Harin Perera, the law student living the dream : Student feature

By Patrick de Kretser

It is fair to say that everyone, everywhere wants to live their dreams, experience happiness, and savour bliss beyond their wildest dreams. For many, a necessary hurdle to overcome in order to fulfil this dream is to take on the challenge of university. Every university has its own unique experience, its unique student body, its unique history, and its unique cultural traditions. One unique university that certainly stands out in the eyes of many is none other than the University of Cambridge. This university is widely considered to be one of the most prestigious universities in the world that has a history spanning back to the medieval era. I think I might be speaking for a lot of people when I say that it certainly would evoke quite a feeling to attend a university like Cambridge.

And that is the world in which Harin Perera currently lives right now! Harin is a 19-year-old graduate from Asian International School (AIS) who had the honour of being accepted into the University of Cambridge. An avid and exceptional student, both on and off the academic stage, Harin is fulfilling his dream of practising law by undertaking the course within the prominent university. I had the chance to talk with Harin about his experiences, ask him how he handles life at Cambridge, and get to know what he has learned during his time there. 


What was your reaction once you realised you were officially going to become a Cambridge student?


Thanks to the system of predicted grades, I had two reactions: Upon receiving my offer in January, I couldn’t believe I had actually managed to impress my interviewer, especially since I had left Cambridge thinking he hated me! Later in August, once I had met my conditional offer, it was definitely a surreal feeling; that I’d be going to Cambridge of all places.


What were the biggest changes you faced moving to the UK, and how did you manage to adapt?


Moving to the UK definitely had its culture shocks. From the different food, cold, sometimes gloomy weather, and nights out ending at 2 a.m., to making it to a 9 a.m. lecture, it took a while to adjust to an entirely new environment. Luckily, the people are ever so friendly, and with support, in conjunction with my mom answering the phone at 3 a.m. to calm me down when uni got really stressful, the transition was as seamless as one could hope it would be.


How did you adapt to the change in your academic environment, from schooling in Sri Lanka to university life at Cambridge? Was it hard?


I feel extremely privileged to be able to go to Cambridge to read law, but the transition from schooling in Sri Lanka was quite the journey. I was a science student throughout my time at AIS, so studying an essay-based subject such as law was naturally quite tough, with all the reading and late library nights. 

However, thanks to the helpful faculty and my uni friends who were all in the same boat, I was finally able to get the hang of it after my first month. 

Uniquely, Cambridge compresses a typical 10-week term into eight weeks. The worst part about this is definitely having a fresher’s five days (as opposed to an entire week), but my friends and I definitely made up for it by spending way too much money at our local ice cream parlour! 

Following from my time spent debating at AIS, my main extracurriculars last year were debating and judging for the Cambridge Union, the oldest debating society in the world where the best perk was the opportunity to travel around the UK for tournaments.

However, because I enjoy trying new things, I joined the drama society, where I got to act in a Russian play, complete with a clip of me singing in Russian (which I hope my sister hasn’t shared amongst her friends).


How has the coronavirus pandemic this year impacted your studies at Cambridge? Were there any challenges?


Fortunately for me, we had finished covering most of our syllabus by March, so the month of May mostly consisted of the final supervision (Cambridge term for seminars/tutorials) and a revision session over Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Since most of my degree requires spending time on my laptop researching and reading, this wasn’t a particularly big challenge. 

Exams were open book, which meant we now had 24 hours to cover a three-hour paper. The biggest challenge here was making sure I didn’t become lazy or too lax, since there was less of an incentive now to memorise my notes.


How have you grown as a person from these experiences? What have you learned from this journey that you think will help you in the future?


Sri Lanka has a very warm and generous culture, which has made it a lot easier for me to make friends wherever I go, to understand other people’s’ struggles, and to help whenever I can. Facing imposter syndrome in Cambridge has definitely matured me, as it helps one realise that just because you’re not one of the more talented people in the room, it doesn’t at all mean you can’t work hard and attain your goals!

The networking opportunities at Cambridge are endless and will definitely be rewarding. I can’t wait to meet all of my international friends in the future, whether as peers, rivals, or friends cherishing our uni memories!


 Photos Harin Perera, BBC (Cambridge University Photo)