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University of Moratuwa, Katubedda, Sri Lanka.

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Category: Glimpse

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Glimpse 2020 with Rtr. Savindu Herath

Glimpse 2020 has come to you this time with an astounding Rotaractor. His journey in Rotaract is yet another inspiring story for all our fellow Rotaractors.

Yes, he is non-other than Rtr. Savindu Herath, joining with us all the way from Switzerland. So let’s see what he has to share with all of us based on his life experiences.

Q: Hello, Rtr. Savindu! First of all, we believe our readers want to know more about you. So, how would you like to introduce yourself?

I am Savindu Herath, a graduate of the University of Moratuwa, and currently pursuing higher studies at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. I enjoyed being a part of the aforementioned Rotaract clubs and going back the memory lane I recollect unforgettable friends, stories, memories.

Q: Having astonishing accomplishments since schooltimes, how did you make use of your leadership skills during your Rotaract life?

If I simply list them down, in Rotaract Mora, I worked as the

  • Co-chairperson Hand in Hand – 2015
  • Co-chairperson of Grama Prabodhaya – 2016/17
  • Director of Finance – 2016/17

And in Rotaract Alumni Mora, I was the

  • Director of Community Service 2017/18

Q: There should not be the slightest uncertainty, you have involved in significant events organized by Rotaract Mora. So, let’s have a little bit of a throwback on them.

Grama Prabodhaya 2016/17 – Single club international best project winner for the first time in the Sri Lankan Rotaract history

Hand in Hand 2015 – I am happy along with my team to revitalize this flagship fundraising project in 2015 and it is indeed a pleasure to see how far this project has gone to raise funds exceeding 2 million LKR annually. HiH 2015 won the Bronze award for the most outstanding fundraising project.

Grama Prabodhaya

Q: With all these milestones, definitely you must not have gone under the radar! Let’s take a moment to remind the awards and recognitions you received. 

Spirit of service awards of Rotaract Mora and Alumni club. Also, as mentioned earlier, the best recognition I and my team had was winning the Single club international best project for the first time in Sri Lanka for the project Grama Prabodhaya.

winning the Single club international best project for the project Grama Prabodhaya.

Q: When it comes to selecting where you spend the rest of your life with piles of research work and mountains of books, it becomes a critical decision. So, what made you choose Switzerland as your academic destination?

Switzerland offers ample opportunities for personal and career development. It has a booming industrial sector with, in my opinion, the world’s best-managed economy. The vivid landscape with snow-capped Swiss Alps is also enticing ?

Q: It’s true that fresh graduates need to master their skills further. But, if someone asks you what made you leave the motherland for that purpose, what would you say?

First, I would say it is certainly not because I just wanted to say goodbye to Sri Lanka after tremendously benefiting from the free education system. In my opinion, everyone should try to reach their maximum potential and look for the best growth path. The world is full of opportunities and the young should seize these opportunities to do their best not only for themselves but for the wider community as well.

It does not matter whether you stay in the country or not. As a responsible Sri Lankan with a heart filled with gratitude, you can always contribute at your level best to the development of the motherland. And as a Sri Lankan abroad, I witness a lot of Sri Lankans residing overseas contributing to the betterment of Sri Lanka.

Q: Left Sri Lanka, put the mind into pursuing higher education. A new goal, a new life. What were your expectations? Is the land of chocolates doing justice?

Everything was much better than I expected despite the life getting much hectic. I was also wondering whether the super awesome sceneries you see in traveling videos about Switzerland are true and I soon realized that they are real ?. But it’s a pity that there is no sea/beach here ?.

Q: A new life has never been a bed of roses, not even in a country full of roses. So, what were the thorns? What made Swiss life a challenge for you?

The main challenge is that you have to do everything on your own rather than your family helping you. Managing work, studies, and all the other day to day activities is challenging. Next, adjusting to the culture shock, price shock, and adapting to the local language (Swiss German in my case) is also challenging. When you go shopping you see everything in German and you barely understand anything ?.

Q: With some effort, even thorns can be turned in to flower buds. How did you manage to do that? How did you overcome the challenges?

If you are focused and result oriented it does not take much time to adjust to challenging environments. Of course, my colleagues at work and the university were quite helpful. Also, there is a lot of information available on the internet which you can use to plan and get ready for what is yet to unfold.

Q: Leaving the loved ones behind and moving into a new country must’ve been hard. Managing these friendships and relationships must’ve been even harder. How did you do that? How did the new friendships fill the gap?

Social media and other communication channels keep me connected with my family and friends. It is amazing to see how meetings happen over the internet. New ones are so diverse and are spanning across the globe.

Q: One day you’re a Sri Lankan in Sri Lanka, the next day you’re a Sri Lankan in Switzerland. How did you accept this cultural change?

