Friendship far from home
Two Sri Lankan students find community at King's.
From 1983–2009, a civil war between the Tamil and Sinhalese peoples tore through the streets of Sri Lanka, leaving behind unspeakable destruction and an innumerable death toll.
Two King’s students, Anjalee (Anji) Wijewardane and Suwadhini (Suwadhi) Pathmanathan, grew up on opposite sides of the conflict.
“As a child I was blessed not to live close to the centre of the conflict but it did become a regular part of my life. Seeing bombings on the news and hearing these stories of devastation and hate has a profound effect on a person,” says Anji.
Decades of conflict, violence and death has resulted in powerful hate growing deeper and more ingrained in generations of Sri Lankans. For many, the reality of this war is all they know.
On weekends, Anji attended English classes in Colombo, a major city in Sri Lanka, and would use public transit to get to class. “My mother didn’t want me to go anymore because Colombo was a target for terror attacks but I was determined to attend class,” says Anji. “One Saturday I was late and missed my bus. The bus I usually took — that I should have taken that morning — was bombed. It’s terrifying to think that I could have been there. It serves as a reminder to me that you can’t live in fear, you have to live your life.”
Many Sri Lankans moved to Canada during the war. This influenced Suwadhi’s decision to seek post-secondary education here. After searching online and attempting to contact various universities in Edmonton, Suwadhi found King’s.
“I messaged King’s and heard back from them within an hour. I didn’t know if I would attend but they answered all of my questions regardless. I knew I was talking to a real person and felt like they were already invested in me. That’s why I picked King’s, I felt cared for before I even arrived here,” Suwadhi explains.
“For me, finding King’s was honestly a miracle,” says Anji.
Having already earned a degree in human resource management in Sri Lanka, Anji was settling into a life she wasn’t passionate about. “I wanted to surround myself with people that would challenge me to grow spiritually. I wanted a Christian environment where I could flourish and I found that at King’s,” Anji explains. Following her passion for chemistry and the recommendation of a King’s alum, Anji
landed in Edmonton in January 2018 ready for classes.
Suwadhi and Anji spent weeks walking the halls of King’s before they met. Being the only two students from Sri Lanka at the time, there was a certain anticipation wrapped up in the moment. “I walked into the cafeteria between classes and saw Anji sitting there. We had never met, I’d never seen her before but I instantly knew who she was,” explains Suwadhi. Without saying a word, the girls simply hugged. They both recall this as a profound moment.
“It was so beautiful coming to King’s and finding Suwadhi,” explains Anji. “I was hoping to meet someone from Sri Lanka that I could share my culture with and I found that in her. I also found so many other people at King’s that I can share my culture with and learn about theirs. These people, like Suwadhi, will be my friends for life.”
One of the most special things about King’s are the relationships both Suwadhi and Anji have found with fellow students, but also with staff and faculty. “I remember having coffee with my advisor sometimein my first semester and we didn’t even talk about classes or schoolwork. He was solely concerned with how I was transitioning and what he could do to help me find my place at King’s,” says Anji.
Being an international student comes with its own set of challenges, fears, and anxieties — one being the fear of feeling different. “People at King’s made me feel special,” says Suwadhi. “This is my home now. All I know is the people here and how kind they are. I’m graduating this spring but I know that King’s will always be a home for me. I wouldn’t be who I am today without this place.”