Why did you choose your study abroad program specifically?
I chose to study abroad because I wanted to have a learning experience in an entirely different part of the world that would challenge the assumptions and values I might be inclined to form in one particular educational environment. I also became interested in Theravada Buddhism during my sophomore year after taking a class with John Holt, and was compelled to combine my desire to broaden this area of interest with my taste for adventure, and this led me to decide to study abroad with the Intercollegiate Sri Lanka Education (ISLE) Program.
How did you connect your off-campus study with your Bowdoin academics, before leaving and upon your return?
When I returned, I took a course in Mahayana Buddhism to learn about another strand of Buddhism that is more prominent in eastern Asia, which gave me a phenomenal opportunity to understand how a tradition I had encountered in Sri Lanka has been imagined in very different ways in other cultures. I also found myself bringing the experiences and insights I had learned in Sri Lanka into my courses at Bowdoin in new and exciting ways - for instance, this past semester I wrote a research paper on food security in Sri Lanka in light of recent extreme weather events.
Does international study, work or travel figure into your any of your future plans?
I am excited to be returning to Sri Lanka with an English Teaching Assistantship Fulbright this coming November! This opportunity will give me a unique platform to create inter-cultural awareness with Sri Lankan students and to cultivate a more enduring connection with a place that was so enriching to me during my study abroad experience in 2012.
What was the best learning moment outside of the classroom?
I would say my best learning moment was when I ran a marathon in Colombo, the nation’s capital, and received numerous king coconuts, bananas, and bottles of water, while getting hosed down with water by people cleaning their 3-wheel cars as I ran along! I was thoroughly amazed by the generosity I experienced, especially as a white foreigner participating in a running race, and these small actions reinforced the strong ethic of giving that I encountered during my four months in Sri Lanka.
What advice can you give to current Bowdoin students about going abroad?
I would challenge prospective students to pursue an experience for its own right rather than to simply fulfill requirements or as a stepping stone to something else. After all, you never know how an immersive experience in another part of the world might change the trajectory of your life. Also, I would really recommend living with a host family to force you to find your home base in another culture rather than retreating to the comforts of an American reality that you bring to that culture. And finally, making an effort to learn at least some of a foreign language can convey a sense of appreciation for another culture, and enable you to start transcending the status of a tourist in the eyes of others. In my experience, this can allow you to gain a deeper and more engaged understanding of a place, even if a given conversation may end up reverting back to English.