The Art(s) of thinking differently in Sri Lanka
“Sri Lanka is progressively seeking, embracing and accommodating more creativity in the workforce,” says Nadia De Silva, a 2012 Bachelor of Arts (BA) graduate. In this demanding environment, a versatile and strong undergraduate degree is vital to the success of young Sri Lankans. These are key features of the BA degree held by the six alumni of Monash University Malaysia featured below, working in fields that include public relations, writing and communications, and policy development in Colombo.
The Bachelor of Arts is structured to offer a broad and liberal study of subjects such as Communications, Global Studies, Gender Studies, Screen Studies, Psychology, Writing, and Journalism. Thamindri Aluvihare says that it is this breadth of knowledge that led her to choose a BA at Monash. “I realised that the Monash BA was different because in the first year, we get to choose among all the Arts subjects, which condensed as much as possible into a three-year course”. This early multi-disciplinary approach was a key asset to her work as a researcher at a prestigious policy development body where she worked on creating new policy or ensuring that existing policies are implemented. Now pursuing a Masters degree, Thamindri also appreciates Monash’s impartial approach to International Relations, saying “It gave me the ability to take in a diverse range of information and remain non-partisan. It also made me more in touch with people – you learn to empathise, you start to look at things from other people’s perspective, which are all important things in my field”.
Also working in policy development, Lihini Ratwatte of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Sri Lanka works in partnership with the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs to create and ensure implementation of appropriate policies that address the needs of women, specifically women headed households and gender based violence in public institutions. She says her BA kept her more in touch with reality and inspires her to contribute to society. “Monash made me feel that my opinion matters and that I can contribute in some way to society. The world views that I acquired from the Monash BA inspired me to reflect on issues of gender discrimination, and encouraged me to give something back when I returned to my home country." She acknowledges peoples’ concerns about job outcomes after the BA but denies the existence of an uncertain job market for BA holders, saying, “People place more value on the traditional hard sciences that lead you towards a secure career path They see Arts as very abstract because it is a vast area unless you have figured out what you actually want to do within that”.
In stark contrast to this perception, Thamasha Senaratne found that her BA opened many options to her. “I was surprised about how much my BA was valued in Sri Lanka. I thought it was something we weren’t ready for, but I couldn't have been more wrong. I was torn between the choices when applying for a job and my degree got me many responses and interviews. Almost every company had a role for my degree”. She has found her niche at roar.lk, an online digital media platform. As a Client Servicing Executive, Thamasha handles corporate accounts, serving as the main contact point between clients and the company. This includes handling their advertising needs and writing articles for local companies as well as local branches of multinational corporations. Thamasha says the BA readied her for this role. “Going to Monash taught me independence and made me grow as a person. The BA helped me develop my writing skills, revealing a talent I didn’t know I possessed”.
Kushmin Perera works as a Corporate Partnerships Officer in National Resource Development at World Vision Lanka. She values the communication skills learnt in the international environment at university along with several other skills picked up along the way. “Team-work, creative thinking, and adaptability are among the many soft skills I learned. The BA degree provides you with much more knowledge than just academic qualification. Not only does it teach creative writing and analytical skills, it also helps you to see the bigger picture – to understand something bigger than what is right in front of you, and gives you the liberty to express your creativity and thinking”.
Savani Jayasooria also appreciates the versatility of the BA. “BA degrees are more open than most other degrees. Certainly, we learn about theories and apply them to our work, but we do not have a hard set of rules to follow. As an Arts student, you are constantly challenged to see the big picture, to critically analyse, and to be independent. This openness in BA degrees is what I admire the most, because it helps you understand and think differently”. Savani has worked in a range of jobs within the Communications field since her graduation, currently a Communications analyst at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, as the regional lead on key functions related to website management, social media content strategy, coordination and project management in the day-to-day operations of IFC’s digital communications in South Asia. The interaction with students and lecturers from a wide range of countries and backgrounds has helped her in her work: “Not only did I earn a degree from a world-renowned university, but also a degree in people and social skills that I did not even sign up for!”.
Nadia De Silva agrees that people skills are vital, saying “A majority of my profession revolves around dealing with people. And apart from academics, meeting people at Monash from different backgrounds, who have different ideas and opinions has been a practical benefit in my career.” Nadia works as a Senior Account Executive at Ogilvy Public Relations where she specializes in PR consultancy, media relations and crisis management. The BA has been particularly relevant to her work. “We look for creative individuals and strategic thinkers who have the ability to find solutions to problems. Exposure to diverse cultures and perspectives are an advantage, as well as the ability to think and work independently, and most importantly be self-driven and motivated. A BA has a lot of potential in Sri Lanka. It gives students a well-rounded background and prepares them for a variety of job opportunities”.
All six of the alumni chose Monash Malaysia for its proximity to Sri Lanka, both in terms of distance and culture, noting that they received the same qualifications as the Australian campus with the benefit of being just three and a half hours away from home. “Monash to me is home. The person I am today was moulded there. Because of Monash I have become truly independent, truly an individual,” says Thamindri. Lihini concurs, saying “I'm really grateful. I like the person I am right now, and Monash has played a big part of that”.