University of Moratuwa, Katubedda, Sri Lanka.

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Glimpse: Of the life of an Expat Rotaractor

This edition of Glimpse brings to you a glimpse of the expat life of Rtr. Ridwan Shariffdeen. Rtr. Ridwan is a well-known member of the present Rotaract community. He was an active member of Rotaract Mora and Rotaract Alumni Mora and is the Assistant District Rotaract Representative of Rotaract District 3220 Sri Lanka & Maldives for 2017/18. On a more personal note, he is a person who loves to travel, make new friends, enjoys adventure, a huge fan of anime and comics and a technology enthusiast. He now resides in Singapore, reading for his PhD in the field of Computer Science at School of Computing, National University of Singapore.


Q: Rtr. Ridwan, why was Singapore, the destination for your life as an expat?

I had a longing interest in pursuing my higher-studies in Cyber Security and one of the best Institutes and a pioneer in research is the National University of Singapore. Ranked as number one in Asia and among top 20 in the world, this was the place I thought was the best place for my PhD. So now, Singapore is my home for the next few years.


Q: What was your impression of life overseas before you departed home? What were the challenges you expected when starting this new phase in life?

I have travelled around ever since I was a kid and loved every bit of it. I have also lived in Oman for a couple of years with my family, but this is the first time I am living abroad alone. Though I was looking forward to embracing the new culture, I knew it’s going to be difficult staying away from family and friends,


Your next question was on challenges I anticipated. Well, since I have travelled to many places, I was not new to change of atmosphere, globalization or diversity of dialects. Still, I expected a tough time to adapt to the new lifestyle and especially of the life of a graduate student. This was a concern because of several reasons. Coming from the industry back to the life with books and assignments was one reason. Engaging in research, which was not my area of comfort at the time and other unknown aspects of a PhD was another.

Q: So, were these the toughest challenges that you had to face? Or were there other unexpected ones that you had to tackle?

I was groomed to be independent and was taught on essential skills to live alone by my family. So it wasn’t hard for me to adapt to the new lifestyle to do everything alone and be self-responsible and self-independent. But the shift from a 9-6 job to a full-time graduate student was actually a difficult task, much difficult than I anticipated.


Q: Making home in a land away from home, is indeed an opportunity to live and experience the traits of a Rotaractor. Friendship is one of those core traits. How have you experienced the true meaning of friendship as an expat?

Rotaract has taught many skills. Among them, the best instilled in me would be the ability to earn new friends. But above all of them, the securing the relationship with friends at home, while being miles away from them, was an opportunity to redefine friendship. It’s easy for us to take for granted the time we spend with our friends when you meet them every day and conveniently live/work/gather at places nearby. But maintaining a long-distance friendship makes you realize the blessings to have genuine friends and the true sense of friendship.


Q: Being an expat, you are compelled to live amidst a different culture and adapt to a new lifestyle. How have you experienced and learned to value differences of culture and living?

Being Sri Lankans, we are not new to the concept living in a multi-cultural society. To add to that Rotaract helped me a lot in understanding the essence and further inculcate the ability to look beyond the prejudice. Today, I realize that it was much easier to co-exist in a multi-cultural society back in Sri Lanka. Though we considered the differences in those in our society as significant, they are much smaller than what we make them. You realize this only when you live in a place that comprises of individuals who have obvious differences among them. When you live in a different place that is totally orthogonal to any of the ethnicities in Sri Lanka, you realize how similar different ethnicities in Sri Lanka are.

I have friends here in Singapore who comes from different geographical places ranging from Brazil to all the way to the other end of China. Here you find true diversity and you learn to appreciate the goodness in one another. Few things I realized recently is that despite the different values we hold, different beliefs and the differences in our communication, we all share the same stories, same ambitions and same vision to see a better world, a better tomorrow.


Q: What are the times that you have needed help from those around you? And what have these experiences taught you?

There is a lovely Sri Lankan community here at Singapore and a strong one at NUS. Getting through the first-steps wouldn’t have been easy if not for the support and care given to me by this community. I was able to adapt to the environment and face the challenges here mainly because of the support, guidance and most importantly the companionship I had.


I have also realized that this would have been much worse if I were to face it alone. The major challenge in doing a PhD far away from home is the mental stress. Each of us has our different obstacles in our own way, but to overcome them the peer support is a huge factor.


Q: In conclusion, what is the key message that you can share about life of an expat? How has this experience brought out the best in you as a Rotaractor?

I have travelled to many countries and I thought I knew everything about life overseas. Walking around a foreign land for few days doesn’t really give you the true understanding of that community and their culture unless you live there and experience life with them. Travelling around the world helps you learn the new culture and see the world beyond your comfort zone. But living in another county gives you so much to appreciate what you take for granted.

Rotaractors are driven by their passion for community service and engaged in activities that would develop our skills. While we do for the greater good, we should also learn to see in different perspectives. Helping is the first step. So, take one step beyond and truly connect with those who are in need of understanding them and appreciate what one would offer to you when they are ready to help you in your need. When helping each other, learn to be free from shackles created by our own society.


“Understanding” is another key to the success of mutual living in a diverse society. Rotaract, as well as life as an expat, gives you ample amount of opportunities to learn and put it into action. Make use of those opportunities and “tell us that your badge of Rotaract was worthwhile and that you have not lived in vain”.

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