Alumni News

March 22, 2022 at 7:19 pm

Alumni News | Ranga Kalugampitiya found a place to raise a family, debate post-structuralism with beloved faculty

Maduranga Kalugampitiya, teaching in a classroom

Dr. Maduranga Kalugampitiya

From Ohio University News

Ohio University alumnus Maduranga “Ranga” Kalugampitiya came to Athens from Sri Lanka to pursue a graduate degree in linguistics. He found a community that welcomed his family and intellectual stimulation that propelled his career.

Kalugampitiya earned his M.A. in Applied Linguistics in 2012 from the College of Arts & Sciences and then spent another four years in Athens, earning a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Arts from the College of Fine Arts in 2016.

Now he’s a senior lecturer and department head in English at the University of Peradeniya, which is the oldest, largest, top-ranked, and most scenic university in Sri Lanka.

“I teach at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and my work is mainly in the areas of critical discourse analysis, new varieties of English, and the philosophy of language and literature,” he said.

Athens was a special time for Kalugampitiya and his wife, Ramya, who is also a graduate of the M.A. in Linguistics program at OHIO. Their two daughters—Methuli (8) and Lavanya (6)—were born here. And he found an intellectual home and a beloved sparring partner on the other side of the philosophical argument over structuralism and post-structuralism in literary theory.

“I have been blessed with many wonderful teachers throughout my life. It is with love that I think of all my professors in OHIO Linguistics. If I were to pick one that would be Dr. Hiroyuki Oshita. His dedication to scholarship and the simple lifestyle he led were among the things that I always appreciated about him,” Kalugampitiya said.

“However, the reason I liked him the most had to do with the fact that Dr. Oshita and I belonged to intellectual camps that were practically at war with each other. I recognized him as a staunch structuralist, while I myself was a post-structuralist. Our views on language were polar opposite from each other. There were a number of occasions when we sat down in his office and debated language-related issues, which were of philosophical import.

“I remember choosing to play the devil’s advocate many times, of course with the best interest of the discipline in mind, and the careful and reasoned manner in which he addressed the points that I raised was something that really stood out about him. Many of those conversations ended without consensus, but I found each of them to be enriching. I think that experience taught me a lot about how to make your case in a convincing and non-threatening manner, especially when the addressee is your subordinate. That is a must-have skill in my day-to-day engagement with students,” he said.

(See his Ph.D. dissertation, “Authorship, history, and race in three contemporary retellings of the Mahabharata : The Palace of Illusions, The Great Indian Novel, and The Mahabharata (television mini series) at the Ohio University Libraries.)

Q&A with Maduranga “Ranga” Kalugampitiya

Q: Do you still keep in touch with any of your faculty?

A: I do. I write to them occasionally. And, thanks to Facebook, I get to feel their presence in my life although I’m oceans and continents away from them.

Q: What was your ah-ha moment at OHIO—that point where you said to yourself, “I’ve got this!”?

A: There were many “ah-ha” moments in my time as a graduate teaching assistant for LING 2700. It was my first experience teaching outside Sri Lanka, so I went into it with many anxieties, but those anxieties disappeared soon. I found the students to be friendly, and many of them were genuinely interested in the course. LING 2700 gave me the space and freedom to talk about language from multiple perspectives, something that I loved doing, and it was clear that the students found the sessions to be interesting. There were many times when students went “ah-ha,” and they naturally made me go “ah-ha.” What better “ah-ha” moments could a teacher have than those?

Q: What was the hardest hill you had to climb (not counting Jeff Hill) at OHIO? And how did you overcome challenges or obstacles in your path?

A: I think the hardest hill that I had to climb when I was a grad student in the Linguistics program was on the life front. I came to Ohio with my wife, Ramya, and in our first year there, she was not in school and was without an income. She eventually went on to become the main bread-winner in the family as a full-time lecturer in the Ohio Program of Intensive English, but the first year was different. I did get a stipend from Linguistics, but that was not sufficient to make the ends meet. Some international students (in other programs) who were in situations similar to ours had to send their spouses back to their home countries, but we decided to make it. The Nelson Dining Hall was a savior. I worked there as many shifts as I was permitted to work, sometimes till late night. We managed to make our ends meet that way until Ramya got into school in the following year. All the students who worked at the dining hall were given a meal on those days when there were special events like weddings there. I remember asking for a meal ticket in place of the meal on every one of those occasions. I would collect them and then later I would take Ramya there for dinner outings using those tickets. That was a beautiful and self-satisfying experience.

Q: What are your favorite OHIO memories?

A: OHIO itself is a beautiful memory that we treasure to date. The six years we spent there was a life-changing experience. Athens perfectly fit the version of America that I had wanted to experience. I was a big fan of A Little House on the Prairie, and there was something about Athens which always reminded me of that. The walks we took by the Hocking River, especially when the cherry trees were in full bloom, the bike rides we had with some of our friends on the bike path all the way to Nelsonville, the free meals we enjoyed at the churches nearby (despite being Buddhists!), the cultivating we did at the Westside Community Gardens, the walks we took on snow-covered streets, especially on full-moon days,  the time we spent at the Alden Library and the Athens Public library, the shopping trips we made to Walmart, Kroger, and Aldi on a weekly basis, the trips (mostly backpacking) we made to Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco, Pittsburg, New Jersey, the Niagara Falls, … these memories are still fresh and alive in our minds.

We made wonderful friends there, and Christina Correnti, David Bruggink, and Jessica Hill deserve a special mention. Seeing President Obama on College Green during his reelection campaign and bumping into Mr. Charles Bolden (former head of NASA) at the Baker Center by accident were very special moments. We had our daughters in Athens, and we grew up as a family there, and that is part of our loveliest memories.

Q: What’s the one thing you would tell a new OHIO student not to miss?

A: OHIO is a wonderful deal in every possible sense of the term. Live it to the max!

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