It’s true what they say, you do only miss something when it’s gone. Especially for people leaving their country to study, culture is no exception. It’s something that is so easily taken for granted when it’s ubiquitous and so quickly missed in the absence of it.
From my quick count, there are 55 cultural societies at Imperial College London all aiming to bring and display some of their life and culture back home to the region of South Kensington. In that huge melting pot of culture stands the society of the small island nation of Sri Lanka.
Despite having considerably fewer members compared to other cultural societies, the Sri Lankan society somehow manages every year to pull off a charity dinner dance called Sapphire, with 1000 guests from all over the UK, with the second largest event budget in the Union, flying in top artistes and bands from Sri Lanka and having a gastronomic traditional dinner buffet. I would get dizzy just thinking about the amount of coursework I had to do, let alone also planning an event that is automatically on most Sri Lankan’s calendars!
According to the co-president of the society, Navidu Samarakkodi, the key to running a grand annual event and still attracting a large audience is to have at least one unique selling point every year. “This could be the venue, the menu or the artistes scheduled. For example, this year Sapphire is going to be at Hilton London Metropole – a more exclusive location. We will also have a drinks and canapes reception to start off with, which is something we have never had, and we have booked a DJ from the Ministry of Sound to perform at the afterparty for us. We always try and get feedback from our guests to find out what worked well and what could have been done better. It is only through our feedback that we make changes every year”.
But it wasn’t all posh venues, five star catering and fancy guests for Sapphire. The first event was hosted on Queen’s lawn and guests tended to call it the “Imperial Ball”, a name that stuck for many years. After quite a lot of name changes, “Sapphire” stuck and has now become a brand name among Sri Lankan’s all over, with many thinking that is a professionally organised event as opposed to student-run, which can only be taken as an enormous compliment by the members of Sri Lankan society.
But of course, the society is not an organising committee for one huge event but a group of people who all have love for the same culture and way of life and are united by that. Regular dinners and surprise birthday parties help knit the whole society more closely and become a family away from home, a goal all societies aim to achieve. And nothing bonds a group of people more than rooting for the same sporting team! Every year, Sri Lankan society enters the Warwick cricket tournament, a competition between Sri Lankan societies from universities across the country. Many society members take a trip north to cheer on their fellow Imperial cricketers, get to know other fellow Sri Lankans and have a fun weekend, whether or not they emerged victorious.
The overall aim of the society is for the Sri Lankan culture to overflow into the main body of Imperial, which it does, not only by hosting the largest student-run Sri Lankan event in the UK, but also by having members of the society that are members of other societies, partaking in international food fairs and competing in Imperial-wide talent competitions.
It is fair to say that the Imperial College Sri Lankan Society have pulled off quite a few incredible feats (and will probably continue to do so!) while still having friendship, and of course their love of food and culture, at the heart of their society.
Imperial College Sri Lankan Society