Admin assistant ready for her Hallmark Christmas movie moment

Binuri Wijesiri standing in snow while wearing a winter coat and large winter boots

Binuri Wijesiri shares her experience of moving from Sri Lanka, finding a community at Mac, and the joy of seeing snow for the first time.

Binuri Wijesiri’s boots are definitely made for walking through her first Canadian winter.

Wijesiri moved from Sri Lanka when her husband decided to pursue higher education in Canada. They arrived in April, giving Wijesiri time to settle in without worrying about frigid temperatures. But by December, Wijesiri was ready.

Wijesiri had joined the Science Career and Cooperative Education office at McMaster in July 2023. She asked the McMaster SCCE team how they prepared for winter and what to wear.  

Sri Lanka’s a tropical country where average temperatures in February range from 24 to 32 degrees Celsius.

“When I went shopping for winter clothes, I didn’t even know what I was looking for. I’d ask the salespeople, ‘does this count as a winter boot?’ I ended up buying the biggest boots I could find. As soon as I step inside the Burke Science Building, you can hear me walking down the halls.”

She also purchased the biggest jacket she could find to go with her super-sized boots.

“My friends encouraged me to embrace the beauty of winter. The first snowfall was exciting. It was amazing and unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

I’ve only seen snow in the movies so it kind of felt like I was living in a Hallmark Christmas special.”

On top of experiencing winter for the first time, Wijesiri had left family and friends behind in Sri Lanka. Working at McMaster University, meeting new people and making new friends eased the transition.

“I feel lucky that I can to talk to my family on FaceTime. My parents kept thinking work would be closed whenever it’s cold and snowy. I had to explain to them that life goes on when it snows.”

Like more than 1,200 international students in the Faculty of Science, Wijesiri’s one of several members on the Science Career & Cooperative team who’ve moved to Canada from another country and bring a global perspective to McMaster.  

In 2012, Alice O’Carroll, director of Science Career and Cooperative Education, moved with her family from Ireland’s west coast to Canada.  

“I can really empathize with the challenges that our international students face in adjusting to a different climate and culture, and we didn’t even have to learn a new language like a lot of our international students do,” says O’Carroll.  

Andreea Nicu, career development and relationship manager, faced similar challenges when she moved from Romania 23 years ago. For Nicu, the experience of moving to Canada was both exciting and challenging. Nicu’s advice to students? Seize every opportunity to engage in conversations. Even if it feels uncomfortable at first, it’ll get easier.  

Syed Bilal Wasim, talent partnership consultant, was born and raised in Pakistan. He became an entrepreneur after graduating with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering. Wasim moved to Canada in 2017 to pursue his MBA at Concordia University.  

“Canada appealed to me because of the multicultural environment, renowned universities, and a great business outlook,” says Wasim.  

Having moved from Pakistan, Wasim can relate to the challenges that international students might face in their studies, including financial constraints, academic rigor, visa regulations, and housing arrangements.  

As for Wijesiri’s advice (now that she’s walked part of a winter in those oversized boots)?  

“Don’t overthink the winter like I did. It’s not as bad as it sounds. It’s beautiful, and you can enjoy it if you’re well prepared and keep a positive attitude. You can stay warm with the right winter gear and a hot drink to cheer you up.

I know how it feels to be away from everything you’ve ever known. Making connections and having conversations will make your experience better. You never know who you’ll meet along the way.” 

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