After some travel delays, the students arrived in Sri Lanka, via London and Boston, on August 4th, exhausted but enthusiastic about the very intense cultural experience that lay before them. The journey to Sri Lanka takes about 40-50 hours from the time students leave their home in the U.S., and the trip can be quite grueling for those who have not rested and prepared for it.
It was difficult for some students to stay awake on the drive to Kandy, but they were encouraged to do so in order to have no trouble sleeping that evening. Once in Kandy, they had a late afternoon lunch and took a neighborhood walk. The students visited the ISLE center, where they met the staff and toured the facilities. After a light dinner, the students turned in at their hotel in Dangolla ("home" for two nights) near the University of Peradeniya and the ISLE center fairly early, as they needed to be rested for their first Sinhala language class at 8:00 a.m. the next day.
After Sinhala class the next morning, the students made their way to a local shopping area for some basic supplies. (Note to future students: packing an umbrella is a good idea, as you may need it even on the day of your arrival. It rains a lot in Kandy.)
In the students' first official orientation talk that afternoon, the director commended the students for picking such a culturally challenging experience. The orientation focused on the thrills of navigating two cultures, and the importance of general cultural rules and etiquette. The assistants also discussed their roles as liaisons between the director and the students.
Ram Alagan and Kanchuka Dharmasiri, liaisons to university campus activities, joined the group for the last hour of this orientation session, and talked about different opportunities for students to become involved in campus life.
A tour of the university campus followed, where students signed for library cards and looked at the swimming pool with understandable excitement. A brief tour of the outdoor theater, the canteen, the gym and other buildings allowed the students to get a sense of their new environment.
The next day, students attended a short host family orientation, before the host family tea. Students met their host families, went home with them that evening, and the next morning’s conversation was almost entirely about their different experiences.
A tour to the city of Kandy, by bus, followed the next afternoon. The large group split into smaller groups, and explored various places of interest in town: the post office, railway station, bus depots, main market, the Air Lanka office, banks, shops and pharmacies. The groups were also led on a walk through Dalada Maligawa and the adjacent Natha, Pattini and Vishnu devales (shrines), all of which are located in the Sacred and Royal Square. The Dalada Maligawa is the temple which houses the Sacred Tooth Relic of The Buddha, and is one of the most sacred Buddhist shrines in the world. It is venerated not only by Buddhists in Sri Lanka but by Buddhists all over the world.
The next day the entire group went to Colombo, where they had a one-hour long meeting with Ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead at the ambassador's residence. He spoke about the political situation in Sri Lanka, spending almost two hours answering questions, and expressed interest in coming to Kandy later in the semester to gauge what the students had learned in Sri Lanka.
The following days, leading to the start of Session I's Material Culture class, were extremely busy. Students attended additonal orientations on topics such as classroom and teaching practices and etiquette. They attended a university tea, where the students met the faculty for the first time, and also met students from the university. The students hit it off right away, exchanging notes and talking about university life (resulting in planned activities such as netball the next day). On one day, some of the campus students addressed ISLE students and provided preliminary information about schedules of activities planned by their groups.
Over two days, groups of ISLE students visited two orphanages, one in Kandy and one in Mahiyawa. In a fine testament to the eager and hard working nature of this group of students, several expressed interest in volunteering at the orphanages. This speaks volumes about this year’s attending group, and their intent to get the utmost out of the ISLE program.