Although every person’s experience is going to vary depending on what school you went to, your gender, and your locality, there’s one thing that unites us all and that’s Sri Lankan culture! We all suffered more or less the same plight – let’s reflect.
Most Sri Lankan students’ lives are filled with the extra-curricular frenzy that extends throughout your school career – from kindergarten to perhaps the year before your first external exam. It starts with ONE sport and/or an instrument, typically its swimming and the piano – you’re practicing once a week, then twice a week, you sort of like it, and then you start to hate it – but can you do something about it? Of course not! Before you know it Amma heard that the neighbour’s daughter is not only doing swimming and learning to play the piano but she’s doing both competitively in addition to athletics, elocution and drama, and now you have to be equally if not more involved or how will they ever show their face at Parent Teacher Meetings?!?! As we grow up, we gain more liberty in which activities we really want to commit to, but if there’s no prize involved, it’s likely to be a ‘waste of bloody time – look at that one he’s playing for the First 11, you sing in the choir and wait!’ Nevertheless, we do owe our parents quite a bit, as they don’t just push us to succeed but are most often than not, always there on the sidelines cheering you on and discrediting the winner when you lose, ‘I heard from Aunty Preethi that she takes steroids, it’s okay.’
There are multiple types of people here: those who really want it, those who really deserve it and those who just get it. Applications and interviews are always super stressful but the selection process is probably the worst. Nepotism? Bribery? Favoritism? High school turns Sri Lankan politics! There’s the unfortunate case of the Aunty who’s always in school chatting up the teachers and working the room, much like a local government election. She’s the crowd favorite, but who’s the kid? If she has to try so hard, is he that great? Appointments arrive and you have an odd mixture of people: the ones you know for sure are there because of their connections, the ones who were asleep when their names were announced and surprised themselves, and the tiny minority of those who deserve it. Now that’s your Guild. But whether you were in it or not, you had an opinion of them. If you were in it you probably felt like you were King of the world; retrospectively it’s a tad sad how excited we’d get by the prospect of telling students to tuck their shirts in, but power is power! Then there were the non-prefects, a minority of those who’d really care and respect Prefects, and the majority who either didn’t listen to them or were friends with them so didn’t have to.
O-Levels, IGCSEs whatever you did, no matter how good your teachers in school were, even if you were already getting straight A’s, you can NEVER be too sure. Getting 99, you know how to get that 100? Ah, tuition. It’s not surprising that most childhood crushes first happen at tuition classes, or your current best friend is someone you met at class, because you sort of spent your whole life from one house to another, like an academic vagabond. Then there’s the guilt trip your school teachers give you, ‘You don’t need me to mark your papers noh, you have so many other people to do that for you…*sniffle*’ It’s not our fault, Amma heard that Dimitri goes for class so I’m collateral damage too!
We’d never had a conversation about this, since that’s taboo, so when it happened we were all just, confused…
This stage is an amalgamation of feelings – empowered because we’re BIG now, angry because we’re big now but still treated like we’re small, emotional because a lot of things matter now – body hair, body odor, body shape, and acne, none of which are really in our control. So the roller-coaster of hormones simply manifest itself in the form of a rebellious phase.
This is where ‘boy touch’ and ‘girl touch’ wasn’t something to be avoided, you had a girlfriend/boyfriend against your parents’ wishes, had a phone/laptop/PC/ some sort of console you were always on (MSN amiright?), earphones plugged in 24/7, and rolling your eyes and talking back is your favorite past-time. But like all good things, pubescent angst comes to an end with a thundering slap of a reality check when you probably got caught with your S.O because Amma found your ‘memory box’ of love letters and movie tickets. So there’s the classic era of break-ups 50% because what you thought was LOVE wasn’t really love and 50% because ‘My parents asked us to break-up, someday, when the time is right, I’ll text you again…’
Ah finally one choice you can make independently without any coercion because you’re the one who has to live with the consequences right?
If you thought you could explore your love for Elizabethan literature, delve into the origins of the Cold War and examine cultures from around the world all to be rewarded with a grade at the end of it, you thought wrong. Seeing students to this day select their subjects is devastating, ticking the column with math and sciences as a lone tear rolls down their cheek and lands on the humanities. We’ve all felt the panic.
What if I don’t want to do medicine? What if I hate engineering? What if I just want to know things for no particular purpose?!!! But hey, a kid’s gotta do what a kid’s gotta do.
O-Levels and A-Levels were perhaps the most stressful time in your life, not because the subject content itself was difficult, but because of the immense pressure from all angles. Everyone at home is either always comparing you to aiyya, akki, or the neighbor’s uncle’s daughter-in-law who got 9As, school is telling you that the entirety of your life and your ability to put food on your plate for the next 30 years depends on these results, and you have that one friend who has finished studying the syllabus three times over while you’re still on chapter one of your very first subject. The heat is on!
More than anything in our culture we just want to do our parents proud and academics is the best medium of doing so, so you study and study, red bull and coffee becomes your best friend, along with green grams and chick peas for breakfast. You’re treated like the most important person in the house and no one disturbs you, the best part being that you get a get out of jail (family functions) free card!
In Sri Lanka, as opposed to most parts of the world, we’re molly-coddled even when we’re old enough to have children of our own. We don’t move out at 16, we don’t get our first job at 14, and we’re definitely not ready to leave the nest by 18. Some of us go abroad, many remain here, but neither handle the moving out situation well. We’re so used to Amma’s rice and curry after school, her being there when we’re sick, and Thaththi’s lectures every time you mention some liberal concept that life without them just doesn’t feel right. Nonetheless, we prevail – the prospect of finally being able to wear ripped jeans without being told to change out of ‘old clothes with natural ventilation’ is truly empowering.
Some of this is textbook – child lives sheltered for 18 years, goes to university, sees real world, tries everything they were never exposed to, goes off the rails, takes a gap year, returns and kicks university butt henceforth, but majority succeed without the diversion. Our parents, on the other hand, will cling onto the thrice a day Skype calls and when you start dating and begin ignoring them, all hell will break loose. But when you come down on holiday or go home for the weekend they will treat you like royalty, and that’s never a bad thing.
All in all, our student lives were pretty hectic but also fantastic. If we’ve missed out on any stages, let us know in the comments!