Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Summary of Expat Forums, Associations and International Centers in Sri Lanka

One of the questions I often get asked on this blog and via email is about expat forums and groups in Sri Lanka, most especially in Colombo, Kandy and Galle. It's understandable that this question comes up, as most of us have left our family and friends back in our native countries in order to move to  Sri Lanka for work, sea-change, retirement or whatever other reason. But we soon discover that it's a whole different predicament as foreigners living in an unfamiliar country. Although it can be exciting, it can also be overwhelming when you don't speak the language, don't really know your way around, the culture is so vastly different from what you're used to, and you find yourself missing loved ones much sooner than you imagined!

Expat communities and groups can help with the adjustment process, as well as helping you to acclimate to the new environment, networking opportunities, social activities, advice and tips, and sometimes also discounts at local establishments. But mostly, you'll meet people from all over the globe who also want to connect. I'm often very surprised at the diverse nationalities and different reasons for being in Sri Lanka.

There are also some international centers (most are linked to foreign embassies) that organize, host or sponsor a variety of arts and cultural events and activities that will keep you connected to your home country or allow you to immerse in something more international while living in Sri Lanka.

So let's have a look at what's on offer...

Expat Forums and Associations

Association of British Residents in Sri Lanka (ABRSL)
Their primary aim is "to help British and Commonwealth expatriates settle and make friends in Sri Lanka". Members need to be British and Commonwealth passport holders, but you can be in Sri Lanka on a temporary or permanent basis. They organize regular social meet ups and events. Throughout the year the association raise money for charity. ABRSL commemorated their 100th anniversary last year in September (2015) with a dinner dance at Mount Lavinia Hotel. A membership fee is charged and it entitles you to valid annual membership from 1 April to 31 March. ABRSL membership entitles you to discounts and offers at a number of shops, restaurants and organizations.

The International Expatriate Association of Colombo (IEA Colombo)
Their mission is "to welcome newcomers, foster goodwill, offer friendship and promote charity projects within Sri Lanka". According to their website, they are a "non profit, non political, diverse group of expatriates from over 45 different countries, living in Sri Lanka". There are regular activities and events organized that include a monthly social meet-up, book club, cooking group, gem course, sewing and craft group, newcomers get-together, as well as other activities. IEA in Colombo also supports a variety of local charities. Membership is open to all foreigners legally living in Sri Lanka. A membership fee is charged and it entitles you to valid annual membership from 1 April to 31 March and access to offers and special deals given by privilege partners.

Internations Sri Lanka
This is a global expat community with a network of expats in Sri Lanka. Online resources are offered as well as access to the network of Internation expat members. There are monthly social get-togethers organized. Membership is free.

Facebook Groups

There are also an increasing number of groups on Facebook that have been established for expats in Sri Lanka. These are a few that you might find useful (this list is not exhaustive):
  • SL Expat Forum- This group exists as a networking tool for expats and locals, and to pass around useful information.
  • Ex Pats Furniture Service_Sri Lanka - A ‘recycling’ service for household furniture, appliances and many many other things for people to buy and sell. Quality items sold cheaper rather than cheap things.
  • Sri Lanka Expat Help - This group is just for expats living in Sri Lanka, whether you live in Sri Lanka full-time or part-time. You can ask for information or share information that you think may be useful to other expats or recommend places to visit or give advice on places to avoid.
  • Foreigners in Sri Lanka - This group is for all foreigners living, working, studying, visiting or having an interest in Sri Lanka. The group is to get or provide advice, information, tips, and help and share about anything to do with Sri Lanka. Events and activities for members to get to know the culture and people are also organized.

International Centers and Embassies

There a quite a few centers that are attached to the cultural arm of some of the main embassies in Sri Lanka, which organize, host and support a wide-range of events and cultural activities in Sri Lanka, though the majority is definitely in Colombo. These are the few to add to your list (this list is not exhaustive):

Alliance Francaise - this is the French educational and cultural institution in Colombo. It is well-known for being the official place to learn the French language, however, it also organizes and supports a variety of events, programmes, contests, film club and other cultural activities. There is also Club Francophone which is a  "friendly circle of French speakers belonging to all nationalities that meet up once a month to discuss about a chosen theme".

