Personal Reflections

Kayla Leduc

 Coming to Colombo, I was so excited to take on the challenge of teaching.  As typical as it may sound, I ended up learning so much more than I could even imagine teaching.  All of my lesson plans and ideas were nothing in comparison.  In Colombo, I experienced a lot of self-growth.  I had never left North America before, so even just going to Sri Lanka was a completely new and different experience for me.  Colombo was the perfect place to start because we were welcomed with such open arms that Colombo quickly became a home away from home.  During my time there, I was placed at De La Salle Junction Preschool where I was supposed to teach children English.  This was actually pretty intimidating considering that the children hadn't been exposed to much English at all by that point.  I was seeing new sights that I will never forget, such as the packed streets of Pettah and the breathtaking Indian Ocean.  I got to meet amazing people who welcomed me into their homes and into their lives and taught me about their personal history.  I was eating new foods and sharing a bed with new creatures (cockroaches and lizards).  And everything was perfect!  I developed my self-confidence, I learned about new cultures, I felt incredible love from people who I had only just met, I discovered a new liking for dal and king coconut, and I found out that lizards make great roommates, and so do cockroaches, as long as you are unaware of their presence.  

    It is so hard to sum up my experience in Colombo, but all I can say is that I felt so much pure joy while I was there. The love and joy that I felt there will stick with me forever. Colombo is home!

 

Sam Columbus

Colombo is a busy city; cars, 3-wheelers; pedestrians all fill the streets and shops. We stayed in Colombo 15 with the De La Salle Brothers in their home where they welcomed us with open arms. We stayed there in the beginning of our trip and returned there for the last couple of days of our trip. Colombo was our first taste of Sri Lanka, we met so many students and friends of the Brothers. All the schools are supported by the Brothers, Every principal, or head teacher is very hard working and puts in so much time to make sure their school is a safe environment for their students. I didn’t expect to teach on this trip, but I’m really happy I was able to! It was definitely a challenge but I learned so much from it. While we were in Colombo, I, along with Professor Ganote checked in with the students at all of the schools, and taught for a day at St. Joseph’s college. Brother Kanthan is the principle at this college and he puts so much of himself in to his work and it shows, and St. Joseph’s college is very lucky to have him!

 

Jessica Bravo

When we first arrived to Colombo I instantly fell in love. It really resembles the pueblo my parents are from in Mexico so the moment we stepped outside the airport I felt at home. Colombo felt like home and the Brothers, teachers, and residents of Colombo felt like family. I don’t think I’ve ever been surrounded by so much kindness and care. The Brothers never felt like strangers, our rooms never felt empty, and our food always tasted like it was made with love. Our first weekend in Sri Lanka was spent touring Colombo and its neighboring cities. Though being a tourist is not ideal for many people, I felt honored that I had the opportunity to see different, beautiful parts of Sri Lanka. Also, we got to bathe elephants. WHAT. Sign me up for that any day! 

The remainder of our trip was spent working in the Brothers’ schools. While in Colombo, I had the honor of working at Henamulla Preschool, which is located in the slums of Colombo 15. I had no clue to what to expect and I was really nervous about the way that the teachers and children would react to me. However, despite all my fear I was met with open arms. It was a little chaotic because the kids were still getting used to being in school for the first time in their lives, but even through the tears they were warm, kind, and welcomed me with hugs. Three year olds are the best people in the world. The teachers did everything they could to make me feel comfortable and collaborate with me to design good lesson plans for the kids. Despite their lack of resources they work tirelessly to provide an environment for the children to be productive and open to learning. I am forever inspired by the teachers and children that I had the privilege of working with. I only hope that I was able to touch their lives a fraction of the way that they forever touched mine.

It is also important to mention how incredible the Brothers were to us. They were not only guides and teachers to us, but they became our friends. They were people who taught us about spirituality and kindness but also joked and ate with us. The community we created with the Brothers, their staff, the Irfan family (which I could write a separate essay about because they were so amazing), and our students made leaving Sri Lanka one of the most heart-wrenching moments of my life. I hope to one day reunite with my Sri Lanken family, but until then I will carry the love they gave me through all parts of my life.

