And we’re off…


And we’re off! Ishani and I will be ringing in the New Year somewhere over the Atlantic as we head back home to Sri Lanka. Last night was filled with last minute packing and shopping and list-making but now… I guess you could say we are ready?!

This trip to Sri Lanka won’t be quite like what we’re used to. We won’t really be visiting any beaches this time around. Instead, we will be working and living in the northern part of the country, the region most heavily impacted by the brutal civil war that ravaged the country until 2009. Many of the tensions that led to the war are still fresh in the minds of the people there, the destruction it ravaged across the countryside still evident to any onlooker.

These next few weeks will be quite a journey for us as we not only work to help improve the lives of smallholder farmers and war widows in the north but too to unravel and piece together for ourselves the history of this country our parents call home. Be sure to check back here on the blog to hear updates about what we’re doing :)

In the meantime, you can look forward to posts about Inesha’s internship, a few tech tools, and some more inspiring women we met last semesster. And from the two of us to you—wherever you may be—a very HAPPY NEW YEAR!


A White (House) Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from I & I! Although the big day has passed, wherever you are in the world, I hope you are still relishing the laughter of friends and family and the warmth that comes with a room full of love, company, and good, good food :)

A friend of mine shared this quote on facebook yesterday which I absolutely LOVE:

love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas when you stop opening presents and listen.

Christmas in the Premaratne household has always been a nontraditional affair in numerous ways, but nevertheless one that is distinctly our own :) This year, we were fortunate enough to be whisked into the White House at the conclusion of Inesha’s semester there this school year. I myself had never been inside, but it was especially spectacular at this time of year with innumerable bunches of tinsel and greenery wrapping its way around grand banisters and shiny marble floors reflecting the twinkling lights above. We spent a lovely weekend in Washington, D.C., eating at the farm and eco-friendly restaurant Founding Farmers (highly recommend it!) and then visiting Gaylord National Resort on the Potomac. When it seems like we don’t often get a chance to spend that much time together as a family, it was a weekend that was much appreciated (though admittedly there were a fair amount of I & I squabbles and Reshini putting her two cents in when it most definitely wasn’t needed) :) Needless to say, I hope whatever holiday you are celebrating at this time of year reminds you how nice to is to hear the house (or car) filled with the chatter, laughs, and occasional shouts that inevitably abound when you get a bunch of Premaratnes together.

And next…WE’RE OFF TO SRI LANKA ON THE 31ST! Looks like Inesha and I will be ringing in 2013 on the other side of the pond–that too seems to have become a trend of ours of late :)



Coffee Conversation: Things I Wish I Had Known

It’s a question I often find worth asking whenever I meet someone or grab a cup of coffee with a new acquaintance: What’s something you wish you had known when you were in your 20s? The answers, I’ll warn you, are not always the most interesting. At first glance, they often seem pretty basic, pretty obvious. But every now and then there’s a real piece of life advice wedged in there that I try and integrate into my life. And so the other day when I was browsing quora, I found these little gems that stuck out to me. I thought I’d share them with you!

Rock on Thursday! -Inesha


What is the one thing you wish you had known in your 20’s?


Learn about Finances. Even if it might be boring, or not applicable immediately to you, learn about finances. To make money, you need to understand money, unless you luck out (which very few people do).

Saving. Get into the habit of saving 15% of your earnings every time you make some money. Put it away in an account that requires at least a 6 month waiting period before you can get any money out. Remember, the three most powerful forces in the universe are time, gravity and compound interest.

Read. Read as much as you can, especially History and People. So many things will make sense to you.

Spend at least a year living and working in a foreign country. It’ll change the way you look at everything.

Find out about your parents. They are way more interesting than you think.

Try to reach out to people that are different from you. Many of us grow up in a cocoon and then spend our whole lives trying to weave it tighter. Be open to other people and new experiences.

Reflect on your privileges. “We all have a blind spot around our privilege, shaped exactly like us.” If you never had to skip a meal as a kid because your parents couldn’t afford to feed, you’re privileged.

Don’t be tied down by cultural norms, traditions or what everyone else is doing. And flatly ignore your fear of missing out.

