Priyanga Wickramasuriya: A Life in Balance

By  |  0 Comments

We are accustomed to seeing the spouses of our diplomatic staff as mere decorations, their forbearance only commented upon if it is absent. Yet many of these men and women provide the frame for the careers of their spouses, holding the coordinates steady for the family as they move from place to place as dictated by the needs of a nation. Priyanga Wickramasuriya is no exception to this rule. She has served beside her husband, Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya, through some of the most turmultuous years in our nations history, where the work of our representative in Washington DC formed the frontline of battle against never-ending waves of misinformation, investigations, and outright attack.


Priyanga Wijesinghe.  was born in Colombo in November, 1966, and attended the Presbyterian Girls High School in Dehiwala. She married then businessman, Jaliya Wickramasuriya, when she was just twenty-four years of age, on November 8th, 1966, and their oldest child, a daughter, was born a year later; a son was born to them three years after that. The family moved to Atlanta, Georgia in 2000 to further the work of Mr. Wickramasuriya, whose company, Ceylon Royal Tea, was beginning to grow as a competitor in the international market. It was in 2008, however, that Mrs. Wickramasuirya faced her big test, when her husband, after serving as Consul-General of Sri Lanka in Los Angeles, was named as the new Sri Lankan ambassador in Washington, DC. She agreed to answer a few questions about her life as the wife of a diplomat, and her role as a mother. What comes through is a voice that many of us will recognize: that of a quintessentially Sri Lankan female, one who keeps sight of religious faith, cultural traditions, and family, with grace, and resilience, neither too forward nor too retiring, the professional role in equilibrium with her personal life.

RF: How do you balance your role as the wife of an extremely influential diplomat and a mother?

PW: I am extremely proud of everything my husband does and will always be his biggest supporter. With that being said, neither he nor I ever let titles influence the way we act or think. I believe  in  humility. My kids are very understanding of the role that I have to play as an ambassador’s wife.   However, I make sure that my duty as their mother comes first and that I am always there for them whenever they need me.

RF: What was your own upbringing like in Sri Lanka?

PW: I truly enjoyed my childhood in Sri Lanka to the fullest. I think one of the main things that is missing with this generation is the sense of simplicity that we enjoyed. Back then, we used to play with other children our age and really thrived in the nature that surrounded us. We took great pleasure in playing old games like hop-scotch, jumping rope, climbing trees, and making “sellam bath.” During the school holidays, our father used to take us by train to visit all parts of the country and I truly enjoyed the trips and getting to really know my country.

RF: Did you have any particular professional aspirations for yourself as a young girl growing up in Sri Lanka? And do you have those same aspirations for your own children?

PW: Even at a young age, I loved being around kids, and so I decided to obtain my certificaiton as a teacher in the Montessori tradition. My Montessori training helped me greatly, both in terms of enjoying my work within the classroom and with being a good mother and, therefore, a good homemaker. I hope that my own children will bring the same outlook to their lives, and that they will aspire to achieve the highest level of education in whatever they chose to do while also basing their conduct at home and at work in keeping with the values that I have instilled in them.


RF: It is never easy to raise children far away from their home country. Has it been difficult to instill traditional Sri Lankan values in them as they became American teenagers? Any insight you wish to share with others who may be dealing with these same issues?

PW: It was a new venture for me to raise my two kids away from Sri Lanka and I took it on as a challenge that I had to overcome. I initially started my approach by constantly reminding my kids at a young age about good values, our culture, history, language, and religion. Simple qualities such as taking your parents’ advice, or respecting your parents and elders are things that are very prevalent in Sri Lankan culture and I always made sure my children understood the importance of continuing these even though they were far away from home. It is my belief that if you teach your children right and wrong at a very young age, then it will be far more likely that they turn out to be kind and helpful individuals when they are older. One of the key factors in forming a good relationship with your kids is through trust. You have to trust them and allow them to gain your trust in return.

RF: Are your children involved in any work or projects in Sri Lanka or are they busy with their studies and work here?

PW: Both my children are attending university. My daughter, Sarindee  is currently a junior at American University and she is double majoring in political science and communication. My son, Janith is a freshman at the University of Georgia and pursuing a degree in psychology. Both my children are very involved in extracurricular activities. Both my children are very passionate about being involved and engaged in anything concerning Sri Lanka or US-Sri Lanka relations.

RF: How hard was it for you to be here while your own parents were so far away, especially when your mother passed away?

PW: Even though I could not physically be with my parents and siblings 24/7, I managed to keep in touch with them at all times. We always speak to each-other on the phone, email, Skype etc. My family also visits Sri Lanka once a year (during the summer), so we’ve managed to keep a strong and close relationship with our family and good friends back home. Anytime one of my parents were sick, I made sure that I took time off to go to Sri Lanka and visit them. When we were young, our parents always made sure to take care of us whenever we were sick, so it is our duty to do the same for them as they grow older and more frail. My mother was a very kind and generous woman, she lived a good Buddhist life, and everyone loved her. As  Buddhists, we are taught that when we are born, we have to face sickness and death.

RF: What passions do you think you might pursue after your children have left home?

PW: I don’t have any big plans. I would like to live peacefully and I plan to do this the way we have been raised to do, by devoting more time to Dhamma. I prefer to live in the present moment, not in the past nor in the future.

RF: Do you feel that you have a role to play in the political life of Sri Lanka – either back home or from the US?

PW: As the wife of the Sri Lankan Ambassador, I will always do my best to tell the world what a beautiful, great, hospitable, and friendly country we come from. I think there are so many different things being said about Sri Lanka and my advice is for people to go and see Sri Lanka for themselves and truly experience for themselves how great our country is and how wonderful our people truly are! It is my wish that Sri Lanka and the United States will continue to have a strong and positive relationship politically, and that the people of our two countries will continue to deal with each other in friendship.

RF: If there is one thing you could have done differently in life, what would it be?

PW: I take everything I have gone through, good or bad, as a learning experience. No matter what the situation or outcome, it is your attitude that defines you as a winner. When I am troubled, I turn to my Buddhist teachings for answers. As a Buddhist I feel that if you ever have any questions about anything in life, you will find the answer to that through the Buddha’s teachings.

RF: Your Buddhist faith is obviously very important to you. Do you find it difficult to find temples here in the US?

PW: There are over 50 Sri Lankan Buddhist temples in the U.S. Anyone who is passionate about preserving their Buddhist traditions can attend those temples in order to do so. However, I really believe that every Buddhist should have a Buddha statue somewhere in their home, so that they may worship daily. You should involve your kids in this too so that they will learn the chantings and how to conduct Buddha Pujas. Whatever your faith, the practice of daily worship is important because it grounds you and offers you a place of refuge from all the vagaries of life, whether good or bad.

RF: Could you tell us what you miss most about Sri Lanka as you live here and what American thing/custom you would find very hard to live without if you were to return to live in Sri Lanka?

PW: What I miss the most about Sri Lanka is its beauty and its people. Surprisingly, those are the same things that I would miss about America if I were to return to Sri Lanka. I think the people and the environment are what define a country’s beauty and makes it a desirable place to live. We are not so different after all, wherever we are from we desire the same sense of close community, kindness from each other, safety for our children, and the love of a strong family. I am very grateful that I have all of these things whether I am here in the United States or home in Sri Lanka.

By: Ru Freeman





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *