The interest in the ISLE Program was unprecedented last year; 24 students were admitted for the 2004 program, the largest number in recent years. More than half were admitted at the December early decision deadline while the rest were admitted in early April. Students were excited to receive the acceptance letters from their Faculty Director, Professor Shampa Biswas of Whitman College. By this time, the two assistants, Tristan Gleason (Bowdoin, 2001) and Lisa Moore (Whitman 2004) were appointed.
Students participating in the ISLE Program are taken through a number of preparative steps, focusing both on academics and on the cultural (and personal) experience. Program preparations commence a few months before the actual travel to Sri Lanka.
The Administrative Director, Sree Padma Holt, launched an electronic listserv for the group to interact with each other and with the program administration. She also dispatched the pre-orientation readings before students left their campuses. Shampa Biswas sent out relevant questions on these readings and asked students to maintain personal journals. Students expressed their reflections on these readings occasionally on the listserv.
Books read by the students include: When Memory Dies, by A. Sivanandan (Arcadia Books), a rich novel which takes the reader through three generations of a Sri Lankan family. This is a deeply involving story, enabling students to begin to understand the colonial history and the ethnic conflict that colors Sri Lanka. Another book they received before departure is the Insight Guide to Sri Lanka, a wonderfully detailed guidebook.
"My world view has transformed. Coming here made me a better person."
-- Bowdoin Student
Students also received language learning materials before departure, and are encouraged to work on basics such as the alphabet. While it was agreed that learning the Sinhala alphabet was the toughest preparation of all, some students made impressive strides.
Sree Padma ensured that all students receive important information early on about health, passports, travel, and visa concerns, along with a student handbook (see below). Participants are advised, and assisted, through the process of medical preparations, including getting the appropriate vaccinations before departure.
Almost all of the ISLE institutions conducted at least one orientation dinner meeting for admitted students with the help of students who had participated in ISLE 2003. Sree Padma held two of these meetings at Bowdoin, inviting students from Colby, Bates, and Holy Cross to attend. Returning students gave presentations on various aspects of the program, and new students were informed of any changes being introduced into the 2004 Program. These meetings led to more conversations and questions on the listserv for the rest of the summer.
Faculty Director Shampa Biswas traveled to Sri Lanka several weeks early to meet with ISLE Center staff and faculty, with host families, and in general to pave the way for the arrival of the students.
"In Sri Lankan society, dating is acceptable only if it is understood to be leading to marriage."
-- ISLE Handbook
The students' ISLE handbook (pdf file), covering topics such as preparing for the long flight, health and safety tips, how to have a successful "homestay" experience, and more, is indispensible. Students are urged to read this before departure, and to bring it along for reference. The handbook is quite informative about making the transition and adjustment to Sri Lankan culture, classroom, living conditions, and societal expectations.
"I had a great academic experience!"
-- Bates Student
SHARING THE EXPERIENCE
With regular dispatches from Sri Lanka, we will provide photos and reports pertaining to this year’s program. We hope family and friends of the participants enjoy it.