Experiencing different cultures is one of the best forms of education you can have. It helps you to think in different perspectives and understand people. And it is the best way to prevent cultural conflicts, extremism, and racism.

Q: A person who moves into a new lifestyle needs the community to help the most. How did your new community provide that support?

The community is open, well-disciplined and at the same time is helpful. They provided me information and guided me during the first few weeks. And most importantly I asked them if I was not sure about anything. Formal induction programs are also conducted to integrate newcomers to university and work environment.

Q: The best way to blend into the new community is to help others. How are you lending your helping hand to the community after being an expat?

As a past Rotaractor, it is very difficult to stay without helping the people around you and the people whom you think need your help. Therefore I contribute to the university affairs as an office-bearer of the student union to make the students’ life enjoyable and productive. In the meantime, I and my parents contribute to a few scholarships for Sri Lankan students.

Q: Rtr. Savindu, you have inspired many fellow Rotaractors when you were a university student. We are certain the charisma has never fallen. They would love to hear from you. What kind of message do you have?

The best message which I can share is that to always actively look for opportunities. Opportunities transform yourself and the world around you. The famous quote from Richard Branson says “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”

Reminiscence

Q: Finally, we’d like a few words from you about this project Glimpse as well.

From my childhood, I was fond of reading the profiles and experiences of other people and it has helped me to shape my career. Therefore I think Glimpse is a gem for anybody who likes to learn from the experience and thoughts of another person. I extend my heartiest gratitude for the organizers of Glimpse for giving me this opportunity to present my thoughts and views. I wish Glimpse all the success!

Thank you, Rtr. Savindu, for the valuable time you spent with us. We hope you’ll ace your goals and become the pride of Rotaract Alumni Mora.


By: Rtr. Sajeewa Jayarathne

BlogGlimpse

Glimpse 2020 with Rtr. Chathuranga Gallage

We came to you with Glimpse last time with its first edition, and it is time to let you know what Glimpse is.

Once a person becomes a Rotaractor, he always acts as one, no matter where they are or what they do. Thus, “Glimpse” is added to the Rotaract Alumni Mora Blog as a platform to the stories of our Club members who are now expats in different parts of the world.

So this time, the Glimpse 2020 continues its journey with a very influential character, a past president of Rotaract Alumni Mora, Rtr. Chathuranga Gallage, along the way from Australia.

Q: Hello Rtr. Chathuranga! First of all, thank you very much for spending your valuable time with us. So before sharing your experience, can you please briefly tell us who you are?

I’m currently working at Deakin University, Australia, since 2018. I’m a product of Dharmapala Vidyalaya, Pannipitiya and I graduated from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering of the University of Moratuwa, in 2014. I was an athletic student during my school times who engaged in 100m, 200m running and long jumping, and I was able to become a record holder in the Sri Jayawardenapura zone from Under 13 – 200m running event.

Q: Having a very outgoing character during school times, you became a Rotaractor after entering the University, and even as an alumni member. So let us hear “what you were” as a Rotaractor.

I will simply list down the positions I held at Rotaract Mora and Rotaract Alumni Mora.

  • Rotaract Mora
    • Asst. Director – Community Service 2010/11
    • Director – Community service 2011/12
    • Vice President – 2012/13
Rotaract Mora Vice Presidents
  • Rotaract Alumni Mora
    • One of the Charter Members
    • President – 2016/17

Q: Since you were an active member as well as a leader in the Rotaract Club, there might be many unforgettable projects. Can you please share some of those with us? 

Handz” was one of my most memorable projects, while I was in the Rotaract Mora, which I could become the project chairperson in 2009-11. It is unforgettable for me not only because it was an Award-Winning project, but also it is was a very broad project that could lend a helping hand to those in need. Also, I find this as a good opportunity to mention Rtr. Sajith Vimukthi Weerakon and Rtr. Chathura Kanchana Dayabandara, the founders of Handz, and Rtr. Maduka Chandrasiri, the Former Director of Community Services of the Club, who were the big brains and the kind hearts behind this project. Are You Ready, Cast4 and Inspirer were also among the list of my memorable projects during my Rotaract Mora times.

1st ever Paduru Party by Rotaract Mora in 2012

After I joined Rotaract Alumni Mora, we initiated the projects Ganga Addara and Sathkara, and I still love to recall the memories we had during those projects and what we could do for those in need makes my days happier.

Q: You have been an active Rotaractor for more than 7 years in both Rotaract Mora and Rotaract Alumni Mora clubs. So, are there any awards and recognition you’ve gained during that period as a Rotaractor?

As I mentioned before, “Handz” is my favorite project even today. This particular project gave us the best recognition by winning The Most Outstanding Project of the Year – South Asia award in the Rotaract year 2010/11 (Rotary International Citation), and The Most Outstanding Project of the Year – Rotaract District 3220 (Sri Lanka & Maldives) in the same year.

