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Shanela Ranaraja
Lalini (Shanela) Ranaraja ’21

From Sri Lanka to Augustana

When you choose to spend the next four years of your life 9,000 miles away from the place you’re born, you make sure your new community has certain qualities which might translate into a second home. Familiarity. Excitement. Ancestry. And a community small enough that you recognize the majority of people you pass on your way to explore fields of thought you’d never heard of, in buildings a century old—that seemed to come pretty close.

Moreover, I’d been under impression that as my high school career came to an end, I needed to know where I was going to be in 10 years; but Augustana didn’t seem to want me to make that choice. I’d have the chance to take my time and truly test that my ambitions and dreams were mine and no one else’s. I took that chance, and I haven’t been disappointed.

My academic experience at Augustana so far has been all I could ask for. It is rigorous and demanding, constantly pushing me to be better, and most importantly, providing me with the kind of learning experience to which I want to contribute. I chose literature and anthropology as my fall term classes, and found myself exploring how children’s storybooks perpetuate racial stereotypes, comparing how modern graphic novels can be linked to Plato, and sitting with a notebook in the Gerber Center, using my ethnographic skills on passersby.

‘I find that I have been encouraged to slow down, rather than simply rushing to answer question after question with no real understanding of the deeper ideas behind them. This is the kind of learning where I feel most at home.’

In my classroom discussions, I often find myself engaging with opinions I have never imagined, and sometimes even adopting them. I find that I have been encouraged to slow down, rather than simply rushing to answer question after question with no real understanding of the deeper ideas behind them. This is the kind of learning where I feel most at home.

Outside the classroom, a different kind of home can be found, among the hundred and more new international students of my year. There’s a deep sense of kinship to be had with people who understand what it’s like to live literally on the other side of the world from everything you ever knew. Well into my first term at Augie, I can say with confidence that these people are family. Older international students have gone out of their way to help me navigate life abroad, regardless of whether that means passing on their winter survival strategies, keeping me updated on different events around campus or taking me out for food that tastes like home.

I am also encouraged by the strong friendships I have formed with domestic students, and by the socialization we carve out for ourselves to give us the energy to keep meeting the expectations and commitments of college life. I am also heartened by the caliber of the faculty—attentive to their students and passionate about their fields of study.

‘I grew up in the kind of place where nature with all its wonder and wildness was like air—ever-present—and it’s deeply satisfying that I can maintain that connection to my environment.’

When this whirlwind schedule becomes overwhelming, I look for inspiration in the beauty of Augustana’s campus. I believe I take a photograph of something on campus every single day—there’s inspiration everywhere. I grew up in the kind of place where nature with all its wonder and wildness was like air—ever-present—and it’s deeply satisfying that I can maintain that connection to my environment.

I suppose the same could be said of Augustana itself. What I’ve seen of American college culture so far is a way of life which requires a very level head. For example, there’s a sense of complete autonomy at Augustana, and probably every other US college—a freedom to make your own decisions. This kind of independence goes hand in hand with responsibility, and the ability to know when to stop; not just with social engagements, but with academic and extracurricular commitments. However, help is always available for those who truly need it, and of this we are constantly reminded.

I feel that international students sometimes run the risk of losing a little of themselves, caught up as they are in keeping up with life here. But here, there are also new fields to discover, strong mentors to follow, beautiful places to find solace in and loyal friends to share intense moments with, to help us find our way back. Augustana has already done this for me, and what’s more, is well on the way to being that second home.

Photos by Shanela:

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