An Intro to Sri Lanka
The Pearl of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka, is a small tropical island with a population of 21 million. Although small, it’s got an incredibly varied landscape. Tea plantations, beaches, the jungle...it's all there! It goes without saying that travelling around this little country is breathtaking, but it can take a while due to the constant changes in terrain and the infrastructure constantly being improved.
The two main languages spoken are Sinhala and Tamil, and whilst some people do speak English (a little, perhaps) it’s definitely recommended to try and pick up a few words in the local language to use as ice breakers; which will help you to integrate into the local community.
As well as learning a few phrases, it does help when you remember cultural traditions such as taking hats and shoes off when entering someone’s home or the beautiful temples that are scattered around the island, as it’s a sign of respect. Although it might feel a bit funny going shoeless at first, you soon get used to it.
The many temples reflect the main religion in Sri Lanka, Buddhism, and you’ll be sure to see Buddha figurines in houses, temples, shops and even on the local buses, which with their throbbing music and flashing lights can feel more like party buses. These Buddha statues and figurines are highly respected, making it a huge faux pas to be photographed with your back to them or kissing them. Tourists have been deported for doing things like this – so it’s a definite no-no.
Buddhist monks are also quite visible in the community, they may even be some of your students. These men, women and sometimes children swathed in brightly-coloured robes are treated with the utmost respect; they even have a special seat reserved on buses. So if you’re ever on a bus and a monk gets on, you need to vacate the first two rows of seats and be aware that if you’re the opposite sex of a monk you can’t sit next to them.
Hinduism is the next largest religious group, followed by Islam and Christianity. To celebrate this diversity, there are often religious parades in which elephants are costumed in jewels; people play music and everyone dances! There’s also a ‘Poya day’ each month to celebrate the full moon. The Sinhalese often visit the temple on this day to bring offerings to Buddha. The streets are lit up with fairy lights, everyone wears white and it really is quite beautiful.
The weather in Sri Lanka isn't very changeable, it's always hot! The average temperature is 27 degrees with humidity being over 50%. The rainy season is rarely consistent from year to year, but we find it tends to rain the most in May and June. However, those showers are often welcome and can feel really good if you've been out in the heat all day. We hope this small intro to Sri Lanka has been helpful and has given you a snapshot into Sri Lanka as a country. Deciding to go abroad to volunteer is a big decision, so hopefully this information has helped you to make yours.