Project “Handz” won the award for the most outstanding project of the year in 2011/12
Appreciation of Mr. Gamini Alwis’s (of State Timber Corporation) continuous support for the “Ganga Addara” Project

Q: Australia, a land far from home! What were the biggest challenges you had to face by living in a faraway country?

Any newcomer to any country falls in trouble with the language barrier and social and cultural barriers, and it was the greatest challenge I faced right after the migration. Not to mention that it was a real struggle to find a suitable employment opportunity during the first few months.

It is rather challenging to cope up with the multi-cultural society, which still considers Sri Lanka as a third world country, thus making new friends here became a difficult task. Unlike in Sri Lanka, the change in weather and traffic conditions vary from extreme to mild, and some can say living here is an arduous journey.

The lifestyle in Australia is totally different from Sri Lanka, and it is hard to survive only by sitting in the comfort zone as we used to live in Sri Lanka. Here, the more you challenge your limits, the easier your survival will be.

Q: There’s a saying, “Be a Roman when you are in Rome”. So how did you manage to adapt to the new culture and lifestyle?

It is always easier said than done… Adapting to a new lifestyle cannot be achieved in a day, it all comes with determination and patience. Most importantly, our view and method of approach to new challenges. And for me, I strongly followed one quote: “You can achieve anything with the faithfulness to your destiny and by believing in yourself“.

Q: That indeed is an interesting quote to follow! You mentioned earlier that it is challenging to make new friends. But, in my point of view, I think it is a greater challenge to keep in touch with your old friends with a busy lifestyle. How do you manage the connections with your friends?

It was really hard to manage friendships between Australia and Sri Lanka especially because we have a 4.5 hrs time gap. So, it was a real challenge for me. 

Apart from that, we have to work more, sometimes more than 12 hours a day, compared to Sri Lanka. So, it is very demanding, both physically and mentally. But, whenever I find some free time, I make sure to update my clustered Facebook and Messenger chat groups at least by sending a good morning message, by sharing jokes, having audio/video calls, and remembering important days and events to celebrate…

Q: Every country has its own unique culture, and it may be very different from your home country. So how do you value the cultural differences in Australia?

Being exposed to such a culture was a great experience for me since I got to engage with people from many different countries who have way more different cultural backgrounds than Sri Lanka.

The challenging part is that we must be wise enough to act appropriately toward each culture, as an example, people who come from a Europian culture respect their independence regardless of gender.

However, the sad part is, if a person is not well-guided or does not have sufficient self-control, they might get their lives ruined. So, the best way to add colors to life while living here is by being vigilant always and keeping in mind the prime purpose of coming here.

Q: Thank you very much for such wonderful pieces of advice. Now, let me ask something from a different angle. As a Rotaractor, you were always ready to lend your helping hand to others. After being an expat, how could you become the help the others seek?

I like to share my knowledge with my peers whenever possible, mostly related to the field of my expertise. This is not something extravagant to point out, yet, when others are drowned in issues I always feel happy to support. I also find enough time to contribute to Community Service projects in Sri Lanka and share my experiences with the junior club members.

Q: As you said, you have expanded your horizons as a true Rotaractor. But, how did the new community support YOU in the times you needed them the most?

These people are always very helpful. There is a large community of Sri Lankans living in Australia, and they never hesitate to help each other during hardships. Here, everything happens according to a system and everyone has the self-discipline to obey it. Hence, asking for help has become easier due to the plenty of resources (online, offline, libraries, information centers, etc.) available to everyone.

Q: We all know that you have been an influencing Rotaractor. I wish that your story can answer the doubts of another expat or someone willing to become one. So what is the advice you give them as a senior Rotaractor?

Whatever you do, wherever you are, be honest and be humble. Be focused and concentrated more on your weaknesses, while trying to brush up your strengths. Be a good human being to the entire society. Be motivated and be proactive to lend your helping hand to anyone who is in need. Finally, try to make a good impact on society, which will help you to be satisfied until the very last day of your life.

Q: Thank you very much Rtr. Chathuranga, for sharing your experiences with us. And thank you for the inspiring message you conveyed for all the Rotaractors in the world. To wrap up this discussion, let me ask you one last question. What is “Glimpse” in your eyes?

First, I would like to thank all the members of the Rotaract Alumni Mora for providing this valuable opportunity to share my thoughts with all of you. And I think the project Glimpse is a perfect platform for that aspect as well. I hope you have enjoyed reading and gain something for your lives, which would be the ultimate happiness of mine. Thank you!

By: Rtr. Sajeewa Jayarathne

BlogGlimpse

Glimpse 2020 with Rtr. Rochelle Silva

The very first edition of Glimpse 2020 features the experience of Rtr. Rochelle Silva, joining from Singapore.

