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Glimpse: Life of an Expat Rotaractor

Starting a life in different shores away from one’s family and friends is indeed a challenge; it’s a challenge that tests an individual’s potential to adapt to new lifestyles and to extend friendship. When recalling the Rotaract Invocation which says,

“Remember us always as thy children

Oh lord, Instill in us the true meaning of friendship

That the differences of cultures and creed should not matter”, the opportunity to be an expat is an opening for Rotaractors to truly bring out the best of their Rotaract traits and values.

Being a club whose membership are graduates, Rotaract Alumni Mora is privileged to have a quite a number of members who are now such expat Rotaractors based in different parts of the world either to complete their higher education or to establish their career. Each of our Rotaractors has a unique story about how they made a home away from home, and we are excited to share a glimpse of them with our fellow Rotaractors and friends. “Glimpse”, our new addition to the Rotaract Alumni blog, will feature these stories in the month of May. Hope you enjoy!

As the first article for Glimpse, today we present to you the story of Rtr. Ishara Paranawithana.

Rtr. Ishara, is an Engineer specialized in the field of Electronic and Telecommunication Engineering, and is now based in Singapore as a Research Assistant at the Robotics Innovation Laboratory at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).

Q: Why was Singapore, the choice your future home when you considered options to start your career plans?

I did my internship at SUTD during the third year of my undergraduate studies. This motivated me to pursue a research based career path immediately after graduation. Having the path for my future career set, my next decision was to choose where I wanted to mark the start of my career.

Singapore is well known for its high-quality education and state-of-the art research facilities. In addition, Singapore, being a modern developed country that welcomes foreign expats, it is relatively easy to secure a full-time research based job compared to most of the other countries. Given these factors, I decided to choose Singapore as my home away from home.

Q: Any new beginning poses new challenges. What were the challenges that you had to hurdle when starting this new phase in life?

I already had some experience living overseas, because my internship was also in Singapore. During my internship, I stayed with some of my friends and life was not too difficult. But I knew that when I am starting a career in a foreign country, things wouldn’t be as easy as before. So there were some concerns which I expected to be challenged with. The first major challenge that I anticipated, as anyone would, was being able to live away from family, friends and loved ones. Though I managed to do so during the 6 months of my internship, the weight of the challenge was more this time as I knew that the wait to be reunited with family and old friends would be much longer after my move for my occupation. The next major challenge was the change of culture from homeland. Although Singapore has a diverse community, it’s a country with dominant Chinese culture, which was quite different to our Sri Lankan culture. So, I expected a bit of cultural shock as well.

As anticipated, I had to hurdle those challenges. But, it was after my move, that I saw the bottom of the iceberg. Since my university did not provide in-campus accommodation to the researchers, I had to look for housing options outside, which was a difficult task to accomplish. Finding good and convenient accommodation, at an affordable rate was definitely not easy. Most of the places which were available were very expensive and vulnerable to owner’s demands and restrictions. On the other hand, finding good Sri Lankan food was quite hard in Singapore as the Sri Lankan community here is quite small. So I was left with the options of either cooking some food for myself, as and when possible, or adapt to Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Indian food.

Q: Being Rotaractors, we always cherish the value of mutual understanding between different communities and true value of friendship. Without doubt, you would have experienced the true essence of these values when you had to adapt to your new life. How was this experience?

Making home in a land away from home, is indeed an opportunity 

to live and experience the value of mutual understanding and true friendship. Being a research assistance, my work required me to engage with a very diverse set of people coming from different countries and backgrounds. That was an opportunity for me to understand different 

perspectives of individuals and be friends with people and work hand in hand with them. In addition, since Singapore mainly consists of 3 different cultures, namely, Chinese, Malay and Indian, I had the opportunity to truly experience the difference in culture and creed, by being a part of different cultural events like Chinese New Year (CNY), Deepavali and Hari Raya. This helped me to understand the essence of different customs and beliefs of different cultures, which made me realize the importance of appreciating the differences in people and their cultures.

When talking about true friendship, I can give you one very good instance in which a person away from home feels the value of a true friend. That’s the time when one falls ill. I have fallen ill and at those times, since I am away from my family, I had no one else 

other than my friends here. Sometimes due to language barriers, during such times only Sri Lankans could come to help another Sri Lankan. But it is a blessing to have caring friends who are willing to be at your side, helping you in whatever way possible, when you need them the most.

Q: Summing up the glimpse of your experiences as an Expat, what’s the key message you wish to share with our fellow Rotaractors and friends?

There are two key messages that I would like to share.

Firstly, remember that one key factor of success of an expat is understanding the way of living of the locals and their perspective on expats. This understanding will help you to know how you should adapt to suit your new surroundings.

Secondly, remember that developing the ability to adapt to different situations that come your way due to differences in culture, beliefs etc is an important skill to have when you are an expat and even as a human being. So always strive to embrace the differences in one another and be kind, helpful and respectful to the people around you.  

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