I am officially in Sri Lanka! After months of preparation and anticipation, I finally made the long journey across the world (literally) to end up on the tiny island that will be my home for the next nine months.
The trip started last Saturday, when I arrived at DFW Airport to board the longest flight that American Airlines offers (or so I’ve been told). And lucky for me, my scheduled 16-hr-45-min flight was extended by an hour when the jetbridge wouldn’t move away from the plane. Although it was an unceremonious and unwelcomed start to the journey, the rest of the trip was uneventful, and I made my connecting flight in Hong Kong without any problem.
I arrived in Colombo (Sri Lanka’s commercial capital and largest city) around 12:15am on Monday, passing quickly through customs with all my luggage and research equipment to meet the driver the Fulbright program arranged for me. If I hadn’t been so groggy, I may have felt more sentimental in having a sort of homecoming moment to Sri Lanka as I walked through the airport, but I was tired and everything was dark outside. Still, I admit I felt a sense of familiarity and comfort having been to the country before. I’m sure this will make my transition into the country easier during my first few weeks.
I arrived at my hotel around 1:30am, ready to jump into bed after not sleeping much on my long-haul flights. Next thing I knew, it was 6:30am, and I decided to catch up with social media for an hour or so after taking a shower. I sat back in bed for a few minutes after that, convinced I wouldn’t possibly give into the pressures of jetlag, but I must’ve been weak, because all I remember is waking up and it being 4:30pm on Monday afternoon. Ugh. I managed to stay awake until about 11:00pm and get three more hours of sleep until my biological clock decided it was still on US time. I wasted as much time as I could catching up on emails and watching movies until my alarm went off at 6:30am.
After getting ready for my first day of activities and double-checking my route to the US-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission (US-SLFC), I stepped out into Colombo for the first time since I arrived at the hotel the day earlier. I had purposely chosen my hotel because of its proximity to US-SLFC, and the quick 10-min walk was a refreshing way to start the morning among Colombo’s rush hour. I was happy to meet the Fulbright staff and the rest of the Fulbright grantees (“Fulbrighters”) as I walked into the US-SLFC, having corresponded with most of them for months.
This wasn’t actually my first time at the US-SLFC. Last summer in 2017, I visited Sri Lanka with my advisors, scoping out potential field sites and meeting local collaborators. Our visit was topped off with a visit to Sri Lanka’s Fulbright headquarters; I wanted to make sure to introduce myself to some Fulbright staff and get any tips as I was still putting together my application materials. The staff at US-SLFC are as warm and helpful as you could hope for, treating all the Fulbrighters as members of their own family. I feel safe and taken care of as I navigate the confusing (and often frustrating) moments that go along with living in a foreign country.
Tuesday was the first day of our four-day-long orientation. We made formal introductions to each other, learned where we would all be located during our grant period, and acquainted ourselves with the expectations and responsibilities that go along with being a Fulbrighter. We learned about politics in Sri Lanka, including the most recent developments that have been making global news (you can get overviews here and here, but don’t worry, these political changes haven’t really affected daily life in Sri Lanka and are expected to remain calm, much like some of the recent activities going on in ths US). We met officials from the US Embassy in Sri Lanka, who shared their American perspectives on what makes the Fulbright experience so valuable. Of course there was also a lot of paperwork to complete on the first day, but we also visited the US Embassy in Colombo to get our security briefing and then to the mall to get connected with Sri Lankan phones. By this time in the afternoon, jetlag caught up with me again, and as soon as our activities were over, I walked back to my hotel to take a quick nap before checking in with family and colleagues and writing this post.
I promise not all of these blog posts will be this boring, and I’m eager to share my research on elephants with all of you (but if you can’t wait, check out a quick description here). But these other experiences I share hopefully provide a view into the other day-to-day responsibilities that go along with being a graduate student, including forming professional relationships, troubleshooting research methods, writing proposals, and waiting for exciting things to happen. As Fulbrighters, we were told that our time in Sri Lanka will be a lesson in serendipity, when not everything will happen as quickly as we expect (those of you who know me well will know this will test my patience). But I am looking forward to taking my time to enjoy this country and develop a deeper perspective for my work.
I want to close this first “real” post by thanking those of you who have helped me get to this point. That includes my academic advisors—especially Drs. Freeman, Kiso, and Vandercone—and classmates, and also my friends and family (I’m looking at you, Mom, Dad, and Parker). These nine months will surely test my adaptability in ways I haven’t even thought of before. But in the times when my anxiety is high and I forget how fortunate I am to be in this position, it’s easy to ground myself in knowing the faith that you’ve put in me. Thank you all.