Rtr. Rochelle Silva graduated from the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering, University of Moratuwa. She started her new life, a new journey as an expat in 2019 when she moved to Singapore for her higher studies. So, let’s see her life experience as an expat, which she shared with the Rotaract Alumni Mora with great pleasure.

Q: Hello Rtr. Rochelle! Before starting to share your experience, can you please briefly tell us who you are?

Currently, I am a Graduate student at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore since January 2019, and a graduate from the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering, University of Moratuwa. I was a lecturer (contract basis) at UoM. Moreover, I was involved with the Gavel Club, Rotaract Club, Chemical Engineering Students’ Society (ChESS), IEEE Women in Engineering Affinity Group and Catholic Students Movement during undergraduate days…

Q: As a past Rotaractor, you may have held positions at the Rotaract Mora as well as the Alumni Club. So let us hear what you were as a Rotaractor.

  • Member of Rotaract Mora since 2015
  • Director – International Service of Rotaract Alumni Mora 2017/18

Q: Since you were a long-term and an active member of the Rotaract Club, you may have been involved with many projects. What were the most memorable projects that you got involved in as a Rotaractor.

I wrote a feature article for the blog some time back… Rotaract year 2017/18 was full of memorable projects and you can get a glimpse from this article https://rotaractalumnimora.org/blog/memories-painting-shades-earth/.  I simply can’t pick out a few projects!

Q: Any awards/recognitions you have gained from the Rotaract Club?

During my tenure, the projects “Singaract” and “Rotaractors for Global Goals” were initiated. “Singaract” was recognized as the “Most Outstanding International Service Project (Gold award)” and “Rotaractors for Global Goals” was recognized as the “Most Outstanding Special Project for Rotaract Golden Jubilee Celebrations (Silver award)” at the 28th Rotaract District Assembly of RID 3220.

Spirit of Service Award (Rotaract year 2017/18) from RID 3220 – Sri Lanka & Maldives

Rotaractor of the Third Quarter of Rotaract year 2017/18 – awarded at the  27th Rotaract District Conference of RID 3220 – Sri Lanka & Maldives

Q: It’s rather a challenging decision to make when choosing a country for your higher studies. What made you choose Singapore?

I applied to many universities at the start of my search for higher education opportunities but I finally chose Singapore because it has a good environment to conduct research. NTU is ranked 11th in the world according to the QS rankings.

Q: Though Singapore is not very far from Sri Lanka, still it is further away from your home. Can you tell us how you managed to make up your mind for moving to a new country and the major reason behind it?

To put it simply, I wanted to broaden my horizons and seek out new experiences away from my comfort zone.

Q: What were your expectations when you were making this decision?

Big hopes and dreams; just like any other starry-eyed fresh graduate! I did expect many changes to my lifestyle and surroundings.

Q: Living away from home, away from your family might have led you to many challenges. What were your biggest challenges and how did you face those challenges as an expat?

Staying away from family and friends is one of the biggest challenges. I used to go home every weekend even when I was studying/working at University of Moratuwa. Switching from that to a situation where I could go home only once or twice a year is a nerve wracking experience. Also Singapore is an expensive country to live in, and unless we consciously make an effort to control the expenses, it can be quite difficult to survive. However, they say that “necessity is the mother of invention”; so I found myself cooking a few meals here and there, recycling, looking out for discounts etc. A PhD is more self-driven than the type of education that I’m used to; so keeping up my motivation levels is challenging at times…

Q: Each country has their own unique style of living. How did you manage to adapt to the new lifestyle?

I would say that I’m still adapting! The first few months were especially tough. But the experiences that I have had from participating in different activities in Sri Lanka gave me confidence to move on.

Regarding food: names may change but some things remain the same. Faluda turned out to be “bandung”. Noodle soup turned out to be “ramen”. Milk tea turned out to be “Teh tarik”. Kottu turned out to be “kothu prata”.  And the list goes on… You can even find some Sri Lankan delicacies since there’s a big Sri Lankan community here.

While visiting Gardens by the Bay - one of the popular attractions in Singapore
While visiting Gardens by the Bay – one of the popular attractions in Singapore

Q: As an active and a forward character, we know for sure that you have a lot of friends in Sri Lanka, and you can’t keep in touch with them like you used to do. So, how and how well could you manage old friendships along with the new ones?

Thank goodness that we have social media and messaging apps to take care of that aspect! Yet, meeting friends face to face beats all of that, and I try to meet up with friends when I go home for vacation.

Q: Though Singapore is an Asian country like Sri Lanka, there might be some cultural difference as well. So how do you value those cultural changes?

I think there are some cultural changes that I admire; though there are certain moments when I experience what most would label as “culture shock”. Punctuality, attention to detail, and taking good care of public spaces are admirable characteristics that I have observed in many residents…

Q: There are times that we are in need of a helping hand. So, how did the new community help you when you were in need?

