As the country's burgeoning tourism industry would suggest, Sri Lanka is renowned for its rich natural beauty, spiritual life, and tropical beaches. But when NYU New York senior Nina Bayatti visited the country during a four-day spring break trip for her NYU Abu Dhabi Public Economics class with NYU New York Professor of Politics Rebecca Morton — one of two University trips to Sri Lanka during spring break — she found that meeting locals, national leaders, and workers in the national education sector proved to be the true academic highlight of her trip.
"I did a lot of research before the trip," said Bayatti, who, along with her classmates, will be writing long-term research papers on the public economy of Sri Lanka. "I read papers about the education system in Sri Lanka and so it was cool to read all of this and then meet people who are actually making decisions and working within the sector. Now we're using those observations, those conservations, as firsthand information for our papers."
Bayatti was greeted with great hospitality and warmth as she mingled with intellectual figures in the Sri Lankan political and educational systems. One day, Bayatti and her five classmates were invited into the home of one of Sri Lanka's parliament members, where they were offered fresh coconuts to complement their informative discussions. The coconuts were prepared in front of them — a unique sight for Bayatti, who made sure to take lots of pictures.
"We also met a Sri Lankan NYU alumni who went to Stern and then came back and started working in Sri Lanka. It was nice to see someone who went to NYU," said Bayatti. "We had dinner and walked on the Corniche. We all had really good conversations with him."
I did a lot of research before the trip. I read papers about the education system in Sri Lanka and so it was cool to read all of this and then meet people who are actually making decisions and working within the sector.
Throughout her interactions with various locals, Bayatti was able to see faint remnants of the Civil War that took place in Sri Lanka from 1983 to 2009. "The woman we met who works in the parliament — her husband actually died as a result [of the war]. We were told her story before we met with her, and you can definitely tell from talking to her and everyone else that this has affected not only their personal lives but how they view their country."
Placing both the physical and psychological effects of the war in the context of the class' curriculum provided an interesting subject for discussion and thought. "We're looking at how [the wars] affected the economy," said Bayatti. "And where they should be allocating their funds and resources following this long war that has affected the morale, the economics, and the politics of the country."
Bayatti and her classmates also looked to the national educational system in order to find ways for the country to improve in the near future. Despite the gravity of learning about Sri Lanka's past, some meetings with locals took on an optimistic tone as students discussed the progress of the country's youth.
"I remember something one woman said. That [they] have a lot of people who get educated in the country and then go abroad for university, but [their] hope — especially with her own children, she said — is that they come back and work in Sri Lanka and make their country theirs."
The members of Bayatti's class also traveled to the village of Pattayanwatta. There, they met up with the NYUAD students on the University's other Sri Lanka trip; engineering students busy building a community center as part of the University organization Engineers for Social Impact. "I can't believe they did it for an entire week," said Bayatti. "It was really, really inspiring."
Photo by Nina Bayatti