 

Gabby Petersen

I was privileged to teach in the English Medium School with 7th and 8th graders while we stayed in Colombo. This school stole my heart immediately. The students are so eager to learn and the teachers are so kind and helpful. I found that my 8th graders consistently wanted more challenges in their studies and they are some of the most hard-working 14-year-olds I have ever seen. They actually asked to work on Shakespeare, even though English is their second or sometimes third language. My 7th graders were more mischievous, however, they were more playful than the 8th graders so we were able to play many games together. In my experiences at this school, I have never felt so happy and surrounded by love than with these students. I had a very special connection with two students in particular—Rashmi and Kim Irfan. They came to help me plan my lessons for their classes as they lived right near the brothers and they always spent time to come and sing with me in my off periods at school. These girls are so bright for their age, they are so motivated to study and deserve the best education money can buy. I have fallen in love with them and their family in a way that I feel has made this experience in Sri Lanka so important. I adore them and want to help them in any way I can. Teaching has never been my calling, but with students like these I felt so rewarded. My experience in Colombo has been irreplaceable.

 

Anna  Mendoza

The beauty of LCES cannot be understated. The vibrant life that characterizes Colombo 15 along with its oceanside location creates this place that both feels like a home away from home, and is also constantly buzzing with an excited energy. The atmosphere is very familiar and yet so foreign inside of this gigantic city which is so far geographically and culturally from anything we had ever experienced. Working with sister Anjalini to teach the fourth graders at Saint Benedicts was an incredible experience. At first the students were a little hesitant to speak and had difficulty understanding me because of my accent and how fast I was speaking. However, they were quick to warm up and share all the beautiful things they had to offer, may that be merely a fist bump, or a story about their lives and families. Brother Bonny did everything in his power to make sure our experience was as smooth as it could be and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

 

Carly Muir

Colombo was over the top. The Brothers are so polite and caring. I felt like I was at home by the all the hospitality the Brothers gave to us. I learned a lot about myself as a person in Colombo. Working in a community, where there is more poverty, is eye opening. We lived in the poorest part of Colombo, Colombo 15. Being immersed in the poverty stricken area of Colombo allowed me to realize how fortunate I am to be living in a country with so much opportunity. With that being said, I feel like I was able to give a lot to the community.

The language barrier the first day of teaching was not what I expected. The pre-school students were used to the practice of repeating English words that the teachers would say in assembly but I thought they would say some more to me besides “hello”, “good morning” and “bye”. I was able to learn different strategies on how to teach them English and ways that would help them learn a new language. One strategy that helped, was writing the colors and numbers on flashcards and having the students repeat them back to me. By the end of my time there, the students didn’t need to repeat after me. If I put up one finger or five, they knew what number it was.

The teacher I worked with in Colombo was a lot different than the Sister in Mannar. Communicating with her was hard because she would just let me fend for myself and not tell me it was my time to teach. It was hard to tell the students what I wanted to do because they couldn’t understand me and the teacher wouldn’t translate.

Overall, I learned a lot from Colombo and Mannar that I am going to take away and use when I become a teacher. I got so much insight and grew from working in the schools and I can’t wait to share what I learned from an amazing month abroad.

 

Courtney Kroll

While living Colombo 15, I was fortunate enough to teach preschool students at the De La Salle Junction. It was here that I met some of the most remarkable children that truly changed my spirit. They were so happy and excited to learn. It was a privilege to teach, and to also meet and connect with several of the De La Salle Brothers. They welcomed us into their home with open arms. They shared with us as students their personal stories. We were honored. It was amazing to learn about how they entered into a life of service to God. I realized in this place, how truly remarkable it is to be a Brother. These men faced a Civil War and had to rebuild their lives, all the while keeping their faith.

