July 21, 2011
Timothy M. Smith Inspiration Through Exploration Award winner Kaushal Vaddiraj ’13 spent this summer in Sri Lanka taking care of elephants.
When researching summer travel destinations, Kaushal Vaddiraj ’13 immediately thought exotic.
“I wanted to go somewhere that would push myself to my limits,” said Vaddiraj, an economics major. “I wanted to go somewhere unique.”
As the Timothy M. Smith Inspiration Through Exploration Award winner, Vaddiraj not only had the desire, but he now had the means to take him there. So he went to Sri Lanka – to take care of elephants in a sanctuary and to teach English to students in one of the worst hit cities by the 2004 tsunami.
The Timothy M. Smith Inspiration Through Exploration Award is given annually to stimulate international travel and writing among Honors Program students. The award was established to honor the life of Smith, a lawyer by trade, whose true passion was traveling the world.
Vaddiraj, who is from India, started his adventure teaching English in a rural high school in Galle. His time in the classroom was a challenge, since he and his students shared no common language fluently, but Vaddiraj found an open door to cultural exchange when the students invited him to play cricket. An avid enthusiast and member of UT’s Cricket Club, Vaddiraj was happy to find a connection, which he wrote about in his blog.
“I have hardly taught them much, only basic grammar, but the connection we formed through cricket has been quite fantastic,” Vaddiraj, a native of India, wrote on his June 10 posting. “Once we were on the playing field, the language barrier dropped, and it was quite fascinating how we bonded. The students even taught me a bit of Sinhala, which is very much like an Indian language.”
Vaddiraj said goodbye to his students before heading off to his second adventure. For two weeks, he became the foster caregiver for a 25-year-old female elephant named Poojah. She was one of many elephants at the private sanctuary Millennium Elephant Foundation, where Vaddiraj helped feed, clean and interact with her.
While some of his tasks were less savory, bath time by the river was playful, as his mischievous charge would spray water at Vaddiraj in fun. As an animal lover, Vaddiraj considered this time at the sanctuary the highlight of his trip.
“It gave me a unique perspective up close on how animals survive,” Vaddiraj said. “I have a better understanding now of sustainability.”
Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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