ISLE Program

Session II: 2004

- Get Session II Schedule

Session II began with a bit of excitement, as a sudden strike was called by non-academic staff at the University of Peradeniya, the institution of higher education with which ISLE has been formally affiliated since 1983. Adjustments were soon made, with classes normally held on campus shifted to the center, and to other locations. (The strike ended at the end of Session II.)

"... [We] feel so lucky to be part of real life here. We are in love with Sri Lankan curries, and don't want to return to bland American food... . Would probably stay in S.L. if we didn't have credits to fulfill!"
-- postcard from Maggie and Phil (Bowdoin)

By the time Session II started, the students were getting to know their host families very well. For many, that has been the most enjoyable part of their Sri Lankan experience so far. Several students found extra-curricular activities to get involved in, and all students had an opportunity to travel outside of Kandy during the break between Sessions I and II.

Session II offers more structured classes than Session I, which is devoted mostly to the Northern Tour. Students were required to sit in on at least three classes for the first couple of days, before picking the two they were interested in taking. A number of students chose to sit in on more than three. (For more information on the course syllabi, see the Curriculum page on the main ISLE web site.)

In the class The Colonial History of Sri Lanka, students were instructed by the highly regarded Kingsley de Silva, now an institution at the ISLE program. Professor de Silva's eloquent lectures never fail to connect with and inspire students.

  • "I was very impressed by Professor de Silva’s ability to simply lecture without any notes and deliver a clear and coherent lecture."
  • " having an exciting book read aloud by an excellent storyteller."

"... A wonderful selection and style of courses ... the professors are truly some of the best."
-- Swarthmore Student

Development and Change in Sri Lanka, taught by Professor G.H. Peiris, focused on the developing economy of Sri Lanka, and how it is affected by the Sinhala-Tamil conflict and globalization. Professor Peiris has a wealth of knowledge on the topic ("He is the best... he should get some sort of prize," one student opined), and his field trips (see below) took the students to "ordinary" sites, offering students views of village industry, real poverty, and everyday life.

In the popular course Images of the Feminine and Social Experiences of Women, Professor Carmen Wickramagamage used the first class to raise some very important issues of positionality and gender in a third world context. She referred to news and events in contemporary Sri Lankan culture to highlight various issues. Her seminar, "The Women's Movement in Sri Lanka," brought together three diverse activists from three ethnic groups, which made for an extremely thought-provoking and engaging afternoon.

  • "The session/seminar was awesome!"
  • "Fantastic views on women's lives. So glad (and better off) to have taken the course!"

Students from past programs had recommended a special course focusing on minority ethnic and religious issues in Sri Lanka. The 2004 ISLE program offered for the first time, Tamils and Muslims: Identities and Cultures, a team-taught course exploring the vast and complex issues of the topic. Students enjoyed the two films viewed in the class, and at least one student is planning an independent study project related to the issue of Muslims amid the Sinhala-Tamil conflict.

  • "Very interesting and beneficial to my ISLE experience; it brought to light many cultural aspects of Sri Lanka."
  • "Wonderful professors!"

The seminar for Professor K.T. De Silva's course, Ethnicity and Social Identity, entitled "Peace Process in Sri Lanka," was a highlight of the session, presenting three distinct perspectives -- the Northeast perspective, the Southern perspective, and Muslim concerns -- from two ISLE scholars and a noted Tamil journalist/editor. The field trip to a tea estate (see below) was an eye-opener for many students.

On the first Saturday of the session, Professor Peiris' Development class ventured to two traditional crafts villages specializing in pottery and coir products (the fiber obtained from the husk of a coconut, used chiefly in making rope and matting). A member of the Industrial Development Board gave the group an introductory tour and lecture of each village, and students had an opportunity to ask many questions, and to talk with villagers. Many students bought cooking and water pots for their host families, and another trip was planned to a third village, specializing in the making of traditional musical instruments.

  • "The field trips opened my eyes to the reality of what we are studying ... really valuable experiences."
field trip image

On a Development class field trip to a rural coir products village,
Toby from Swarthmore helps in the production process.

Another field trip highlight was with the Theravada Buddhism class (taught by Professors G.A. Somaratne and S. Ratnayake). Students were encouraged to balance both theory and practice during their visit to the Nilambe Meditation Center, and this resulted in a wonderful overnight stay which featured guided meditation and yoga sessions, an "alms-giving" by a monk, a delicious and lavish lunch, and participation in the evening chanting. The group visited the library at the center, and attended a talk by a visiting Thai nun. Students really enjoyed this field trip, and at least one student returned on his own.

  • "The trip to Nilambe was fantastic ... useful in bringing a practical side of Buddhist teaching into the course."
  • "Professors were knowledgeable, dynamic and interesting."

The Ethnicity and Social Identity class visited a multi-caste village and the workers' quarters of a nearby plantation tea estate in Kurukohogama. The trip to the tea estate was especially enlightening for most students, and both sites gave the class its first opportunity to conduct interview-based fieldwork.

  • "The field trip was excellent!"
  • "The location of the field trip was perfect, very interesting, the interviews were helpful, eye-opening, and put all the readings into perspective."
elephant ride
2004 Program Assistants Lisa and Tristan getting a wild ride.

The entire group of students visited the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage just south of Kandy on a free day during Session II. They spent the morning watching the elephants during feeding time, and then observed them splashing in the water during bathing time. Later, after a stop at a resthouse for lunch, the group visited a nearby site where students had the opportunity to help bathe and ride elephants. Flynn and Chris, both from Holy Cross, got more than they bargained for when their elephant decided to spray them with water while they were riding him.

Sarah and Kim
Sarah and Kim hang on!


Students help bathe an elephant.

Even during this busy time, students find an assortment of ways to learn even more about Sri Lankan life. Several students -- Toby (Swarthmore), Chris, and Flynn (both from Holy Cross) -- and both assistants have been regularly volunteering on Sundays at the Singithi Sevana Children's Home orphanage in Kandy. The students organized games, lead the kids in musical and craft activities, and also taught them computer skills.

Liz from Whitman and Sarah from Bates have also been volunteering at a home for older girls, Evelyn Nurseries.

Dancing for the kids

Chris from Holy Cross and Toby from Swarthmore demonstrate their Kandyan
dance skills to the children at the orphanage in Kandy.

Students had many opportunities to participate in non-academic events and activities, either organized by the program, or on their own. The British Council held a reading by Sri Lankan authors (who write in English), including author Tissa Abeysekera, whose new book is being used in the Art, Drama and Poetry class. Tissa Jayatilaka, the executive director of the Fulbright Program, held a seminar on the novel, When Memory Dies (pre-program reading material), as well as on contemporary politics.


Men's Kandyan drumming class.

Classes such as Dancing and Drumming are going very well, and students are also quite interested in the Batik, Sitar and Tabla classes. Ram Alagan, our university liason, has taken students to play soccer at the university, and language instructor Punchi Meegaskumbura is teaching Tai Chi to a handful of enthusiastic students.

In the second half of Session II, the students began preparations for their Independent Study projects. Students have been exploring and discussing ideas with each other and with faculty, and most of November will be devoted to this component of the experience.