Where are you from?

My native country is Sri Lanka, the country that elected the world’s first female head of state back in the 1960s. I left Sri Lanka 30 years ago, 1986 to be exact, to pursue higher education in the United States and fell in love with the country and its people, and never left.

What was your childhood like?

My family back ground in Sri Lanka was middle class and my father was a government servant. We did not have much in wealth and power but the childhood in Sri Lanka was magical. The country is blessed with the natural resources and the people are simple, unassuming, and helpful. In fact, Sri Lanka was recently listed along with the United States as one of the top five most generous countries.

What brought you to Cleveland?

My education brought me to the United States and to the State of Indiana. Once I finished my doctoral degree moved to Ohio and my employed at the Kent State University brought me to this part of the world.

What were your first thoughts about coming to the United States? Did those change?

In Sri Lanka, the United States is highly regarded as a world leader and is ranked at the top in favorable consideration. In fact, coming to the United States or to a European country in itself is considered as an achievement. This premises itself had created some animosity towards the United States among some political and social leaders to generate a half-hearted resentfulness. So, there is a bit of love-hate relationship towards the United States in theory. Coming to the United States and living among the Americans changed many of my views and I came to appreciate the many great cultural norms the American have. The Americans are the most generous people in the world and their ability to come together in many situations to achieve common goals to further the humanity is unbelievable. The freedom to move up to ones’ natural potential in itself is not possible anywhere else in the world!

What challenges did you face as transitioning here?

Transitioning into the cultural and behavioral norms of the United States was the biggest challenge that I faced. This includes the difference in the English accent and the associated difficulty in communicating well. In Sri Lanka, communication is not regarded as an asset and one has to bow to the authority of the elders and not speak up one’s mind.  You are expected to tolerate incorrect notions and opinions of the elders and not contradict those regardless how absurd the notions are. So, the learning curve in expressing one’s ideas was a big challenge and doing so effectively is a remarkable hurdle to overcome.

What is your occupation?

I have a PHD in Mathematics and work as a Mathematician at the Kent State University. I work at the Trumbull campus of Kent State University as an Associate Professor for over 18 years.

How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcomed?

I have always felt welcomed and there are many great folks who go out of their way to be helpful. The activities and other cultural events organized in the area are quite remarkable. City of Cleveland is doing a great job in this regard. I have attended the South Indian musical event, Thyagaraja Festival at Cleveland State University and have myself participated in hosting several Sri Lanka cultural events in the area.

What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?

My native country consists of a majority of practicing Buddhist who adheres to the nonviolent behavior towards humans and all living beings. The diversity is accepted and valued. Diverse opinions and religious doctrines are accepted and not ridiculed or challenged. These practices, obviously, have a natural home in the United States. The Buddhist practices of Sri Lanka are continued by the northeast Ohio Sri Lankan community and our family also take part in these activities even though I myself grew up in Sri Lanka as a catholic in a mixed religious family.

What do you love about Cleveland?

Except for the bitter cold during the winter season, the city and its people are warm and welcoming. I love the activities and resources available to the diverse cravings and appetite of the citizens. Educational and medical facilities available in the area are truly world-class and Cleveland is truly a world leader in this regard.

Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees?

It is important to treat diversity as strength and not as a weakness. Everyone has something to contribute to the melting pot. Recognizing one’s strengths and abilities and using those skills to the common good of everyone is a challenge but a mark of a great leader. There is a story in Sri Lankan about seven folks who try to make a soup. Each one withheld his contribution to the soup hoping the others will contribute their ingredients and not contributing himself would not be a problem. Well, at the end all seven did not contribute and the soup was just a pot of boiling water! To make the melting pot truly so, each one should be allowed to contribute and benefit.

Why is it important to travel abroad?

The world is a diverse place with a diverse norms, values, cultural practices, foods and beliefs. All these have made the World a remarkable place. Bio-diversity, plants and animals and the natural beauty varies. Many countries and places that I have visited in the world are simply beautiful. I have yet to visit a place that is NOT so. Traveling is obviously one of the ways to witness this diversity.