I’m really grateful to the seniors from Sri Lanka who are studying in Singapore. They treated me like their own little sister and helped me to adjust to the new surroundings. The new friends from different parts of the world like India, China,Vietnam, Italy, Nigeria, Philippines, etc and of course Singapore, also help me out.

Q: Let me ask the above question the other way round. As a Rotaractor and an expat living away from home, how are YOU lending your helping hand to the community?

I try to take part in Rotaract events held nearby. For example, I could attend the Janitor Appreciation Project and the Rotaract Week celebrations conducted by the Rotaract Club of NTU. Apart from that, I try to help out juniors who contact me regarding the questions they have about applying for higher studies, planning their career etc. I may not have as much time to help the community as I did when I was an undergraduate, but I make an effort when I can.

At the World Rotaract week celebrations conducted by Rotaract Club of NTU
At the World Rotaract week celebrations conducted by Rotaract Club of NTU

Q: There may be many other Rotaractors who are willing to make the same decision as you did. Do you have any message you want to share with your fellow Rotaractors as an expat?

Like I mentioned in the previous question; life as an expat is comparatively more complex than life as an undergraduate; so take part in volunteering activities at the university. Apart from serving the needy, you will build your soft skills and widen your network.

To my fellow expat Rotaractors or soon-to-be expats; keep in touch with family and friends whom you can count on. Always remember that you have people who love you for who you are… Take care of your physical, mental and social well-being. This would make you face the challenges with a fresh perspective.

Q: You have wonderful experiences to share with your fellow Rotaractors. And I thank you for your valuable time given to us. Let me ask one last question before we wrap up. What do you think about this project Glimpse?

It’s a great way to connect with alumni members who are now living in different parts of the world. I remember reading the previous Glimpse posts at a time when I was quite nervous about my overseas endeavors. It was inspiring to read how my fellow Rotaract friends had overcome challenges and found their footing in an unknown country. I hope this post will also be helpful to those who are nervous about saying “yes” to new adventures.

By: Rtr. Sajeewa Jayarathne

BlogGlimpse

Glimpse: Of the life of an Expat Rotaractor

This edition of Glimpse features the expat experiences of Rtr. Sandamali Devadithya.

Rtr. Sandamali graduated from University of Moratuwa in 2014, majoring in Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering.  Her life as an expat marked its beginning in 2015 when she moved to the United States of America to pursue her PhD. Her start there was at the University of Washington, Seattle where she completed her research in a master’s degree and moved to Boston to continue her PhD at Boston University.

Q: Selecting a country to make your home away from home, is rather a challenging decision. How did you make this choice and why was USA your selection?

Once I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I wanted to pursue a career in academia. So, many senior lecturers advised me to do a PhD in the USA. The PhD programs in the USA are very competitive. There are a certain number of graduate level course modules you have to take and in my field (ECE) you need to publish a lot of papers in top-notch journal publications, and the program is 5+ years. As a result, PhD degrees from the USA are recognized throughout the world. So my obvious preference was to get an opportunity in the USA, which I was fortunate to get.

Q:  I am not wrong if I say that making the choice of the country you want to reside as an expat, is just the beginning of the real challenge, am I?

 

Yes definitely. I thought I was prepared to live abroad. I knew how to cook and manage a household, I knew the city I was going to live. But PhD life itself threw me off guard. I was not at all prepared for that. Getting into a PhD program here is hard and surviving it is harder. But remember ‘what doesn’t kill you make you stronger’.

 

When we were a freshman, we were used to be taken care of, in our schools, and in our universities. We had timetables, we had a fellow freshman who took classes together and who were completely clueless as we were.  Here you are totally on your own. Everybody is busy with their research; they don’t have time for you. You have to figure out your stuff by yourself. For example, how do I get a key to my office, where do I sit, whom should I talk to get a new computer, where is the microwave, where is free coffee? are things you have to find solutions on your own.

Q: But no one can live in isolation like an island. Didn’t you feel that building a relationship with those around you and connecting them was important?

Networking with people is important here. It is a skill I still don’t have and hopefully will have one day. Here nobody is going to talk with you unless you introduced yourself and join a conversation without interrupting. Pretty hard if you are shy at first.

I have a very good example to relate to you how important people relationships are. As I said earlier, PhD programmes in the USA are very competitive and it all depends on finding the perfect advisor for you (much like dating). Here it is the advisor who pays for your tuition and your stipend. If you can’t find an advisor who matches your research interests and working style, and if you can’t keep up with the advisor’s working style you might as well pack your bags and go home. That’s what I thought at first. There were several mismatches between me and my first advisor, and as I was not happy I was not at all productive in research aspects. Naïve as I was, I thought I had to deal with it or work hard. But that just made me unhappier. And those days I did not have any courage to talk about this with my colleagues or peers.

