International student Ashanee Kottage (SFS’22) has conducted research, immersed herself in campus activities and served her community in Washington, DC as well as her home country. The 2020 McTighe Prize winner, who will address the incoming Class of 2024 during New Student Convocation Aug. 23, hopes the new class will understand the opportunities that await them, but also be mindful about the art of saying “no.”
Hometown: Colombo, Sri Lanka
Degree: Bachelor of Science Foreign Service
Major: Science, technology and international affairs
Summer at home: Besides taking a couple of classes this summer – in computer science and the history of modern Africa, Kottage conducted conservation research on Southeast Asian sustainable tourism using an Improving the Human Conditions Grant. She’s comparing Eurocentic sustainability operations and implementation to more how other regions, specifically South Asia, may respond according to ecosystems.
“Originally, I was selected as a GU Impact Fellow with the Beeck Center for an environment and sustainability internship at El Nido Resorts in the Philippines, but that all changed because of the pandemic,” says the Georgetown junior. “As a recipient for the Improving the Human Conditions Grant, I converted my GU Impacts Fellowship into research on Southeast Asian sustainable tourism.”
Once she realized she could no longer travel to the Philippines for research, she decided to use her grant in her home country.
“It’s been nice to be back in Sri Lanka after almost a year,” she says. “The nation’s incredible response to COVID has meant that I’ve been able to spend a lot of time traveling my beautiful island and eating its exquisite food with friends, family and my dogs.”
Biggest pandemic adjustment: Kottage was at a DC hostel exploring homelessness in the District as a part of the Alternative Breaks Program when she learned she would be spending the remainder of her semester learning virtually.
“It seemed ironic,” she says. “With a single statement, where ‘home’ would be was uncertain. Was it my island across the world? Was it my dorm room on the Hilltop? It felt anywhere and nowhere simultaneously.”
She says the biggest adjustment has been setting boundaries. The nine-hour time difference meant Kottage could have a class as late as 7:30 p.m and as early as 7:30 a.m. going into the next day.
“Initially, I was trying to accommodate everyone, my networks in the U.S. and Sri Lanka,” she explains. “This meant my days bled into one another, I wasn’t fully present in either time zone. Learning to care for myself in addition to nurturing so many friendships and relationships with professors was a challenge, but I’m still learning how to balance.”
Campus Involvement and Internships: From theater to research to activism, the Georgetown student found her place at Georgetown at the intersection between science and art. Her campus involvement includes:
- Carroll Fellow Initiative for academically ambitious undergraduates
- Patrick Healy Fellow
- South Asian Society
- Nomadic Theatre
- Mask and Bauble
She also has participated in the India Innovation Studio, a multidisciplinary SFS lab operated in partnership with the Indian government and civil society stakeholders to design, prototype and implement solutions related to transportation geographies in Maharashtra, India.
She continued her global experience by interning at the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund Secretariat, where she helped with the response to the April 2019 Easter attacks that took place in Sri Lanka.
Artistic Work: The arts also have played a large role in Kottage’s Georgetown experience.
In addition to performing with Mask and Bauble and Nomadic Theatre She choreographed the first-ever Sri Lanka-themed dance during Rangila’s 25th anniversary celebration in 2019, and she has served as social engagement coordinator of Nomadic Theatre.
“I find solace and community on stage and behind the scenes,” she says.
“Well, Iverson went here,” says the former high school basketball player with a nod to Georgetown basketball standout and 11-time NBA All-Star Allen Iverson. “The globally renowned education offered by the School of Foreign Service (SFS) was also attractive.”
Most influential professor and class:
“I am a hopelessly romantic academic,” she says. “I fall in love with every class I take but my favorite is perhaps the one I got my lowest grade in at Georgetown – international trade with Dean Mitch Kaneda.”
Kaneda, an economist and senior associate dean in SFS, humanized the content, she says.
“He not only made me as an individual feel valued and heard in such a large class, but he also managed to demonstrate the real-life implications of economic theory and policy with sensitivity and empathy,” she says. “The economics of immigration will never be the same to me.”
Brahmachari Sharan’s Religion Without God course has been another inspiring class for the third-year student.
“I always grew up with an inferiority complex about South Asia. What do developing nations know?,” she thought. “Turns out, a lot – the origins of science, fluid gender and sexuality structures, education and more. Decolonizing my mind is a constant challenge and this class was formative in that journey.”
A Professor’s View: Sharan, who also serves as the director of Dharmic life at Georgetown, says Kottage personifies mindfulness.
“She strives to be aware of all possible angles on the vast swathe of issues she is engaged with, while never forgetting the foundation of Dharma – compassion – in her actions,” he says. “Ashanee represents the culmination of what Georgetown aspires to produce – intellectual students that utilize their talents for the betterment of people.”
Advice for other students: “In the fervor of embracing opportunities Hoyas forget to take care of themselves and engage with what they’re truly passionate about,” Kottage says. “It’s not hard for us to say ‘yes.’ We’re all over-achieving go-getters, but saying ‘no’ is difficult. I encourage everyone to reflect on what feels authentic and real to them. I wish someone told me that it’s okay to withdraw from classes, drop out of clubs, start your own thing and change your mind. It’s also okay to take a break and come back.”