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A graduate’s tale : The unique philanthropic journey of Kirtimay Pendse

By Patrick de Krester

Kirtimay Pendse is an amazing individual I had the honour of interviewing for this week’s student feature at Happinez. Kirtimay is an Indian national who graduated from Grinnell College in the US before working in various capacities for a number of research institutions, including at Verite Research here in Colombo.

I had the happy fortune of meeting Kirtimay through a school friend of mine who met him while also working at Verite Research. You have to appreciate that Colombo is so small sometimes, because it gave me the opportunity to connect with a new friend who is literally the Einstein of all things related to current affairs and otherwise.

In his free time, Kirtimay enjoys travelling and watching football, which is obviously something that got us close from the get go. He is a social butterfly who really is impossible to dislike just because of how genuine he is.

So naturally, there is no better person I can think of to ask about the current economic and social climate in the world today than Kirtimay. He is currently employed at the International Office of Migration tasked with assisting migrant workers who have been displaced due to the pandemic. The insight he has for students that are currently worried about studying abroad is certainly not something you will want to miss.

Where did you grow up and do your studies? What was your main interest growing up?

As the only child of two working parents, I’ve been moving around a lot as their carry-on bag basically. I was born in Udaipur, a small, touristy town in Western India, and then moved to Delhi. I was in Geneva, Switzerland, for around four years for middle school before moving back to Delhi for high school. Afterwards, I studied at Grinnell College in the US for four years before moving to NYC for around a year before Covid became a thing, and now I’m in Colombo, where my parents are settled for the moment.

As a result of this constant bouncing around, it was hard to sustain a main passion or interest, but it did instil within me a curiosity about different people and societies, leading me to major in religious studies alongside economics (had to do something that’d get me a job).

What brought you to Sri Lanka? What did you think of our culture during your time here?

While I was still an undergrad, my mom one day called me to tell me she’s getting transferred to the WHO (World Health Organisation) office here in Colombo. That’s literally it – the next time I booked a ticket to visit home, it was to Colombo instead of Delhi. I did intern here for a couple months in the summer of 2018, with Verite Research, and absolutely loved it. I loved travelling around the country, meeting new people, and doing some really interesting work. Particularly after the hectic day-to-day life I’ve seen growing up in Delhi, the laidback and convivial atmosphere of Sri Lanka was very welcome.

Describe the job that you do in Sri Lanka. What’s it like?

Currently, I am an intern with the Project Development team at the International Office of Migration (IOM) here in Colombo. The IOM provides services and advice concerning migration to governments and migrants, including internally displaced persons and refugees (due to conflict and environmental disasters), and migrant workers. In lieu of the current pandemic, most of the IOM’s efforts are focusing on safe, healthy, and orderly migration of both incoming and outgoing migrants. I really enjoy the projectised nature of IOM’s work, and there’s so many moving parts that it’s impossible to get bored working here!

Was it hard adapting to a new environment? What ways did you find that helped you cope?

Not at all! Everyone here has been super friendly and welcoming, and I didn’t have to suffer through weeks of orientation – two days in and I was already tasked with work! I did previously intern with UNAIDS (United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS) a few years ago, and so I was able to cope quickly with IOM’s style of work, and having previously interned in Colombo, I had an idea of what my days would look like (but most importantly, I knew exactly where to go for lunch).

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your work? What was your main challenge?

The pandemic presented a huge challenge for not just me but pretty much everybody. I was in New York when the pandemic was declared, and the first case of Covid-19 was in my office building (yay). My office was among the first to be shut, and I was soon out of a job. Due to my status as an international student coupled with hiring challenges due to Covid, I was running out of time to find a job and decided to move back to Colombo, especially with New York on track to become the epicentre of the pandemic.

For the six months between moving back to now, I struggled a lot to make meaningful use of my time. From constant rescheduling and postponing of job interviews to taking some new online classes, I was constantly feeling overwhelmed at my lack of productivity. After a rollercoaster of interviews and rejections, I was fortunate to join IOM and get back to working.

What would be your main advice to graduates who are moving abroad for work or studies during this pandemic?

This is a really challenging, confusing, and often frustrating time for everybody, especially students. Not only are students experiencing an overwhelming sense of loss due to the lack of traditional celebrations of graduation or saying goodbye to close friends, they’re also facing uncertainty about professional and educational aspirations. Moving abroad is risky, and so many pre-orientation and orientation programmes have been cut short or cancelled altogether.

While I am in no position to offer any advice whatsoever, I do want to share something that was mentioned to me – staying positive (attitude wise, not testing-positive-for-Covid wise) is imperative, and recognising this challenge as a learning experience is super important. We’ve all faced setbacks due to this pandemic (not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well), and we’ll continue to face problems in time to come, but we’ve also been blessed with the freedom to reassess our priorities in life and appreciate the time we’ve spent with our friends and families. Keep an open mind, prioritise your mental wellbeing, stay safe, and continue your journey!

Photos Kirtimay Pendse