For Yale’s Sri Lankan students, Wednesday’s affinity gathering in the Ezra Stiles Fellows Lounge will offer community and a taste of home.
This year’s first gathering of SLAY — Yale’s organization for Sri Lankan and Sri Lankan-American students, faculty and staff — will give students the opportunity to congregate and eat home-cooked food ranging from the Sri Lankan staple Maalu Paan — spiced fish packaged inside a soft, sweet dough bun — to the packed, sealed and fried spiced onion and boiled eggs that constitute Sri Lankan patties.
“As we are building connections with people here, these connections are being bridged over to Sri Lanka,” said Farhha Feroz ’20, SLAY’s president.
According to SLAY’s faculty adviser and Dean of Ezra Stiles College Nilakshi Parndigamage ’06, the organization, which currently has about 30 members, aims to build community and a “sense of home” at Yale. Parndigamage noted that bonding with other Sri Lankan students improved her own undergraduate experience at Yale. It “sustained me in many ways,” she wrote, adding that she can see SLAY’s potential to affect current students in the same way.
Parndigamage noted that one poignant instance of community members supporting one another occurred in the wake of last year’s Easter bombing attacks in Sri Lanka, when Sri Lankan students and faculty members came together to grieve after the tragedy.
Though Yale’s Sri Lankan population had gathered together in prior years, SLAY officially started last year when Parndigamage invited three Sri Lankan students — Feroz included — to her home to get to know each other. Noting that there were more Sri Lankan students at Yale, they decided to start an organization for them.
According to Feroz, the group also tries to familiarize Yale students with Sri Lankan culture through open events. The organization aims to “extend our beautiful culture to the larger Yale community so they can experience everything we love about Sri Lanka,” she said.
Imadh Bahaudeen ’20 recalled a home-cooked dinner that Feroz hosted that introduced people to Sri Lankan culture through the nation’s traditional dishes. Bahaudeen noted that she does not know of any Sri Lankan restaurants in this part of the U.S. As such, he said, “it’s not easy for people to get insight into the culture.” While transitioning to Yale, he occasionally struggled to communicate his experiences, as they were unfamiliar to many of his American peers. With the community at SLAY, he said he can now feel more at home at Yale.
Additionally, Feroz noted that Yale families in Sri Lanka have built their own community there. The bonds of shared culture connect Sri Lankan students, even oceans away from the island nation, she added.
“Culture and language are things that when you meet someone who shares that with you, you automatically develop this connection with them. It’s not something that you have to try to achieve,” she said.
Bahaudeen, however, acknowledged the challenge of uniting Sri Lankan international students and students who identify as Sri Lankan-American.
“There are always two worlds at play here,” he said, noting the differing experiences of Sri Lankan international students and Sri Lankans who are living in the U.S. “Everyone has different priorities,” he said.
Sri Lanka is an island nation in South Asia.
Rose Horowitch | firstname.lastname@example.org