have for granted. I make sure to tell the people I love that I love them
because I know I am so lucky to have them in my life. Volunteering made me feel so
grateful for my education, my family and friends, and the roof over my head. This aspect
of the experience was incredibly life changing and continues to change my life today.
The volunteering in Sri Lanka was nothing like any volunteer experience I have
ever had, and it helped me to become aware of how lucky I am. I want all people to
experience this and so I have been raising awareness for projects like VSL. At the very
beginning of the volunteer week, the founder of VSL told us that we would be interacting
with people from the bottom end of the spectrum. He told us we lived in the upper half
and that living in the middle is the best place to be. After volunteering for a week I began
to appreciate these words. Having money, but sharing your time with the less fortunate is
where I feel most comfortable. I found that being in the middle of the spectrum really is
the best place to be. I think it is very important that everyone discovers this, and having
an experience like I did in Sri Lanka is the best way to come to this realization. It is
important to live comfortably, but not too comfortably.

Throughout my time in Sri Lanka I kept an online blog, which I have posted to
my honors website. I have also passed the link to UC International so they can share it
with other Cincinnati students in the hopes that other students will go abroad. My blog
was directed at college students because I think college brings the most study abroad
opportunities and I want to inspire others to engage in amazing experiences like I have.
Studying abroad has broadened my global perspective and helped me to learn so much
about myself as a person. I can only hope others can experience the same. This fall I will
help my professor advocate for this class at the study abroad fair. I think hearing
experiences from someone who has experienced it themself is the best way to advocate
for an opportunity like this one and I would love for others to see the beautiful country of
Sri Lanka.