Story posted January 06, 2012
My name is Bryanna J. Benedetti (on the left at the summit of Adams Peak in December 2011) and I was an ISLE student in fall 2009. I attended Whittier College at the time and heard about the program through Whittier College professor and fellow ISLE alum Dr. Jason Carbine in the Religious Studies Department. Dr. Carbine introduced me to the program and found that Sri Lanka and the ISLE program had everything I was looking for in a study abroad program: interdisciplinary programs, cultural activities outside of class, hands on learning through travel around the country, the home-stay experience, and an independent research component. At Whittier College, I had a self designed major entitled “Moral and Ethical Development of Societies,” combining the disciplines of sociology, philosophy, political science, religious studies, and gender studies to look at the development of ethics and the implementation of moral norms within various cultures. Sri Lanka - with its vast and tumultuous past, its multitude of religious, linguistic, and cultural influences, and its historic placement in the Indian ocean – could not be a better place to study. While on the program I was able to learn about Sri Lanka through language study, dance, batik art, women’s studies, archeology, and literature as well as through the people I interacted with at the ISLE center and in the community.
By far, my favorite aspect of the ISLE program was living with my family. I came to Sri Lanka knowing no one in Sri Lanka or on the program, and I left as a sudu duwaa (white daughter, a term of endearment) to my host family. In the span of four months, I gained three older sisters, an older brother, two nephews, and more aunties than I can name. Through my family (on the right), I got to know the surrounding community and the Sri Lankan way of life.
The most helpful aspect of the ISLE curriculum for me was the independent study portion. My independent study project, entitled “Youth Empowerment and Policy: Challenges and Responses,” focused on the empowerment of Sri Lankan youth through governmental and non-governmental programming, the challenges faced by youth, and the fight for a national youth policy created by and voted upon by youth themselves. The independent study challenged me to propose, develop, and complete my own research project, and through it overcome cultural, linguistic, and gender-based barriers. The project not only helped me develop skills as a researcher and grow as a young adult, but the research itself posed more questions and led me to further study on the topic.
Bryanna with Rosemary and fellow ISLE-er Dan on Halloween 2009.
During my senior year at Whittier College, I applied for and received a Fulbright research grant to return to Sri Lanka in October 2011 as a student researcher in order to answer some of my questions. My Fulbright research, entitled “Youth Organizations: Value Development and Social Change in Sri Lanka,” builds off of my ISLE independent study research project and examines the role and influence of youth organizations on value development and social change among youth in post-war Sri Lanka. Through my research I am hoping to shed light on the complex issues faced by youth in post-war Sri Lanka, using surveys of youth from various provinces, looking in-depth at youth programming currently in the country, and studying the history of youth uprising in the country.
I am now beginning my fourth month in Sri Lanka under the Fulbright grant, with five months left, and I am enjoying every minute of it. Upon my return, I have reconnected with my family, taken up Sinhala lessons, and have rekindled old friendships started back in 2009. As luck would have it, I am now a neighbor of the ISLE center, and even see my old trishaw driver Asanka every once in a while at the junction. The ISLE program opened my eyes to the beauty that is Sri Lanka, and I am ever grateful.
Bryanna, with other Junior Fulbrighters, at the U.S. Marine Ball in 2011.