Blessie Keegel

Current Employment: Radio Presenter, EAP Broadcasting Network, Head of PR & Communication, Live Events (Pvt.) Ltd.
Education: Bachelor of Arts – Radio/Television/Film Management: Biola University, Los Angeles, CA USA,
Masters in Business Administration: Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia

Return to Sri Lanka

Blessie was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka to a Filipino mother and Burgher father. She finished her formal education in Colombo and as most school leavers from International Schools, went abroad to continue her education. She found herself pursuing a career in the Media right from the outset and decided to make her education base the center of all western entertainment  – Los Angeles, California USA.

Soon after graduating, she was fortunate enough to immediately score a job at an offshoot record label under Universal Records which instantly threw her into the thick of the entertainment industry. She had complete exposure to and first-hand experience in the music business where she was able to get a taste of what the industry was really about.

Somehow chasing her dream in Los Angeles made her miss home – she found herself thinking of the possibilities of finding employment at a media company and introducing different ideas to the Island audiences or perhaps even someday, starting up her own media company in Sri Lanka.

Employment Overseas

Like most students who live in Sri Lanka and move overseas for higher education, one of the biggest stresses is what the next stage is going to be. Do you stay on, apply for the appropriate visas and permits and get work experience? Or do you go back home and join the family business?

Blessie was one of the blessed few whose parents gave her the freedom to choose what her next step would be, and with their support she chose staying in America for awhile longer to get some work experience.

Blessie diligently applied for jobs months before her graduation specifically in the entertainment industry and went for interviews all over town. She was finally offered a job at a record label in Los Angeles where she would be working in the A&R department with new up and coming artists.

After awhile, working at the record label was the most rewarding and fulfilling experience in relation to her career path and passion for entertainment, the lifestyle she found herself living as a result was unsettling. The perks of meeting celebrities, being at the right places and doing the Hollywood thing was all just a veneer.

It didn’t align with the culture and belief system she was brought up in and she did not like who she was becoming.

She decided to leave the label and entertainment industry altogether, and found employment at an Office Solutions Company in Orange County where she was exposed to different aspects of business – Administration, Sales and Human Resources.

“One of the best things of working in America was being able to be experience first hand that hard work will take you where you wanted to go – everyone had an equal opportunity. It wasn’t about who you were or whom you knew, it was about working hard towards a goal. You had to learn to start from the bottom, be the best you could be at whatever it was you were doing and have a good attitude while doing so!”

Naturally, working at an Office Solutions Company wasn’t as glamorous as working at a record label, but it taught her invaluable lessons in business, exposed her to different aspects of running a business, dealing with people of different ethnicities and problem-solving. You couldn’t put a price tag on that.

Towards the end of 2008, Blessie soon realized that her time spent in America was losing its luster and was coming to an end. It was not because her visa had run out – her immediate family were all green card holders and were already living in the USA. It is hard to often describe the moment when it hits you that it is time to go back home, but when the feeling comes over you, you just know.

With a heavy heart, but also with the sense of hope and adventure, she returned home to Sri Lanka in 2009. She had no idea where she would start, but was hoping she could pick up where she left off and reconnect with who and what she left behind almost a decade ago.

Thoughts on careers and professional development

Blessie currently works at a broadcasting company and an event promotions company that are both within the same industry allowing her to do what she loves while understanding the need for development.

Unfortunately, working as a radio presenter in Sri Lanka is seen as an inbetween job that “anyone can do” because presumably all you have to is just “talk and say anything in between songs”. However, her education taught her otherwise. As much as she can, she looks for ways in which she could elevate the quality of content on mainstream English radio. There are so few presenters in Sri Lanka within the English radio industry that can speak intelligently while maintaining the attention of their audiences.

There is only one educational program that she has identified thus far, which educates people who are genuinely interested in pursuing this professionally. In 2001, Blessie worked alongside with Tariq Musafer in putting together the curriculum for an Introduction to Radio Course and teaching at the DJ Academy to expose people to the ins and outs of working in Radio.

“If we were able to properly structure and develop an education stream that focused on the entertainment industry and the various facets to it, we would be able to raise the level and quality of live entertainment experienced in this country. The media can then be seen as a legitimate career path.”

Experience with compensation and living expenses

One of the main concerns of moving back to Sri Lanka was suddenly having to do without all the simple luxuries that were found in America.