After some time, when I couldn’t take it anymore, I decided to get help and gradually built up my courage to talk about it.  I opened up to my advisor, and he is a nice guy and he understood me and we both agreed I should find a new advisor. Easier said than done.  It is hard to find a professor who has same research interests as you and with money and willing to fund you. I wrote to a lot of professors in the university, I talked with graduate programme chairs and academic advisors and found a professor who I liked to work with but who did not have funding for me. Luckily I managed to find teaching assistant positions throughout the year, which covered my tuition and offered me a stipend.  

Working in the new environment was an instant success. I liked working with my new professor and I had an amazing mentor. I simply loved doing research, and we published several papers at the end of the year. And when I transferred to Boston University and had to find an advisor I knew exactly what to do and whom to talk with.

Q: That’s quite an experience. What are your key learnings thus far, as an expat? These learnings will be an eye opener for all our Glimpse readers.

An important lesson I learnt from the experience I shared is not to be afraid to get help. Everybody will not be sympathetic to your cause or be helpful.  But there will be someone whom you can talk to. It is important to talk with your peers, colleagues, and your bosses about the issues you have in working places. Because there will be a solution though it may not be easy or straightforward. But you need to have faith in you and believe in yourself. And in return help others and listen to others. It is not everybody’s culture to be sympathetic to another person’s problems. But we as Rotaractors it’s a value that should come from us naturally.

BlogGlimpse

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”.

BlogGlimpse

Glimpse: Of the life of an Expat Rotaractor

Rtr. Sumudu Herath is another Rotaract Alumni Mora members who is now an expat in a foreign country. He resides in the United Kingdom, where he is a PhD Candidate at the University of Cambridge. Here is the experience of his life that he shared with us.

Q: Our first question to you is our usual starter question. Why did you choose to reside in this particular country for your life as an expat?

There are many reasons to reside in the UK for higher studies. But I would highlight these as the drivers upon my decision. Top quality research facilities, Prestigious institutions, English language, Supervisor influence and of course the ease of preparation on application point of view.

Q: Very informative. You seem to have been very positive about your new chapter of life.

Yes, I was. I already had some overseas living experience before coming here for my PhD. During my internships in Germany and Switzerland, I was able to survive pretty well given that lifestyles and standards were pretty high compared to Sri Lanka.

Q: But I am sure that the new life was not a bed of roses. Was it?

It wasn’t. There were many challenges that I have to face this new way of living. The major challenge was to live all by myself and far away from family, friends and loved ones. This is something I anticipated as well.

Finding good and convenient accommodation is the next on top of the list. Since my university did not provide on-campus accommodation to the researchers, I had to look for housing options outside.

The next challenge was companions. The lack of Sri Lankans at Cambridge made it quite an alien world at first, but eventually, I started to hang out with foreigners.

Q: Making home in a land away from home, is indeed an opportunity to live and experience these words, aren’t they? How have you experienced friendship when you were new to this land?

Working in very diverse conditions and people coming from different countries and background was definitely an opportunity to experience friendship at a whole new level. This allowed me to understand different perspectives of life and still be friends with people and get along with them. In the end, it’s not the background or the culture that matters the most, but one’s positivity of thinking towards life and beyond life.

Q: How have you experienced the value of differences of culture and/or creed?

Cambridge is almost an international crowd where you get to meet people from all over the globe with all colours of the rainbow. Differences make the social lives better because of all the new things we get to experience and share with others. And the most important factor for the success of this kind of living is the “mutual respect” when working with an international crowd from all corners of the world.

Q: Have there been times when you have needed help from those around you?

Almost every time when I get a research question or just casual life problems it’s the inner circle that always comes to help. Their helpfulness has made me to a person who never hesitates to give my hand to someone in need because I know a simple thank you wouldn’t be enough to appreciate and repay the true meaning of friendship I have received from my friends.

Q: Wrapping up this very insightful glimpse, what are the key messages you would like to share with us?

For us Rotaractors, friendship has no barriers. This is the key to a successful life as an expat. Respect one another, despite differences between them and yourself.

BlogGlimpse

Glimpse: Of the life of an Expat Rotaractor

The past few editions of Glimpse shared the stories of our Rotaractors in Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland. Today, we bring to you the story of an expat in Estonia. Rtr. Dulitha Wanniarachchi is an expat in Tallinn in Estonia with his beloved wife Ruwini who is also a Rotaractor. The couple moved to Estonia for the completion of their higher studies and here is a glimpse of their experience of making a home away from their motherland.

Q: A move from Sri Lanka to Estonia is quite a change. How did this change come about?

