Jane at the Taj Mahal
Jane Alwis, History Teacher and Academic Advisor

Ramblings of an Addicted Traveler

History teacher Jane Alwis shares her passion for travel and will lead a group of students on a Sri Lankan adventure.

There are days when I find it hard to contain my excitement about taking a group of Eagle Hill students and parents to my precious Sri Lanka. I'm excited to share my love of this wonderful island nation full of history and culture with the most welcoming people. I'm so privileged to work in a community that honors the passions of its members and encourages the creation of opportunities to share those passions. Getting students excited about History, travel, and global awareness is incredibly gratifying.  

Exploring Sri Lanka

During the February break, Eagle Hill School dorm counselor (and my daughter) Megan and I will lead a small group from within the EHS community made up of Australian, Canadian, Chinese, and American travelers. We will spend the break exploring one of the most picturesque natural wonders of the world, some ancient cities, and, most importantly, spending time with the people of this beautiful island.

Family Adventures

A "vintage" photo of Jane's family.

   A "vintage" photo of Jane as a young child and her family.

Separating my love for history and travel is like asking the proverbial chicken and egg question; there is not one without the other. I think this was instilled in my young childhood where every destination contained a museum or the whole destination was a walk back in time: Sovereign Hills Gold Mining town in Ballarat, Bendigo mines, Paddle Steamers on the Murray River, whaling stations in Albany Western Australia, traversing the Nullabor Plain by train.

I have repeated this with my children when our neighbors and ourselves went off together 'experiencing' the lives of yesteryear. There are some riotous photos of us all dressed in period costumes, of the kids sitting in the mouth of a giant Murray Cod, of steam engines, and whatnot. Then, coming to America and stops one, two, and three: Walden Pond, Old Sturbridge Village, and, of course, the Freedom Trail. But it hasn't stopped there: Plimouth Patuxet Museums, Lexington Green, Old Ironsides, Lancaster County, PA, Maine and the story of the Perfect Storm, and, of course, Salem!

But what really feeds my soul is exploring mystical sites mentioned in ancient manuscripts, walking the cobbled alleyways of the town of Oxford and passing through the sacred dark hallways of the university itself, sipping a drink in the marbled foyer of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore and thinking about what it would have been like in 1944, and visiting the great ruins of Xcaret and Chichen Itza in Mexico. And, of course, then there is Sri Lanka! The jewel of the Indian Ocean, so tiny and with so much history to share.

A Dream Come True

But this is all rambling, as this year, I was fortunate to fulfill one of my lifelong goals: I touched the magical Taj Mahal! I remember seeing this spectacular, surreal-looking building in a movie as a child and saying I wanted to visit that place one day. I suppose it was akin to looking at one of the Disney Castles, sparkling in the sun and the moon. And it is everything that you could wish one of the Wonders of the World to be! The lasting legacy to the love of his life, the building contains no rooms. The entire structure was created as a mausoleum by the fifth Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, in 1631 in memory of his third but favorite wife, in fact, his soul-mate Mumtaz Mahal, a Muslim Persian princess. 1

I am not a student of Architecture or Engineering or Design. Yet, I sat in awe of the delicate design, the precise engineering, and the lasting architectural elements. A single building has never moved me so before. For me, it is usually the stories that accompany the buildings that move me. So it was with the Red Fort, the surreal Qutub Minar, the incredible artistry in Akshardham Temple, Humayun's Tomb, India Gate, The Lotus Temple, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, Raj Ghat where past presidents including Mahatma Ghandi are buried, and the total insanity of the streets of Chandni Chowk. But I also had a small window of time to visit the banks of the Ganges (Mother Ganga) at Rishikesh, the birthplace of yoga, to feed another part of my soul.

Thanksgiving is not a long break, but I went to an Indian wedding, sipped masala chai out of terracotta cups on the sides of the road, snuck in a night in Mumbai, shopped, and looked. Just looked! And learned! To see the joy in the eyes of the child in front of you, the cheeky toothless grin of the tut tut driver, to listen to the intensity of the conversation of the two young men trying to solve some difficult work riddle, to explain to the young nail technician how you want your nails done when she speaks no English and you speak no Hindi, to taste the most delectable food and then to come home and share my experiences with you.

This is why I travel.

So this academic year will I will make two dreams come true: to visit a childhood fantasy etched in my memory and to share my passion for history, culture, and travel with a group of our community.

1 The Taj Mahal Story

What is Learning Diversity About?

Learning Diversity is a blog hosted by Eagle Hill School where educators, students, and other members of the LD community regularly contribute posts and critical essays about learning and living in spaces that privilege the inevitability of human diversity.

The contributors of Learning Diversity come together to engage our readers from a variety of disciplines, including the humanities, social sciences, biological sciences and mathematics, athletics, and residential life. Embracing learning diversity means understanding and respecting our students as whole persons.


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