Blessie soon learned that the only way to be completely happy and content with her decision to move was by not comparing the way of life over there to her way of life in Sri Lanka.

One of the main areas you cannot compare is compensation – pay structure is completely different in Sri Lanka. Like Blessie, if your first job is in America (or any another country) and that is your only perspective of remuneration and so forth; the system in Sri Lanka will frustrate you.

The best thing to do is to research on the going rate for your job within the market to gain perspective rather than expect the same wage rates you were used to in another country.

One of the biggest challenges will be maintaining the lifestyle you were used to in a foreign country, in Sri Lanka on the money you make in rupees. It isn’t possible.

The key to surviving and enjoying life in Sri Lanka is learning to adapt to its peculiarities.

“When you return to Sri Lanka, you have to realize that it will be a struggle at first. It will be frustrating. But if you come back with an idea and you don’t give up on your vision for your life, you take it all in stride. You have to accept it for what it is.” – she says.

Blessie has found that being flexible with her time and being involved with different projects at the same time enables her to meet different people, increase her earning opportunities and exposes her to different industries.

After living abroad, moving back to Sri Lanka and working for a local corporation full time would be frustrating and the reward for it would not be worth it. The key is to find an idea that you find works elsewhere and see if it can work here, develop the idea and find people to work with.

Opinions about work culture

Employees are often treated as herds who simply follow orders rather than being actively involved in a decision making process.

This in turn makes an employee feel helpless and unmotivated, thereby leading to lethargy and inefficiency in the work place. This inefficiency bleeds over into the productivity levels of an organization that inevitably leads to losses caused by many simple mistakes and carelessness.

If employees were empowered, treated properly, nurtured and developed, compensated for their talent, efficiency and contribution to their jobs, this country would see a change in its overall productivity.

That being said, our country is plagued by the so-called “island-mentality” where we look forward to holidays and take extended breaks there again reducing our productivity in the long run.

Take on quality of life

One of the best things about living in Sri Lanka is the fact that people make it a point to get together – there is always a reason to celebrate and commune with friends and family. There is identity in community.

Since the end of the Civil War that has plagued this country for three decades, there has been a renewed sense of hope in where this country could go.

Sri Lanka has seen a lot of development in Colombo and in the other major cities around the Island to attract tourists to visit and the scattered Sri Lankan diaspora to come back home. 

Transportation is not a problem if you don’t have a car. There are now taxi services that run on apps you can download without having to even know how to speak the local language, let alone call anyone.

There are apartment buildings that are coming up in the city and its suburbs so meet the needs of people on different budgets. You can purchase an apartment or choose to rent a home or apartment within the city. With the rise of tourism and backpackers, people in the heart of the city are opening up their homes and letting out their apartments for short term stays to make extra money.

New restaurants and coffee houses have been popping up all over the city where people are now spoilt for choice. New movies are being screened at various movie theatres around town almost the same weekend of release in America.

Consumerism is on the rise in Colombo and convenience is quickly becoming a necessity – designer labels are opening up shop and grocery store chains are competing for prime real estate every 3 kilometers.

Sri Lanka has a wealth of undiscovered  beauty for locals as much as foreigners. Boutique hotels, backpacker hostels, new adventure trails and activities are being build and developed all around the island for people to experience. They are seeing the possibilities of the future.

The downside is the increase of traffic congestion in the city and the change in the cityscape. What was once a serene residential neighborhood, is now a row of offices – bylanes are buzzing and parking is impossible.  

Advice for potential returnees

Visiting Sri Lanka a few times and on each visit spending adequate amount of time in the Island is essential prior to making the move back. Whether you are looking to start your own business, simply invest or even look for employment, making the right connections here is imperative.

For Blessie, her greatest resource was her old classmates and school friends from when she was growing up in Sri Lanka. Not many had remained in Sri Lanka but some had stayed and little by little they kept making their way back home.

A social network in Sri Lanka goes a long way. Sri Lankan people are completely hospitable and if you are fortunate enough to form genuine friendships, people make sure that they you connect to the right people in order for you to make progress with the vision you returned with.

You have to return with an open mind and a good attitude. The moment you stop comparing how things are in Sri Lanka to how it was somewhere else, then you will be able to move forward and find happiness here.