By Tim Krohn
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Anuka Rodrigo and Dilumi Ganhewage grew up just a few miles apart in Sri Lanka but never knew each other.
Ganhewage came to Minnesota State University in 2009 to study marketing. When Rodrigo enrolled the next year to study business, he met Ganhewage at orientation.
Last weekend they graduated as husband and wife.
“We lived 15 minutes away from each other but had to travel so far to meet each other,” Rodrigo said.
The couple was joined by their parents Sunday at the first International Family Reception at the AmericInn near campus.
Maria Baxter-Nuamah, director of advancement relations, said the event is aimed at improving connections between the university and its international alumni.
“We want to do better at staying connected with them after graduation.” She said most parents of international students don’t visit while the students are in school due to cost, but many make the trip for graduation.
“The students only go home maybe every two years because it’s so expensive.”
Mohammed Alnazil didn’t have any relatives travel from Saudi Arabia, but he had family aplenty with his wife, Noura Aljoufi, and their three young children, ages 8, 6 and 4.
The family moved here in 2012 so he could get his master’s degree in IT.
“Mankato was one of the best schools I found.”
The family will return to Saudi Arabia and Alnazil will look for a job. Already, the electric company he worked for for nine years wants him back.
“I’m glad to graduate, but sad to leave. It’s all been good here other than being away from home so long,” he said. “My children went to school here and can read English and understand the culture. I like the people and the experience here.”
Tom Gjersvig, director of international student and scholar services, said Saudi Arabia accounts for the third largest international enrollment at MSU, with Nepal first and South Korea second. MSU has steadily grown its international student population to nearly 800.
Where students come from often depends on political stability or instability and economic conditions. Saudi Arabia, for example, has been more aggressive in providing government scholarships to students who enroll overseas.
Alnazil said his tuition, housing, fees and airfare were all covered by the government.
Rodrigo and Ganhewage are hoping to find jobs in the United States. “We hope to stay but we will go where the jobs take us,” Rodrigo said.
The only time the couple has returned home during their tenure here was May of 2011 when they got married.
Ganhewage said their experience in Mankato has been great, save one thing.
“Nothing was bad. The only thing we miss is the food.”