American Information Resource Center
- is part of the US Embassy in Sri Lanka. It operates the American Center Library collection, which is open to public for reference, research or exploration. There are four types of membership if you wish to become a library member. Free monthly Film Screenings are held at the American Center Auditorium every Saturday at 3:00pm on a first-come, first-served basis. Also note there is an American Corner Kandy and American Corner Jaffna. Both operate as a resource center to the public and organize events that may include film and documentary screenings, public lectures and cultural programs.

Australian High Commission in Sri Lanka - there are events and activities occasionally posted on the High Commission's website under the "Latest News" section as well as the Events page.

British Council - promotes British culture and creativity through a variety of programmes, initiatives and events. The British Council also has its libraries located in Colombo, Orion City, Kandy and Jaffna with a good collection of books. The largest collections are at the Colombo and Kandy libraries. There are seven membership categories if you wish to become a library member. The British Council also hosts the British Council Film Club.

Goethe-Institut -is the cultural institute of the Federal Republic of Germany with a presence in Sri Lanka. Its aim is to "promote knowledge of the German language abroad and foster international cultural cooperation". There German language courses on offer as well as a lending library that is open to the public and free of charge. The Goethe-Institut also organizes, hosts and supports are wide variety of events that focus on the arts, film, literature, music and more. There is also an active Facebook page.

Indian Cultural Centre (ICC) - this was established in Colombo in 1998, with the aim of building bridges of cultural exchange and interaction between India & Sri Lanka. The Centre offers classes in Bharatha Natyam, Kathak, Hindustani & Carnatic Vocal Music, Violin, Sitar, Tabla, Hindi and Yoga. The Centre also organizes performances by Indian and Sri Lankan artistes, lectures/lecture-demonstrations, workshops exhibitions and more. During the month, between four to five Indian films and documentaries are screened. You can access these by keeping up-to-date with their newsletter or ICC calendar. And the Centre also maintains a well equipped library and reading room with a large collection of books, newspapers, periodicals, video-cassettes and CD ROMs. There is also an active Facebook page.

Japanese Cultural Exchange -  is part of the Japanese Embassy in Sri Lanka. The Embassy maintains a reference library within its premises which is open to the public. It houses a modest collection of books on Japan covering a wide range of fields including information on universities and colleges in Japan, Japanese life style and culture. No membership is required to use the library and it should be noted that it does not lend out books. Japanese cultural events are occasionally organized and these are usually promoted on the Japanese Embassy website under the "What's New" section.

The Russian Centre in Colombo - was founded in 1973 and is part of the cultural section of the Russian Embassy. It's objective is to promote Russian cultural and educational activities in Sri Lanka and help Sri Lankans to know more about Russia, its people and language.The Russian Centre runs the Russian Language Institute, Music School, Russian School of Ballet and Chess Club. There a large number of classes for drama and theatre, classical ballet, classical music, art, chess, and Russian language. The Russian Centre also houses a library where you can find books in Russian, English, Sinhala and Tamil languages. There are also performances and art exhibitions organized by the Russian Centre. You can be notified via their Facebook page.

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As you can see there are forums and groups specifically for foreigners and expats living in Sri Lanka, as well as rich and diverse offerings of more broader international cultural activities and events for anyone living in Sri Lanka.

I may have missed some useful forums and associations for expats and/or international communities or foreign embassies hosting regular events or activities in Sri Lanka, so please comment and share if you anything else that fellow expats may find helpful in this area. A lot of what I've provided is for Colombo, so I'd (on behalf of expats in Sri Lanka) greatly appreciate any feedback or input on Galle, Kandy or any place where expats are creating communities around Sri Lanka. Thanks in advance!

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