Beyond the Borders: Independent Mahesha Gunathilake, Sri Lankan student

When she was 19 years old, senior Mahesha Gunathilake transferred to Geneseo and made the move to the United States.

While growing up in Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka, Gunathilake watched American movies and said she liked what she saw. "Every time I watched an English movie, I was like, 'I want to live that movie!'" she said.

Though she was eager to experience America for herself, Gunathilake immediately faced challenges in her new surroundings. She had no family or friends nearby, and was forced to take care of herself entirely. At one point she became ill, called herself an ambulance and spent a week in the hospital with only a few friends for support.

"Now I know what it's really like to be independent," she said. Gunathilake recently traveled alone to New York City for a job interview. She was unable to contact the friend with whom she was staying, so she reorganized her plans en route and stayed at a hostel instead. Obviously, she has acclimated to the States.

Such difficulties are characteristic of any change, but Gunathilake said she is thankful to the Geneseo International Student Office for their help in easing her transition.

Although she is forging ahead, it seems unlikely Gunathilake will forget her home. She said she misses her friends and family more than anything else, adding that she also misses the elephants found in the rainforests of Sri Lanka. Last summer she visited Kandy, a city two hours from Colombo, climbed on to one of the animal's front legs and was lifted to its back. As she rode it, "I felt like I was the queen of Sri Lanka," she said.

A tropical island may seem exotic to many, but Gunathilake thinks the same about New York. She said she loves the ice and snow, and the solitude that was difficult to find in the capital. She also said she enjoys the independence she finds here. In Sri Lanka, she explained, students address professors as "sir" and always rise before they answer a question. Gunathilake said her friends back home also find it exciting to hear stories from the United States, like when police, in a flurry of badges and uniforms, raided the Inn Between.

Gunathilake's stories show her determination to make her way in the United States. She said she is excited to graduate in May, and plans to stay in America, eventually hoping to land a public relations position at a New York City advertising firm.