Your life will not turn out the way you expect it too now, and that’s a good thing. If your future turns out exactly the way you plan, that means you’re living the plan of a 21-year old, and that should give you pause.

And, a long time from now will be now really soon. Get to doing your to-do’s :)


Non sibi.

Blue Mountains, Australia

Why do I love this picture? Well, for one, it’s green. But it makes me happy in that inexplicable way that post-exam euphoria or listening to this or this also makes me happy. But mostly, it also reminds me that in standing tall, as I always hope I am, I am still (and always hope to be) looking up at something much bigger than myself. No four page response paper is needed to explain that.

Two days ago marked my last lecture for SW25 (for all those not familiar with Harvard Speak–that’s Societies of the World 25, Case Studies in Global Health) taught by Drs. Paul Farmer, Arthur Kleinman, Anne Becker, and Salmaan Keshavjee.

The class started as it had every Tuesday and Thursday morning for the past semester, but it is the way in which it ended–as with so many things–that I will remember most.

Non sibi. “Not yourself.”

Professor Kleinman asked us to think about this motto, one as humble as its brevity implies.

And it’s message, simple: The self acquires its resilience and strength through others. Thus, we would do well to help those around us.

“I’m 71 years old and I don’t need to teach a course like this. But why do I?” Professor Kleinman asked us.

“Because I believe it’s the most important thing that I do.”

And it was clear that he meant it.

It is moments like these that you replay in your mind all those days when you slipped into the back of the lecture hall because you missed a shuttle to class or woke up late or didn’t get to the reading because you were worried about an organic chemistry exam. It is times like these that you feel incredibly grateful for your professors who get up on the stage of their classroom and perform every day while you sit comfortably in your seat.

Twice this week I have had professors explain that though they may have a great deal of freedom with their job requirements or have more choice now that they are older, they choose to teach even when it is by no means something they must do–because, it is something they want to do.
Thinking about this and Professor Kleinman’s message, I began to think about my own path to a career in the medical profession one day.
Here, too, Professor Kleinman had an anecdote from his days of residency and an example of what not to do.

When you are a medical resident, he explained, it is unfortunate but true that you primarily spend time with other residents, and not with patients. It often becomes a time when you also teach the the medical students who are still rising in the ranks below you. And along with that responsibility, you inadvertently teach them the wrong thing–because, busy as you are, you end up conveying shortcuts instead of values. In your haste, you have affected the way those who will soon be in your place will see the medical profession as well.

We know that medical residents are and must be survivors, because there is no denying that the road to becoming a doctor is a long one. Professor Kleinman explained how he and his colleagues used to call the “preclinical and clinical years” the “precynical and the cynical years.” Understandably, it can be easy to feel demoralized when you are sleep deprived and inundated by cases that you are hard pressed to find a solution to. But that doesn’t justify trading savings in time, for investments in value.

To this odd conglomeration of Professor Kleinman’s words of wisdom, I will add an additional piece of advice regarding the what the Professor would call the “art of living”:

to the extent that you help others, you will do amazing things for yourself.

Feeling that we’re involved in this world in a way that allows us to flourish–and not just to exist–is very well served by engaging with others and being there for them.

And further still, you must remain critical of that world. You need to find a way to be critically minded as well as morally committed.

Ultimately, struggling does something marvelous for the world, explained Professor Kleinman, because when we struggle, we do something for ourselves as well.

And so, amidst the finals and papers and deadlines that so many of us are facing these couple weeks, I hope you will take a minute to step back and remember this simple fact–and goodness, is it a liberating one. When we struggle, we do something for the world around us and for ourselves in a way that may not even be apparent to us quite yet. But just know that we do something more than simply require our professor to take out his red pen and correct our work or make sure that we are using the money spent on our college educations to its utmost. Our struggles do for us as we do for them.

And there was one last message that Professor Kleinman imparted on us before we walked out of SW25 lecture for the last time and into reading week here on campus and towards the rest of our lives as students of the world.

To be cynical is the worst thing that can possibly happen to any of us—it makes us feel helpless and hopeless. So, as much as we can, we must remember to keep up the struggle, and all the while hold our half full glass with an unrelenting grip. 

Good luck with finals, everyone!