Michael Wainwright,
from Australia,
teaching in Sri Lanka.

Michael Wainwright is a primary teacher from Queensland. He left Australia in August 2005 to teach primary music and drama to 3 to 11 year olds at the Overseas School of Colombo in Sri Lanka. “I wanted to have a more ‘thorough’ cultural experience; a living and breathing lifestyle rather than just a ‘backpack and guidebook’ perspective,” he explains. Read Michael’s account of when he was living and teaching in Sri Lanka:

“The tropical birds woke me this morning, followed by a monkey screaming outside. It’s quite a noisy country. Within a few hours everything’s quite hot. That means about 30ºC. We start school at 7:30am because of the heat but also because of the traffic which is disastrous. Everything from cows sleeping on the road to motorists driving on the wrong side! I’ve never sworn so much in my life!

The school is in a wonderful setting. It was once a rubber plantation and there are still lots of trees. Monkeys often scamper about on the school roof. The children love seeing them; there’s nothing quite like a monkey to interrupt school work!

My teaching colleagues are from all over the world plus a large body from Sri Lanka. There’s a small ex-pat community here, but the Sri Lankans mix into it and everyone lives very happily together. The Sri Lankans are emotional, laidback very friendly people. It’s wonderful working with them; one of the favourite parts of my job. I love the different cultures. The pupil population is just as diverse. Some children are from humanitarian aid and diplomatic families, others are local Sri Lankans. In every classroom there are no more than two children from the same country.

How I teach has changed over the years. Being in an international culture changes the chemistry and, as a music teacher, changes how I think. Here I do a lot of drumming. It’s a big part of the culture and allows for a great deal of freedom of expression.

I speak a decent amount of Singhalese, but I teach in English. This is typical of all the international schools wherever you teach in the world. I’ve learnt Singhalese to get around. It takes a lot of energy to learn but it changes everything. The smiles on people’s faces says it all. English is spoken widely in Sri Lanka; even the less privileged population can speak a little, but it’s almost a responsibility I think, to try to learn the native language of your host country…and it helps to drop the prices! Buying and selling can be a bit of a game here. It’s part of the culture and certainly adds to the colour of life.

Lunchtimes at school caters to many tastes. The local food is extremely spicy and I couldn’t go back to eating non-spicy food now.

School finishes at 2:40pm. Evenings are a great time of the day; the weather is always warm, perfect for enjoying the outdoors. You can wear T-shirt and shorts year round. In school the children don’t wear uniform and teachers are casual but still professional. Light breathable fabrics such as cotton and linen are vital for staying comfortable in the heat. I love the wonderful local materials.

Heading home, I stop off to buy fruit from my regular tropical fruit stand. It’s incredible: the best pineapples ever. And mangos, papayas, and a ridiculous amount of bananas and coconuts, all so cheap.

I have a housekeeper and cook. Most families here have the same set-up. I’ll get home to find some basmati rice and a few curries waiting for me to heat up.

Weekends are a great time to explore Sri Lanka’s beautiful country. There’s the tropical jungle paradise, the tea estates, fantastic resorts, safaris. It’s easy, and very tempting to get away for a couple of days.

When my current contract finishes I’ll be heading off to teach somewhere else. I’m looking at a few options at the moment, maybe southern Europe, equatorial Africa or Indonesia. There are many possibilities. I think it’s essential for a person to travel in order to be exposed to different people, communities and attitudes. When you’re teaching abroad, you’re engaged on another wavelength. There’s wonderful stimulation from the varying environments and from the children and colleagues around you. It’s quite an amazing opportunity that I thoroughly recommend to any teacher who is willing to take a risk. You’re expanding your knowledge teaching different people and, in different ways, you’re expanding your wisdom of the world and your cultural perspective, and of course it’s a great way to travel.”

Michael went on to teach in an international school in Germany. He has since returned to teach in Australia.

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