Everyone arrived safely in Chicago from their respective points of departure, some early, some late, but in plenty of time for the flight. Sree Padma flew in from Boston, accompanied by two students and assistant Colin Dieck, and held a brief meeting – mostly for introductions - before everyone boarded for the first leg of travel to London.
This year’s group was very lucky as there were actually empty seats on the plane to London! Most everyone was able to stretch out, and sleep for at least a short while. In London, there was the usual sleepy transition of people and luggage making the final leg of the journey to Colombo.
The trip to Kandy from Colombo was successful. Along the way, students stopped for thambili (also known as “King Coconut,” a delicious, thirst-quenching fruit) and rambuttans (red porcupines w/soft white flesh, rather like lychees) as well as tea at the Ambepussa rest house.
Later in the afternoon, once arrived in Kandy, the group took a neighborhood walk down through the Dangolla district to LankaNet with hopes of getting online and checking email. Many students were anxious to email families about their arrival, but with limited facilities, only some students were able to get computer time. The group split in two, and one group went back to the hotel, while the others went on to the ISLE center, where a tour of the center and tea and snacks were waiting. The students got a much-needed night of rest, in order to begin their life in Sri Lanka the next morning.
Bright and early on the second day in Kandy, the students attended their first Sinhala class at the ISLE Center, and enjoyed a catered lunch at the center provided by Professor Seneviratne’s wife, Harsha.
Later, a quick meeting was held to go over announcements and hand out guideline packets that included info about homestays, advice on using the Center, a map of Dangolla and phone cards.
Other critical busy-work was taken care of during these first few days: the students’ visas were transformed into “resident visas,” and their I.D. cards for privileges such as theUniversity of Peradeniya library, the gym and swimming pool were issued. These important organizational tasks are performed each year with great care by ISLE Center staffers Rosemary Chunchie (facility manager), Sumanasena (driver and performer of bureaucratic miracles; see staff info page) and by the director and assistants.
This year, Faculty Director Kremer was unfortunately called back to the U.S. just as the students arrived, due to the passing of her mother. With the solid leadership and assistance offered collectively by Rosemary, Sumanasena, Sarah and Colin, and instructors Punchi Meegaskumbura and Mr. B. Herath, this year’s program was off to a smooth start. There is much to be done in the beginning of every program, and this year especially we are thankful for the fine staff in Sri Lanka!
On the second day in Kandy, the students were introduced to Dr. Ram Alegan, the program’s University of Peradeniya liaison and one of the team of Environmental Studies professors. He led the group on a walk around the university’s religious spaces in the afternoon. It was a good introduction to many issues of interest to this year’s ISLE group. The students were also treated to their first views of Kandy "wildlife."
On Day 3, after Sinhala and lunch at the hotel, the students attended a host family orientation session along with Professor Anne Blackburn from Cornell (she is an ISLE alumni who participated in the program in 1986). Professor Blackburn’s presentation was very helpful in discussing the broader cultural experiences the students were about to have as guests in their host families’ homes, while the assistants addressed more pragmatic, specific issues such as food and dress. The families arrived later in the afternoon for the host family tea, and after a typically awkward introduction phase, the students made their way to their new homes with their families.
The traditional university tea was held on the fourth day, after an orientation tour of the campus. The tea was attended by a handful of Sri Lankan students and junior faculty who had been invited by Dr. Ram and by Professor Gerry Peiris (Prof. Peiris teaches Development and Change in Modern Sri Lanka at ISLE). The conversation was easy, enjoyable, and enlightening.
The end of the students’ first week was marked by an orientation trip to Kandy, a visit to nearby orphanages (where interested students can become involved later in volunteer work), and a visit to Peradeniya Gardens in Kandy.
In the middle of the month, the traditional Perahera celebrations took place, and all of the students had an opportunity to attend, mostly with their host families. Perahera is the most extravagant and colorful festival of the Sri Lankan year, and takes place for ten days in August. (Get more info.)
The students began attending Material Culture classes on August 10th, preparing for the eight-day Northern Tour excursion. Session I is devoted equally to Sinhala and to Material Culture, and the ambitious Northern Tour really sets the tone for their academic experience in the ISLE Program.
(More photos on Photo Gallery page.)