 I can honestly say that my overall experience in Colombo was life changing. From teaching early in the morning, to understanding Sri Lankan history in the afternoon, our days were always filled with new and enlightening experiences. I have never seen so much love and warmth and hospitality in my life. I truly felt at home. While the city of Colombo was so diverse, I never felt alone. Although there is so much poverty and cultural differences, I felt honored to understand a life so different from my own. I am so blessed, and truly have been given such a rich and fulfilling life. Although this town was so different from what I am used to, I saw a similarity within all of us; it is our faith and our love for God that brings us together and connects us. 

Reuben Delay

Our group owes the success and enjoyment of our time in Colombo to the entirety of the staff at LCES. From the brothers with their sustained support in our most crucial needs, to the talented staff delighting our taste buds day in and day out. There is so much work that went in behind the scenes that I’m sure we were oblivious to, yet greatly appreciated. We found that same welcoming attitude was repeated at each and every school we interacted with. My personal experience with St. Joseph’s Boys College Grandpass was equally impressive. The staff was kind, and Br. Kanthan was especially supportive and generous with his time.  I am confident that this is not a coincidence, but an attitude of hospitality. It is one that I hope we strive for in our own interactions. I look forward to any future visits that bring me into contact with these incredibly supportive and welcoming people.

 

Kathyrn Garlick

We landed at the Colombo airport on January 6th 2016 and the first thing I noticed the second we walked out of the air-conditioned building was the immense heat. From the very moment we stepped outside into the humidity, I knew this would be an adventure, and the moment we met the Brothers at the gate, I knew this would change my life. In Colombo I experienced the weather, the people, the food, the sounds, and the smells of a completely new country for the first time. This would be the country and the city that I would call home for the next few weeks. By the end of our trip, the brothers’ compound in Colombo definitely felt like a second home. The De LaSalle brothers were welcoming, generous, loving, genuinely hospitable, kind, authentic, strong leaders, and honest. They welcomed us into their home, into their schools, and encouraged us in our own endeavors when we prepared to return to the U.S. 

There are many memories that I will keep from Colombo; for example, teaching the kids at Henamulla preschool colors in English. There are many conversations that I will cherish and lean in to as I reflect on this trip; for instance, talking to Brother Rajan as we walked home from St. James Church reminded me that all Christians are welcome into the Christian family – even protestants in the catholic church, Brother Damian overwhelmed me with love and acceptance, and Brother Mervyn brought history to life when he shared his childhood experience during the thirty-year civil war. Colombo was a transformative place and an unforgettable experience. 

Judy Alanzalon

Colombo is home. I was born and raised in the city, San Francisco. I thought that San Francisco would be the only place that would ever feel like home to me—turns out, I thought wrong. The first time I set foot in Colombo 15, I sensed something so aromatic, reminiscent of my childhood, the incense from the Hindu temple across the street from LCES. This sort of eastern smell, reminded me of the incense that my grandmother once used. She took care of siblings, my cousins, and me because our parents worked hard almost everyday in order to support us. The combination of the temple scents and the ocean truly reminded me of my youth as my mother used to bring me to the beach in the nearby Peninsula town, Pacifica. In addition to that detail, my while I grew up in San Francisco, my parents used to describe to me their lives in the Philippines. I have only heard about their hometowns through brief narratives, I have never been to the Southeast Asia.

Once I reached Colombo, a rush of emotions bombarded me—I felt connected to a place that I have never been before. Colombo is the love of my life that has been hidden away from me for the first twenty-one years of my life. I felt like Colombo could have been similar to the home I could have grown up in, if my parents remained in the Philippines. To feel the air of this South Asian city and to be in touch with the nature and natives impacted me so profoundly. I learned so much about myself and who I long to be in Colombo. To learn about such a rich and diverse country’s culture, politics, socioeconomics, and history while in the country is one of my greatest pleasures and honors. Brother Kirupa, Mervyn, Rajan, Damian, Gerard, as well as the Irfan family and De La Salle administrators, teachers, and children continue to live such incredible lives everyday. I feel so blessed because they welcomed us, complete strangers into their homes and loved us unconditionally. Together, we may blossom into the most beautiful human beings we can be. The deep devotion the Brothers give to their communities touches my heart and soul. I hope one day, I can perform a service that brings me joy and passion like that of the De La Salle Brothers. I love and miss Colombo dearly.