When I was looking for options for higher studies overseas, I came across an opportunity in Estonia. Estonia is an Eastern European country in the Baltics that many had not heard about. So, out of curiosity we did a bit of digging and the facts we found about this country were quite fascinating. Our search concluded with the realization that this country was one which is peaceful, free of corruption and bureaucracy and has clean air. It has mastered e-governance and is a hub of innovation owing to the fact that it is the birthplace of Skype, Transferwise, Starship autonomous delivery robots and many more. So, we were convinced that a move to Estonia is a change worth taking. Being a big fan of travelling, I was delighted about this new experience. But my wife Ruwini was a bit worried about living far away from the family. Considering again the fact that we live in an era where technology brings everyone closer despite their physical locations, this was not an excuse to not take the change we received.

Q: Changes are most often accompanied by challenges. What were the challenges that you had to tackle when stepping into this new life?

Anything could be a challenge, and as you rightly said, a change brings many challenges.

 

We were working in Sri Lanka then. So, from quitting our jobs and searching for jobs in a foreign land was a big challenge. Then, surviving through the extreme cold weather during the period of winter was another.  The list can actually go on, because starting a life in a foreign land among a group of people who don’t really speak English as a first language is not easy.

 

But, with time, you learn to make your way in your new life; you learn how to adapt to you surroundings and to live with different people, how to manage during tough weather conditions etc. You just have to be a bit patient in the beginning.

Q: Challenges are opportunities to expand our horizons in many ways. We strongly believe that the opportunity to be an expat is a chance to expand and experience friendship. How does your experiences relate to this?

Making new friends is all about being open to it. Although Estonians don’t look the most friendly people at the beginning (they usually like to keep their distance until they really get to know you) they’re really fine people to be friends with, and they help you out over and beyond once you give it a bit of time. Also being members in a University here, we’ve made friends from almost all over the world as there are so many international students and expats over here.

What is important in friendship is that you realize that at the end of the day we are all the same. It all comes down to your own values and principles as a human being. That’s the key to making new friends. And what matters about friends is that we set aside our differences and help each other whenever a need arises.

Q: You mentioned that helping each other is the most important in a relationship of friendship. Could you share an instance which you have really experienced this?

Well, information is the key to living abroad. We were fortunate to have friends who willingly shared information which were very useful when we started our life here as expats. We still rely on such information and we are privileged to have friends we are ever ready to source us information we need.

Knowing the value of this friendly gesture, we too are never hesitant to help out people who seek information when they are new to this land. “As Rotaractors we always strive to reach out and make things bright”.

 

Q: What are the final messages that you would like to share with us concluding the story of how being an expat has brought out the best in you?

The decision to be an expat can be daunting at first, because it means that you will have to leave everything you already have and step out of your comfort zone. But realizing that this is an opportunity that will help you grow as an individual is the key to a successful life as an expat.

So when an opportunity knocks on your door go for it. It will open your eyes to the world. Be strong and face the challenges that come your way. Live every moment of your experiences and help others to live their own. You will be able to make a big difference than you imagine.

BlogGlimpse

Glimpse: Of the life of an Expat Rotaractor

“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”,

are golden words that are experienced and lived by expat Rotaractors. Today, we bring to you, the story of Rtr. Bhanuka Abeygoonawardana, a Rotaract Alumni Mora member who now resides in Switzerland.

 

Here is a glimpse of his experience of how the opportunity to be an expat has brought out the best of his Rotaract traits and values.

 

Q: Rtr. Bhanuka, tell us a bit about why you are in Switzerland?

After the completion of my BSc. Engineering in the field of Mechanical Engineering at University of Moratuwa, I got an opportunity to come here for an internship at the ZHAW School of Engineering. This was a valuable opportunity for me because I had a dream to visit Switzerland at least once in my lifetime. Switzerland has preserved its title as “the best country to live in the world” for so many years. Plus, the natural beauty and the advanced technology in this country gave me more reason to come here. It has been about 3 months for my life here, and it has been very satisfying.

 

Q: That’s splendid! Weren’t there any tough times you had to go through since the beginning of this new chapter of your life?

The main challenge I faced was being all alone, away from my family and friends in Sri Lanka. To be honest, during the first couple of weeks, it was very hard to live in an unknown country without any familiar face,. But gradually, I got used to that feeling of being away from home. I still miss my parents, family, friends, relatives, and neighbors back at home. That will always be the case. But I don’t dwell on this feeling. I have now made new companions in my new neighborhood, the university, office, and the Cricket Club for which I play. After making new friends here, life has become fun and joyful again.

The next main challenge that I’m still facing is the difference in language. German is the main language here, but I am not very fluent in German yet. This has become an obstacle to complete my day to day activities here.

 

Then, the next challenge is obvious for any expat; that’s the task of sourcing food. I too had to settle for the option of cooking for myself as the solution to this problem. Cooking,  itself was a challenge for me during the first couple of weeks, but now I am relieved to say that I am good at it.

