Monday, June 30, 2008

Culture Shock... my first day at Uni!

I was exposed to a culture shock of a different kind as I entered the hallowed portals of a Medical Faculty in Colombo today. Culture Shock and university entrance seem to go almost hand in hand in Sri Lanka and the plethora of Sinhala literature woven around this issue is testament to this. Usually these 'great' literary works include a innocent village lass coming to Uni in Colombo and being led astray by a boyfriend from the city who takes advantage of her etc.

My first day of university was associated with a different kind of culture shock... I suppose you could say it was a 'reverse' culture shock Having being born in Kandy and brought up in Colombo by upper middle class parents, my image of university was shaped by the glossy pictures seen on the cover of university prospectuses from other countries. Little did I know that Sri Lankan Campus life was very different.

Instead of the smiling boys and girls sitting on a university lawn decked out in trendy casual wear, what I encountered was segregated groups of boys and girls. Boys wearing formal attire similar to what junior executives wear and girls wearing gaudy long dresses and a variety of conservative tops. Formal attire it seems is compulsory, why I do not know...

True in another five years we would be doctors etc. who are expected to dress formally but right now I am only 20...LET ME HAVE SOME FUN FOR GODSAKE!!!

Oh and if the formal clothing is not enough I was told that my hair was too long and that it should have a side parting... I can't even remember parting my hair for school, what is the big deal about my hair anyway, it doesn't have any connection to my academic performance or student discipline.

Facial Hair is a big no-no as well as my friend found out, one should be clean shaven; no sexy George Clooney style stubble allowed here.

If all this injustice was not enough the girls are allowed to wear anything as long it is up to their knees and is 'covering'. I personally do not see anything wrong with a woman dressing conservatively but then again it is upto her to dress in whatever she likes. It is not the job of the faculty to dictate what we should wear, after all we do not have some kind of cultural police in this country, or do we?

The flip side of the issue is this, while girls can wear anything guys are forced to don uncomfortable formal clothing in the hot and humid Sri Lankan climate. What is the logic behind this?

Seniors actually demand respect, I do not know why... maybe some kind of inferiority complex etc . True, I realize that our Sri Lankan values tell us to respect our elders etc, but to demand it and especially when they are only a couple of years older than us. As if it was some kind of wizardry on their part that granted us a seat in university.


  1. I've never been to a local uni... but sure have heard stuff alright...
    crazy I tell ya! these are things that should happen in school.. not in Uni.. coz in Uni u get adults and not kids!!

  2. Dude... I think you're walking in to an archaic culture that has survived the test of time for some reason. Just imagine you're living in the 70's or the 80's and then you'll understand why!

    This is why I frown on people who fall on absolute viewpoints and stay that way. There's nothing good about standing still.

  3. "my image of university was shaped by the glossy pictures seen on the cover of university prospectuses from other countries. Little did I know that Sri Lankan Campus life was very different"
    Born in Kandy, brought up in Colombo and you don't know the situation in Sri Lankan universities??? Give me a break!

  4. trust me man... nothing prepares you for the sri lankan uni expereince... it not at all what you are led to believe about campus life etc.

    and trust me its not about the ragging that i am complaining about.. thats virtually non-existant, especially when it comes to medical school.. what i wanted to emphasis was the mindset and the culture..

    Ever heard your folks talking about uni parties back in the day in peradeniya or batch get togethers etc. for some reason that sort of social life seems to have disappeared

  5. Hmm...well my initial thought of comment somewhat changed after seeing what you have commented above.Man i thought u knew??hehe ny ways if it was ragging i dnt fink u ll hav 2 go thru it for sme time, telling u frm my bros experience. But the culture is quite hypocritical and egoistic.(even lecturers and the faculty itself)

  6. I totally agree with you on the dress code issue. Although I too find it hard to believe that you had no idea what was in store for you! IMO those 'seniors' who 'demand' respect suffer from low self esteem or something...I went to UOC too but fortunately had no such restrictions :) lived the whole time in my jeans.
    My advice: when YOU are a senior take a stand and stop this nonsense. you cant do anything about it now, but in a year's time you can!

  7. hey hey bawa!! welcome to UOC!! even in the management faculty we have to face this s**t!!! (but now the situation is quite ok-there are some things we just have to put up with, even unwillingly)..
    the next thing that happens is the culture division-in our batch we now have "colombos" and "rurals".. something HAS to be done to stop all this nonsense..all those things which "equalizes everybody"- i mean those rules and stuff about attire and all are just stupid!! this may well be the reason why our country is the way it is (no offense but we dont have many things to be proud of, apart from what our ancestors left us)..

    well, all the very best for your Uni life and well my simple advice(which i strongly keep in mind each time i regret coming to Uni, when in my case as a commerce student, i could have started working) is have patience- it'll all be over in 4 years or so..

  8. Hi, first of all, congrats and welcome to FMC. I'm someone who is stepping out, practically on the same day you're stepping in... and reading your post, I was filled with nostalgia.

    I remember thinking almost exactly the same things... me, who had spent the past 11/2 years in jeans, now sweltering in a long skirt. (at least not a cheeththa dress as dictated in J'pura those days).

    I remember the seniors coming to address us after an orientation lecture or something, how they blackgaurded us because a couple of girls (i.e. the colombo elite?) were seen speaking on mobile phones under the tree. We (at least I) were gobsmacked.

    Over the years I learnt to live with and accept the regulations, such as they are. I figured that wearing a long skirt doesn't change who I am. I realised that patients are culture sensitive and have certain expectations of doctors, and have seen first hand what happens when doctors/med students don't live up to those. Maybe we don't have to, but in this profession, that's the way the cookie crumbles. :S

    You can have fun. :) As much as you want... the people who get bogged down and sweat the small stuff never get out of the rut. Year in year out, those who do well (and not just academically) are those who get themselves a life.

    I'm sorry your expectations of uni life weren't met, but looking at foreign prospectuses, what do you expect? I don't think we even have grass, let alone a lawn! lol (Now Pera.... that's another story).

    Don't envy the girls too much... wait till you're cool in cotton and they are in icky nylon sarees. :) At least they're not a must for the final year, as it was for our super seniors for some appointments. So, things are changing, albeit slowly.

    Anout the seniors, (sadly, I'm one of them... do I get the smae generalized contempt I wonder?) they will hopefully grow out of it and strong bonds of friendship and professionalism will be formed. Our response to the way we were treated (not ragging, mind you) was to decide (as a batch) that we wouldn't treat our juniors in the same manner... a policy some say back fired... ah well!

    I'm sorry for the loo....oong comment and rant'n'rave in your blog space.


  9. Woah woah... rant as long as you want. All comments are appreciated!