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Glimpse: Life of an Expat Rotaractor

“Glimpse”, our new addition to the Rotaract Alumni blog featuring the stories of our Club members who are now expats in different parts of the world, was introduced to you few days ago.

As the second article for Glimpse, today we present to you the story of Rtr. Shalanika Dayarathna. Rtr. Shalanika moved to Australia about three months back for the completion of her PhD in the field of Wireless Communication. At present, she is a PhD candidate at University of Melbourne in Australia.

Q: Our first curiosity is to know why you selected Australia, and in particular University of Melbourne, when you considered options for your higher education?

Well, when considering universities which offered PhD in my field of interest, University of Melbourne had the advantage of obtaining PR easily at the end of one’s student visa. In addition, in Australia, you have provisions for working rights for dependent visa holders. These are concerns that one must look into if you plan to start a career in the same country after the completion of one’s higher education.

Q: Once you set your mind that University of Melbourne was the place that can cater to your future plans, you knew that the next chapter of your life was a move to a foreign country. What were your first thoughts and feelings about this change?

The first thoughts that came to my mind were the new experiences I will have. Experiencing four seasons during the year, witnessing the fall of snow during winter, and the fun and freedom the new life will give me were among the cheers which filled my mind. Before long, I was also reminded of the difficulties that I will have to face with the move to Australia. The greatest concern among them, were my fears about the difficulty to find vegetarian food that suited my palate which was used to Sri Lankan cuisine.

Q: When you moved, were the worries you anticipated, the real challenges that you had to face?

Well, being homesick was another worry that I had when thinking about my move. I also wondered if I would be able to understand the accent of the locals speaking English. In addition, I was concerned about whether I will be able to manage all my expenses within the scholarship I was lucky to get for my higher education in Australia.

But when I came to Australia, I realised that there were other major concerns that I had to tackle if I was to settle here.

The first of them was the challenge to find a place to stay. Initially I stayed at a home of a person known to my relations, but it was a temporary arrangement. Also, their home was far away from university which required me to travel for two hours each morning and afternoon. I searched for a place in the inner Melbourne city, but places were too costly. To add to that, when offering places for rent, house owners look for the history of  jobs, payments, etc. Without any history in Australia, it was difficult to get a place. Finally, I was lucky to get a place from a previous student, to whom I am very grateful. I believe she gave me the place without questioning about such history that others required, because she would have known the struggle of an international student.

The second struggle, bringing my worries to reality, was the food. Vegetarian options were available in Melbourne more than I expected. But, finding Sri Lankan food for a reasonable price was difficult. So at first, I tried to live with Western and Chinese foods, but it didn’t take me much time to I start to hate them. Then I was left with no other option than cooking for myself. I started cooking with instructions from my mother over the phone. With this new solution, I was able to manage my daily meals, but I realised that there is comparatively few choices of vegetables and food items in Australia that suit Sri Lankan palate. But, I was able to manage my daily meals, while making few compromises. For example, instead of many variety of meals, I only have the options  of rice, noodles and bread on most of the days.

The third challenge is to get used to the surrounding and the neighbors. As the first task of this challenge, I had to figure out what the nearby shops were and their opening hours, who were my neighbors, what is their lifestyle like and their views of students who are here for higher education, and so on. With time I have learnt quite alot, but I consider myself as still in the learning curve on this regard.

I can say finding a part time job as my fourth and last challenge so far. As a student visa holder, I have 20 hours working rights per week. But, securing a part time job that suits my free time has been difficult. I am still trying to solve this problem.

Q: Despite challenges, for which we sincerely wish you luck, getting an opportunity to be an expat in Australia would have opened doors for new experiences for you. What are the significant ones which has made a change in your life?

Being in Melbourne, which is the home to people from many cultures, I have definitely got the opportunity to get to know and experience an essence of different cultures. But I would say that I haven’t really used the best of that opportunity yet. For the time being, I have only had the acquaintance of friends from Vietnam, China and India. I have received the opportunity to work closely with these nationalities, as they are friends I have made from the University. Most of my other colleagues in the University are also Sri Lankans.

Thanks to my friends, I have had the opportunity to taste homemade cuisines from Vietnam and India, which was a first time experience for me. I have also received a lot of help from these friends during my early days in the University. Finding my way through hundreds of buildings, understanding procedures in the University and the getting to know the lifestyle in Melbourne wouldn’t have been easily if not for their kind assistance. I am truly grateful for all the help I have received from all my new friends, as I know how difficult life would have been otherwise. As a gratitude to their kindness, I make it a duty to assist any fresher at the University  who needs some help until they are settled in the University.

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?

Life as an expat is not all rainbows and unicorns. Just as you get the freedom from home and release from your responsibilities at home, you get new responsibilities of your own. And you start to miss your home from the first day. But with time, it becomes a part of you and you get used to day to day life of this new country.

But it is important to remember who you are and what your core values are. Experience new cultures, new adventure, learn new things, but only take what is good. Every culture and every country has both good and bad to offer and it is up to you to select only the good things. You should never forget where your roots lie.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Starting a new life in a new country is difficult and it needs a lot of help. Most of the established people you see now were like you when they started too. There are people willing to help if you care to ask. So meet new people, get to know them, and ask for help if you need and help others when they need help from you.

Finally, when you in a different country, you will be homesick  and your first instinct to escape that is to surround yourself with people from your home country and make them your comfort zone. This is something that you should avoid, because being an expat, you have received a one in a lifetime opportunity to experience new cultures and meet new people. Use that opportunity, don’t let it go to waste.

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