Q: We believe that making the home in a land away from home, is indeed an opportunity to live and experience the true traits of Rotaractors. Would you agree?

Yes, definitely. This new life has taught me the true value of friendship, the importance of the mutual understanding between individuals who come from different backgrounds, the beauty of the differences in culture and lifestyles, to name a few.

Friends I have made from the office and from the Cricket Club are my second family now. They are the ones who teach me and support me in most of the new things here. They look after me and take care of me because they know that I’m still adapting to this environment. At the time when I was sick and was unable to do my things alone, they supported me and looked after me as one of their own family members. They have always lent a hand whenever I had issues with language or even with money. Their understanding is definitely a blessing to me, and it’s an experience of true friendship.  

On top of that, the friends I have made in Office, who are mostly Swiss and Germans, and those from the Cricket Club, who are Asians, Europeans, and Africans, have given me a taste and feel of different cultures. Through them, I have been able to learn habits, behaviors, rituals of different creeds and this has made me respect and to value their heritage.

Q: Hearing such cooperation and understanding is truly amazing and inspiring. It’s an eye opener for us too, to be more understanding towards those around us in our community too. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

In conclusion, what are the key messages that you would like to share with all Rotaractors, and friends?

Life alone has made me realize the value of my family and friends, more than when I was with them. So my first message to everyone is to always keep your family and motherland as your first priorities. Next, always respect the value of the people around you, support them whenever possible, and try to make their lives better.

BlogGlimpse

Glimpse: To the life of an Expat Rotaractor

Today, Glimpse features the story of Rtr. Vipula Dissanayake.

Rtr. Vipula is a graduate of University of Moratuwa, specialized in the field of Computer Science & Engineering. He was an active member of Rotaract Mora during his days in the University and then of Rotaract Alumni Mora until his departure to New Zealand, where he now an expat. Here is a glimpse of the experience he shared with us, when we inquired about his life in the Kiwi’s nation.

Q: New Zealand is quite a different choice compared to the destinations selected by many undergraduates after completion of their degree. Why did you decide to travel to NZ and how has your experience in NZ been thus far?

The greenery in NZ attracted me and I am currently in Auckland, taking care of cows and sheep in greenish meadows. Haha! 😛

Well, to give you actual facts, I got an opportunity to continue my higher studies in NZ due to the transfer of the Augmented Human Lab in SUTD to The University of Auckland. I was actually delighted when this new avenue opened up for me, because, NZ is a country with natural beauty, nice weather and most importantly, friendly people. So, I accepted the opportunity that I was offered and I’m now reading for a Master of Engineering degree at Auckland Bioengineering Institute at The University of Auckland.

Q: Quite interesting! I can imagine your excitement when you heard the news of the opportunity in NZ. But didn’t you have any worries about the change that you would experience in life, when you have to move to a foreign land?

Yes, I was truly excited and was looking for a life full of fun and adventure. But as you said, I had some concerns about my new life. Adapting to a new lifestyle in a country with a different culture was one main concern. Knowing that I will be away from my circle of family and friends when I move to NZ was another concern, and this meant that I had to make new friends.

I would say I was able to face both these two situations easily than I expected. The real challenge was feeding me. Food was very expensive in NZ. So, I was compelled to cook for myself. Cooking has now become a habit.

 

Q: How was the experience of making new friends?

Making new friends was very enjoyable. But I must say, being away from my close friends at home, made me realize the value of the great time I had with them and the strength I had when they were around.

As I said, making new friends was enjoyable and making myself open to this gave me the opportunity to expose myself to different cultures and values in people.

Q: Tell us more about the exposure you got when you mingled with those who come from different backgrounds and cultures.

Moving to NZ allowed me to interact with a bunch of people from all around the world. Kiwis, Catalonian, Singaporean, Germans, Chinese, Indians and a lot more. This was also a good chance to treat my taste buds with food and drinks from those countries. 😀

On a more serious note, the acquaintance with these new friends has taught me many things. The unbelievably helpful and welcoming nature of people despite our differences in nationality, culture, the diversity of people’s view towards the life, the manner in which people tackle the life away from home are some of them. To elaborate on the last point, some individuals tend to be homesick while others prefer to travel all over the world and gather experiences, without wasting time being homesick. Haha! People are very different in their own way.

Q: Quite insightful. Seems like you’ve learnt a lot from your opportunity as an expat. In a nutshell, what are the key messages that you, as a Rotaractor, wish to leave with us, as a conclusion of your life as an expat?

Firstly,  make new friends, take good things from their cultures and share good things from your culture with them.

Don’t hesitate to do what you like, provided that it doesn’t cause harm or inconvenience to other.

Respect people and help them whenever they need help.

Finally, always remember that life is not only about serious work. Take time to enjoy life through opportunities that come your way to explore the world…!

BlogGlimpse

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.