Story posted November 30, 2011
Maggie Meyers, Bowdoin College, Class of 2005, ISLE Program ‘04
I am currently in the Elementary Teacher Education Program (ELTEP) at the University of Washington in Seattle. This is an intensive one year program through which I will get my certification to teach K-8. I am student teaching in a first grade classroom at Jane Addams K-8 in Seattle, a very progressive school with and environmental science focus across the curriculum. I am also about half way through my Master of Ed in Language, Literacy, and Culture through the Curriculum an Instruction division of UW.
When I'm not in classes, writing papers, or student teaching, I enjoy spending my time at home with my boyfriend Ari and 10 month old kitten named Moss. Ari and I are both relatively new to Seattle, so we enjoy exploring different neighborhoods, frequent trips to the weekly farmers' markets, and walks around the lake that we live close to. We have also enjoyed discovering local pubs where we can watch soccer (football) games on the weekends.
The reasons I chose the ISLE Program:
Unlike most candidates for the ISLE program, I had a big sister who had participated in the program about 5 years earlier. I remember how fascinated I was with her stories about her Sri Lanka experience as well as the incredible textiles, artwork, and masks that she had returned home with. Although I had already studied abroad during my junior year at the University of Padova, in Italy, I returned to Bowdoin with continued curiosity about Sri Lanka. This curiosity was certainly heightened by the coursework I was pursuing at Bowdoin with John Holt that focused on Southeast Asian religious culture.
The foods I fell in love with:
Where to begin?!? My Amma, Manel Kulatunga, makes the most incredible dahl (pari-pu) that you can imagine. We had some pretty fierce debates about whose Amma made the best dahl, but I still contend that mine made the most delicious version. And the roti.....oh the coconut roti. And pol sambul on top of well, everything. And let's not forget kotu roti... the most amazing street food I've had in all my life. In fact, during the 5 years I was living in NYC after I graduated from Bowdoin, I was lucky enough to have at my fingertips one of the only Sri Lankan restaurants in the country. Go to Sigiri if you live in or visit NYC... it is in the East Village on 1st Ave between 5th and 6th Streets.
The activities I participated in:
I loved all of my academic classes, but I must admit I enjoyed the challenge of our dance classes with Sirisena. I have never been a great dancer, and it was a really big challenge for me. At first I wanted to be in the drumming class, but my host parents told me, "Maggie, you will dance!" I didn't want to let them down, so I went for the dancing class, and after much practicing (including a couple of private lessons at Sirisena's home studio!) I was able to make my Amma and Appachi proud at the dance recital.
People who made lasting impression on me:
I was so fortunate to have such a loving and welcoming host family that took me in immediatly as their "suda duwa" (white daughter). I continue to keep in touch with them and cherish that relationship dearly. Punji was an amazing teacher and mentor...and Tai Chi guru. Also, Sumanasena...what a central character in the ISLE experience. He pointed me towards great connections with many people along the south coast who I stayed with during my independent study. Evidently, Sumanasena is related to EVERYONE in Sri Lanka. And of course, I made some very close friendships with other ISLE students who continue to stay close friends even though we are living all over the map.
What I miss most:
I miss my host parents, the other families in the communities I spent time with in Ambolongoda over my independent study time, and of course the food. I miss the beaches and the amazing fruit. My most amazing moments were those in which I felt like I was really able to use and build my Sinhalese language skills in conversations. I also miss leaning out of the train on trips from Kandy to the coast.
How ISLE has translated beyond my college years:
Living in Sri Lanka was such an amazing multicultural learning experience. Moreover, the language acquisition that I achieved there was surprising, and it gave me a lot of confidence about learning and speaking in languages other than English. I am currently working in schools where large percentages of our students are English Language Learners (ELLs), and I believe that the challenges and triumphs I had working to learn Sinhalese really help me empathize with and target learning needs among my young students.
In so many ways Sri Lanka broadened my worldview.
I had so many moments that I felt challenged in ways I never was before, such as uncomfortable moments involving harassment from strangers on the bus or street. But I also had so many experiences of feeling welcomed and loved in the family homes and communities I lived in. At the risk of sounding cliche, I really discovered how no matter how circumstances of race, class, socioeconomic standing, religion, and other aspects of cultural life may be vastly different, there are certain elements of the human experience that we all share regardless of those differences. We all love and hurt and experience joy and struggle, and those emotions are not unique to any one group. In short, although we are all so different in external ways, we all are very similar in our internal, emotional selves.
"I had so many moments that I felt challenged in ways I never was before..."