Christopher and Michael are sweaty and exhausted. It’s 32 degree celsius with 100% humidity. The young educators almost run out of breath teaching in the tiny classroom filled with 40 hyperactive children at the age of 8, but the class continues anyway - an Interview with Christopher Downs, IEP 2017 Project Participant.

“The children [in Sri Lanka] value education very much,” Christopher said emphatically. “After an hour when we were really exhausted, they just calmed down and bowed down to us. [Michael and I] just shared this look and realized how much this meant to them. It humbles us quite a bit.”

21-year-old Christopher James Downs, a student of International Relations and Diplomacy, and his team went on a mind-expanding, perspective-changing AAU International Exchange Project (IEP) to Sri Lanka last winter semester for a month.

Christopher found out about AAU’s annual IEP when he attended the presentation on the project to the Island of Gods, also known as Bali, Indonesia, last year. He was then hooked to find out more, and contacted the students taking part in the project, asking for their personal reviews and experiences. He made up his mind early on, so as to prepare his finances. Then, according to him, the preparation process, including getting a visa, was convenient and simple.

“If you are interested, then just go,” said Christopher. “You can only gain from this. I know a lot of people who want to go but they are scared. But we actually just got our stuff together and went.”

Christopher didn’t see his IEP experience as just a holiday, but a valuable learning experience. Before the project, the team attended lectures and and did research to equip themselves with knowledge about Sri Lanka. Christopher himself read a lot of books on the topic.

During their time in Sri Lanka, the team went on excursions to a tea plantation, temples and monasteries. They also taught English to young children, visited houses of the elderly, orphanages, the Girls’ House, and people with special needs. After the project, the team is currently producing research papers.

Christopher himself was intrigued by the discovery that Sri Lanka is the birthplace of radical Buddhism, and chose this to be his research topic. He also found a new interest in teaching kids. Christopher had experience teaching in a language school for adults in Prague, but teaching 8-year-old kids was a totally new challenge for him.  

Among the students blogs – as they came back from their life-changing journey to the Pearl of the Indian Ocean – is Christopher’s story of him overcoming his fear of teaching 40 kids, in which he wrote:

“I was sweating, my throat was sore from all the shouting, and my hands were hurting from the high-fives, but it was definitely worth it. Witnessing the excitement and happiness in their faces totally paid off, and I was ready to take on the class once more.”   

The next IEP will take place during the winter semester of 2018. If you want to become a part of next year’s project or just hear more details about it, contact Robert Warren at [email protected] In the meantime, if you wish to combine traveling and volunteering, to work to help poor and disadvantaged children and adults, and to know more about humanitarian charity, visit Volunteer Sri Lanka Project or Voluntair (volunteering projects around the world). They offers volunteers the opportunity for a tailor-made volunteer experience. The experience is priceless, as Christopher himself said:

“You will get a totally new perspective on things. You encounter a new culture, new set of people, new mindset, and a new ethical and moral basis on life.”

Publication date: March 14, 2017