CHADRON – Charith Kapukotuwa, Sri Lanka native and the first Graves Lecture Series speaker of 2017, recently spoke about challenges international students face.
Kapukotuwa, a Chadron State College alumnus who works in the international office talked about adjusting to differences in food, driving, currency, TV shows and language while trying to assimilate into the U.S. culture.
Once the initial excitement about living in a new country dissipates, international students can feel discomfort and unease sometimes resulting in symptoms like frustration, irritability, boredom, withdrawal and inability to concentrate, according to Kapukotuwa.
He said students share their struggles with him in his position at CSC. He assists with recruiting international students by overseeing the international ambassadors program and helping incoming students with the transition to CSC and life in Chadron through the peer mentor program.
Loneliness and regulations prohibiting international students from employment off campus are also hurdles to assimilation. Kapukotuwa, who described his home country as a tropical island nation about the size of West Virginia south of India, said homesickness was one of the first and longest lasting obstacles he faced.
“It's a 36-hour flight and a year’s worth of tuition to go back,” he said. “I wanted to pack up and go home many times but told myself, ‘Hey, you can be successful if you stay.’”
He said his host family, Mel and Lynne Ainslie, helped him understand the local way of life. Kapukotuwa also sought out recreational opportunities and meaningful conversations with multiple community members.
“Also, I started finding my way around Chadron and connecting with faculty, staff and friends which helped. It has been a wonderful experience and I have a special place in my heart for Chadron State because it has been a blessing in my life,” Kapukotuwa said. “Over the years, I started to love this place and started to learn from this place. By my junior year I started to consider Chadron as my second home.”
He attended a pow wow, visited Mount Rushmore and Fort Robinson, all in an effort to cultivate an appreciation of his new surroundings.
Kapukotuwa enrolled at CSC in 2011 as a track and field transfer student from Barton Community College in Great Bend, Kansas, after being offered a scholarship. Although he didn’t know anyone in Chadron except former track coach, Ryan Baily, and other members of the team when he arrived, he was excited about the opportunities he felt awaited him at CSC.
His anticipation of success has been realized. He holds the CSC men’s weight throw record and has been an All-American twice in shot put. Additionally, he earned numerous Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference awards in shot put, discus and hammer throw.
Participating in international championships with his country’s track and field team has taken him to eight countries outside Sri Lanka and the U.S.
“I really enjoy going into countries I’ve never been to because it allowed me to explore and experience different cultures, customs and traditions,” he said.
He suggested that international students at Chadron State should also get out and explore.
“It’s important to open up and embrace the people in your new country. Don’t be negative or close-minded,” he said.
Kapukotuwa earned his bachelor’s degree in Justice Studies thinking he would pursue a career in law enforcement like both of his parents. However, at their encouragement, he decided to stay at CSC to earn his MBA.
When asked about his future goals by attendees at his lecture, Kapukotuwa said he is enrolled in an online doctoral program in management and organization from a university in Singapore and plans to try out for a spot on Sri Lanka’s track team for the 2020 Olympics.
—Tena L. Cook, Marketing Coordinator