 

Sarah Finn

Colombo really taught me a lot about making assumptions, of any kind. There were so many times moments here where I felt like I was finally getting a good idea of the culture of Sri Lanka and Colombo, but then something would happen that would prove how horribly wrong I was! As I was trying to get my footing, I learned that it is OK to not know everything and to be surprised daily. I found that when I had thought that I understood my students, there would be something in class that would remind me of the social situation of many of my student’s and the different and varied reality that they are living. Or there would be information or a story shared at dinner that would change how I thought about the students, or the teachers, or three wheeler rides, or the homeless, or even the Brothers. I was humbled to be taught how much I did not know and inspired to keep learning as much as I could, both here and in the rest of my life.

 

Megan Hansen

I never got over how many similarities I was able to draw between Colombo and my home in Jakarta. Scenes from busier areas of Colombo could have been taken straight from my memory and time-stamped for 2016. I haven’t been home in a couple years, so the nostalgia set in quickly, but having a new home away from home was exciting enough to keep my mind from wandering. I couldn’t have asked for a better home than in Colombo 15, with the Brothers. From the moment we stepped off the bus, we were part of their community, part of their family. 

    I came into Colombo under the assumption that I would be teaching 5th graders. The day before we began our placement, I was asked to teach in the pre-school at L.C.E.S. Despite the last minute change and slight cloud of panic that came over me, I enjoyed every day with my 4-year-olds. Although the children and I were unable to communicate in English, the language barrier taught me so much about communication through body language, gestures and song. With this, I learned about patience, discipline and how to engage young children in the classroom. 

    Something I noticed almost immediately in Sri Lanka (Colombo specifically) was its melting pot of religions. Every street seemed to hold a prayer house of some sort. Whether it were a statue of Buddha, a Saint, a Church, a Mosque or a Hindu Temple, prayer was visibly practiced among everybody in Sri Lanka. 

    I’m unable to end this brief description of my stay in Colombo without talking about the food. I’ve always considered myself an open-minded eater, (which isn’t hard when you like to eat everything) and was always blown away by the aromas, colors and spices that filled my plate at every meal. Imagine: yellow lentils, pink beets, deep red fish curry, pickled cabbage. Not only was it beautiful to look at, not only did the spices compliment each dish perfectly, but every meal used a spicy component, a mild component, a tangy component and a sweet component. POW.

 

Andee McKenzie

Let me start with this: I'm not a very good Catholic. I don't go to mass and I may or may not have missed a few confession sessions. However, I always believed that the most important part of any religion is a strive for goodness, compassion, and tender love. When I arrived in Colombo, I was greeted by the Brother's with the most familial kindness, tender love, and encouragement as if I was their own daughter. At the LCES compound, we did not live amongst them, we lived with them, sharing everything from good conversation, advice, and even food. There are far too many people in this world that are skeptical and cynical of uninhibited kindness so it was very refreshing to be living with the Brothers.

I was both humbled and honored to serve at St. Benedict's College with Brother Bonnie and Teacher Shirani. Teacher Shirani is the most dedicated and inspiring woman I have ever met. She gave up her accountant job to serve the community through teaching, is the lowest paid teacher at St. Benedict's, and never misses a day of class even if she isn't feeling well. On the last day of class, she had a fever and I insisted she go home early. She told me that she wanted to stay to see me off since it was my last day. We shared a laugh as I fanned her while holding the student's pupil's book and working through a lesson with the kids. It was a little funny at the time, but it did not hit me until later how sweet of a moment it was. One thing I will never forget is when she told me "Teaching isn't a job, it's a service." Every day that I was in the classroom, I had this motto in mind. Even on the days where you feel like you failed because you didn't get to help every single child, it only meant that you need to get up and try harder. Colombo taught me so much about myself and the ideals of quality service. When I would walk through the halls of St. Benedict's and children who weren't even in my class wanted to say hello and have a conversation, it truly warmed my heart. Thank you, Colombo!