Beyond the borders: Sri Lankan student adjusts to American culture over four years at Geneseo

Mathematics major senior Imasha Silva came to Geneseo from Sri Lanka after being influenced by her brother who attended the school six years ago. Although Silba grew up speaking British English, she struggled adjusting to colloquial American English (Josie Kwan/Assoc. Photo Editor).

Mathematics major senior Imasha Silva, originally from Sri Lanka, has developed a passion for Geneseo over her last four years here. 

Silva visited the United States in 2005, but for a brief stay that she only vaguely remembers. She considers the first time she came to America to be her arrival at Geneseo four years ago. Venturing thousands of miles away from home was a big decision for both Silva and her family. 

“My brother graduated with a biology degree from Geneseo six years ago. He did a lot of research and figured out that Geneseo was a great school that provided a good education,” Silva said. “When I decided I wanted to have an American education, my mother believed that it was safe because my brother had already had a positive experience. She thought it would be a great option for me. I am the only girl in the family. She is very protective of me and was not very happy about me going too far away from home.”

Although English is Silva’s second language, it didn’t always feel like it. Silva grew up speaking English. In Sri Lanka, they begin teaching English to children at a very young age, allowing Silva to have a firm grasp on the language before coming to Geneseo. Sri Lankan children are taught English in the British dialect, creating a slight language barrier for Silva, not to mention culture shock.

“Upon arriving in Geneseo, I had a lot of culture shock but did not want to accept it. I came to realize I was going through culture shock in my junior year when I was fully comfortable with my life at Geneseo. The major change I had was adjusting the way I spoke, even though I knew English, the phrases I used were very British. The Sri Lanka education system and the English we used is British English,” Silva said. 

“When I first arrived in America, I had to repeat myself and make myself clear, it really brought out a lot of anxiety. Eventually by the help of good friends and a good professor who understood my situation, I was able to come to an understanding that it wasn’t that I was bad at English. There was just a cultural difference.”

Geneseo provides help for international students to get acculturated to their new lives. Silva urges international students to take ENGL 277: English of Other Languages, taught by lecturer of English Irene Belyakov-Goodman.

“Through the class, I was able to have a friend who understood my transition from the English I learned to American-English,” Silva said. “The structure, the way I wrote was completely different and the class really helped me. Taking the class helped me transition in my writing style and the speech buddy program she initiated helped me feel more included in the culture.” 

Silva is still unsure what lies ahead for her after graduation and whether or not she will return to Sri Lanka. After taking a variety of classes, she has decided she wants to pursue a career in humanitarianism. Silva says that after getting an internship and exploring all career paths, she will decide if she wants to stay in America.