ISLE Program

Session IV: 2004

- Get Session IV Schedule


Session IV could almost be described as quiet, after the constant whirl of activity in Session III. This was a chance for students to concentrate on their Independent Study projects, and to prepare for final Sinhala oral examinations. The students departed Sri Lanka and the ISLE program on December 13, 2004.


Learning the Sinhala language is a critical part of the ISLE program, and each student has the opportunity to make the most of the course with a little creativity and persistence. This years’ group was encouraged, as usual, to use Sinhala as much as possible with their host families, as well as when interacting with the outside world (trishaw drivers, merchants, etc). In addition to some rather unorthodox classroom techniques (hand puppets, singing), language instructors used regular drills, quizzes and role-playing games to accelerate the level of learning. Many students also felt they benefitted a great deal from the one-on-one teaching sessions. Flash cards and taped materials were also used in the learning process. This year's group of students seemed well prepared for the final exam.

  • "Both Punchi and Herath are phenomenal language teachers. They complimented each other perfectly!"
  • "Because very few people knew English in the area I visited [for Independent Study], my Sinhala was essential ... . I used it a lot while on IS, and it definitely improved as a result."
  • "Thank you so much – I’ve never had such an effective time learning a language."


At the end of Session II, one week was designated for students to travel independently and explore research possibilities for their Independent Study Projects. This was a good time for students to formulate project ideas, establish concrete contacts, and even conduct preliminary research. The students who followed the advised trajectory (rather than being distracted by beaches and more leisurely activities) were definitely better prepared when it came time to devote themselves to Independent Study in Session IV. Consequently, their project ideas were some of more fully-formed at the time of Independent Study departure.

student presenting
Sarah from Whitman presents the findings of her Independent Study project.

Professors Amarasinghe, Hasbullah, Peiris and Punchi Meegaskumbura were helpful – as were assistants Lisa and Tristan – in advising and assisting students in finding their way. Many fascinating topics were tackled, from modernization to motherhood to magic.

This period of travel and research ended with a Thanksgiving potluck dinner at the center, and students were energized and more self-sufficient than ever. There was also an impromptu trip to the holy mountain site Sri Pada (or, Adam's Peak), a place said to contain the footprint of Adam (by Christians), Buddha (Buddhists), Vishnu (Hindus) or Mohammed (Muslims).

  • "I thought I.S. was very fun and I learned a lot.”
  • "The I.S. period is really fantastically useful and well-timed.”


If you think that suddenly moving in with a group of people you don’t know at all might be awkward at times, you’re correct. However, students quickly learned that the awkward phase of the homestay experience gives way very easily to one of comfort, trust, and true enjoyment.

From learning to cook in the family’s kitchen, to having fascinating conversations about politics, religion, superstition and even "teledramas" on the tube, this year’s group of students were no different from others in becoming attached to their host families. Students were invited – but never pressured – to partake in activities such as religious observations, family parties, and even attending the ballet and theater. One student was lucky enough to assist in the planning of a family member’s wedding. "We picked out saris and did invitations…. So fun!"

The homestay situation is, for some students, the richest part of the ISLE experience, with host families working hard to make students feel comfortable on many levels.

Whether learning to play cricket, working on Sinhala skills, or taking a day trip to a forest monastery, this year’s crop of ISLE students felt extremely lucky to have the experiences they did.

  • "My family is super-fantastic-awesome-spiffy-wonderful and I don’t want to leave them!
  • "This has been the most beautiful aspect of my experience in Sri Lanka. It will be the hardest thing to leave.”

"Be open to the beauty that surrounds you. Patience is key – some things you think you understand, you do not."
-- Whitman Student


Each year, ISLE students leave the program burning with insights and advice for the next group of travelers. We found several students’ thoughts to be especially poetic, and practical. Go here for sage advice from some of the 2004 ISLE Program students.