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Life For A British Tamil at King’s: It’s Time Cultural Barriers Were Addressed

For most parents who were immigrants fleeing from the civil war in Sri-Lanka, freedom is considered a luxury: a concept that is still new and exciting. However, it also means raising children in an unfamiliar environment.

As the first Tamils born in Britain, many of us grow up trying to find the right balance of both cultures in our lifestyles. Like many other ethnic minorities studying and living in the UK, I’ve had to adapt to the society I live in whilst clinging onto the strong principles my parents have taught me.

There are many values from the Tamil community that I believe are truly admirable, such as the encouragement for education to the emphasis on building close relationships amongst our families (whether it be a sibling or a third cousin). However, I often find myself in conflict on how to fully embrace university life at King’s whilst fully conforming to the morals of the Tamil community.

My parents have always encouraged me to exercise my freedom as they believe this country provides endless opportunities that weren’t available to them. However, I often find myself confused when distant family members ask me questions such as: when am I going to get married? When am I going to start a family? Is medicine a good choice of study? As a current medical student these questions are far from my mind, yet I know that these are the kinds of expectations that come with being a young Tamil woman. It is not to say that we are not encouraged to pursue our ambitions (as we often are), however we have to be careful that our choice of career does not intimidate our husbands or affect family structures.

As a member of the KCL Tamil society, I’ve heard many stories of Tamil students who fail to communicate their student life to their parents. I suppose stories about drunken nights out are understandably avoided, but my main concerns begin when I hear of students hiding the fact that they are re-sitting exams or retaking a whole year at King’s. The worse thing is, however, is that we don’t have the confidence to seek help within our King’s support organisations because of a lack of understanding of our community.

Our society, in collaboration with Tamil Students Initiative (TSI), have hosted talks to try and tackle particular taboo issues within our community by exploring the reasons why they exist and how as students we can make change.

This is by no means an issue reserved to the Tamil community; however these are the problems that I myself understand first hand from my own experience and those of my Tamil friends. The fear of disappointing our parents not only plants guilt and shame but prevents us from accessing appropriate support services at King’s in the fear that they may be communicated back to our families.

Tamil is a language, a culture and a community. In order to provide the appropriate support to not only Tamil students but other ethnic minority communities, the specific cultural barriers need to be recognised and addressed within our university environment.

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