I was 10 years old the first time I set foot in a new country outside of the United States. As the airplane door opened, I felt the thick humidity unexpectedly take me a few steps back as I looked over an endless sea of palm trees. Colombo, Sri Lanka was going to be my home for the next two years.
Nothing could ever prepare me for the next two years in Sri Lanka. Ten minutes into my ride from the airport, I was experiencing a serious case of sensory overload. I witnessed poverty first-hand. Tin houses situated on beach front property, land that is considered prime real estate in the US. I had no idea families lived in homes the size of my room in California. On the road to our new home, a mini traffic jam ensued because cops were directing cars around cows resting on the road. While we were stuck in traffic I remember seeing an array of tropical fruit stands and sellers trying to entice us to buy bananas, pineapples, papayas, and coconuts...
I suddenly had a fresh new perspective that would change the course of my life forever.
I am still in awe about how a mix of silly and serious childhood experiences shaped my outlook on life.
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage: I believed having an elephant as a pet was a genius idea. My Dad's tactic to take me to the orphanage to witness a day in the life of an elephant was even more genius. I observed elephants in their current habitat - doing lumbar work, eating food, drinking milk, and bathing. After seeing up to eight hours of them eat, play, and work, my Dad asked me which one I wanted, and reminded me that he/she was going to be my responsibility, and asked me if I could afford one. I quickly did the math based on the milk intake of a baby elephant and decided, I would come to visit instead. (A baby elephant drinks 34 gallons of milk in one sitting, three times a day).
Take away: I fell for an amazing parenting tactic that I will use on my children one day, yet I still want to adopt an elephant.
Traditional Sri Lankan Cuisine: I have always loved spicy food, but Sri Lanka takes spicy to a new level. Coconut is a main ingredient in vegetable curries and seafood curries, yet each dish is so unique that my tastebuds have never forgotten the combinations of rice with local vegetables and dried fish.
Take away: My tastebuds have been prepared to taste almost anything at least once.
The Overseas School of Colombo: I had never been to a school that included students in K - 12 grade from all over the world. I was used to the elementary, middle, and high school system in the US. The student culture is very different when you have ages ranging from 5 -18 years on one campus. My older sister went to the same school, and I thought it was a little strange to run into her and her friends during our lunch breaks. From what I remember, there weren't any disputes as a result to the varying age range, we all just got along, United Nations style.
Take away: I still keep in touch will all my classmates and feel very lucky to be a part of their lives.
Going to Work With My Dad: On my days off from school, I would go to work with my Dad to observe off-site meetings. I was particularly interested in how ideas were shared and how action items were developed. I learned a lot about approach and business etiquette by just listening. Those moments were magical.
I have fond memories that have changed the course of my life because new experiences that I had been exposed to, or had been given the opportunity of trying. These experiences have taught me compassion, empathy and have heightened by curiosity to explore the world.
I truly encourage you to try new experiences. You are guaranteed to create lasting memories. It's never too late!