ISLE Program

2005 Session III

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At the end of Session II, most students left Kandy for a few days, to explore locations and resources for their Independent Study projects. When Session III classes started in early October, many students had clearer ideas about their upcoming Idependent Study projects, and were looking forward to the Session III class offerings.

Bristol is excited to eat a jumbola
(Sri Lanka's equivalent of the grapefruit),
found in a home garden on the ES
and Development field trip.

In addition to regular courses, students participated in Batik classes, dancing and drumming, and cooking classes. Two ISLE students swam for the University Arts Faculty Team in a competition, and did quite well (one student broke records!). The Halloween party, an elephant orphanage visit, and other activities helped round out Session III.


Art, Drama and Poetry in Sri Lanka, taught by Professor Ashley Halpe, is always a tightly choregraphed series of lectures and field trips, attempting to cover much ground in one session. The full scope of Sri Lankan art, literature, poetry, and drama is, of course, not able to be fully represented in only four weeks' time, so students must remain focused on the topics at hand. A number of different settings allowed this year's group of students to graze on a variety of creative studies. One event at the home of Professor Halpe and his wife Bridget involved listening to traditional folk music, followed by a visit to a local artist's residence and studio. The group also attended a concert at the Kandy Girls High School, featuring traditional and fusion music by Ravibandhu Vidyapati. Later in October, the students visited galleries in Colombo, a treat in these security-conscious times where Colombo is not a city freely traveled by the group. The National Gallery, the Sapumal Foundation, Paradise Gallery, Barefoot Gallery and PLÂTÉ were some of the places visited.

Filmmaker and short-story writer Tissa Abeysekara came to the class to discuss his work and gave an "electrifying" reading. A number of Peradeniya students and faculty also attended this special event.

  • "The writing aspect was wonderful; to be able to respond creatively rather than analytically to the art forms around us was amazing and a great break."
  • "[Professor Halpe was] incredibly warm and friendly."
  • "The trip to Colombo and around various artists' studios in Kandy was wonderful."

Many students taking the Mahayana Buddhism course taught by Professor G. Dharmasiri found his flowing, informal style of lecturing an interesting change from the intense, extremely organized styles of some of the other instructors. As one student put it, "It made sense, since everything is void anyway!" This study of fundamental Buddhist theories of action and their impact on contemporary life certainly left a mark on those interested in the topic. "Always thought provoking," remarked one student.

  • "This class was a fabulous mental massage."
  • "Best discussion class I've had in Sri Lanka."
  • "Dharmasiri is a fantastic teacher in the old-school sense so that he doesn't necessarily 'teach' but rather 'guides,' and continues to see himself as a learner, not a master."

In the popular course Images of the Feminine and Social Experiences of Women, Professor Carmen Wickramagamage's intense, informative lectures kept the students engaged. A balance of scholarly and literary readings served students not only interested in the class topics, but also in rounding out their independent studies.

Professor Wickramagamage organized a seminar for the end of the session entitled "Women's Issues and Activism in the Year 2005," featuring several leading women activists from various ethnicities. The exchange was fascinating, and the conversation continued at the luncheon following the seminar, at the Kandyan Vistas.

  • "The professor was brilliant!"
  • "Professor Wickramagamage had an invigorating style that made every class riveting."
  • "The seminar was great... It really added a different dimension to the course."

Professor P. Wickramagamage's Environmental Studies class was begun with a bang: he covered 2000 years of history from an environmental impact perspective. Additional instructors C.M. Bandara, K.B. Ranawana, and S.N. Wickramaratne contributed to this important class.

Devon Falls, in the hill country

Two information-packed field trips (including one to the hill country which Development course students also attended) gave the students first-hand looks at some of the topics studied: a mini-hydropower plant in Watawala, the Mousakellie tea estate, the area affected by the Upper Kotamale Dam Project, and the lush Horton Plains, where the group saw the national bird, the Jungle Fowl, and other wildlife. Dr. Ram Alagan, who has a lot of knowledge to share, accompanied the group on various field trips.

A sambar, Sri Lanka's elk, at the Horton Plains.

Tea plucker's baskets among the bushes at Mousakellie tea estate near Mask Eliya.

tea picking
Tea pluckers at Mousakellie.

Hiking trail near World's End, Horton Plains.

The final seminar for this course featured several powerful presentations on the various aspects of the tsunami and the environment. Dr. Alagan gave an especially memorable presentation on "Geo Political Realities in the Eastern Province and Post-Tsunami Reconstruction in Sri Lanka."

  • "Good mix of professors, they complemented each other's styles as well."
  • "The Hill Country is the most enjoyable field trip taken so far."

Development and Change in Sri Lanka, taught by Professor G.H. Peiris, focused on the developing economy of Sri Lanka, and how it has been affected by the tsunami, the Sinhala-Tamil conflict and globalization. The class joined the ES students on the first field trip to the hill-country, and took a separate trip focusing on Rural Cottage Crafts. They visited Kurugala (drumming), Pilimatalawa (metal carving and casting, particularly brass), Henawela (mats and tapestries), and Walala (pottery).

A weaving operation in Henawela.

A makeshift house on unused land near a resettlement village.

Students talk with residents of the resettlement village.

  • "Professor Peiris is amazing!"
  • "I loved both field trips; The Nuwara Eliya was the best field trip yet."
  • "The Professor's understanding of development issues was immense, and he carefully argued his positions with detailed information."


Session III is the time when students must make plans for their Independent Study project, and complete their annotated bibliographies, research propsals and research presentations.

In early November, the students made their presentations, not only to the director and advisors, but to fellow students. It was a good opportunity for swapping ideas and feedback.

The array of research topics for this year's group include: The Politicization of Tsunami Aid and Redevelopment; The Lived History of Southern Sri Lanka; Gender and Poverty Alleviation through Micro-Finance in the Nuwara Eliya Province; Buddhism and Social Development; Muslims in Boragas and their Views of the World; Historical Process and Consequences of the Upper Kotmale Hydropower Project; The Ethnic Conflict and Politicization of University Admissions; Yoga Practice in Sri Lanka; Samadhi or Samskara; Explaining the Unexmplainable; The Indian Ocean Tsunami as a Religious and Mythological Phenomenon and Its Resulting Coping Methods; Meditation; Walden Waewa; Women Lay Meditators within Sri Lankan Patriarchy: Liberation Outside Ordination; 'Osariya' or Blue Jeans?; Issues in Children's Buddhist Education; Katunayake Free Trade Zone: Women Workers; Culture of the Sri Lankan Railroad; Investigating the Characteristics of the Sanni Mask Ritual and Exploring the Possible Interaction Between the Sanni Demons and the Occurrence of the Tsunami; and, The Anti-Conversion Bills and the Christian Conspiracy; Buddhist Views on the State Protection of Buddhism.


Every year, ISLE students are offered the opportunity to learn Sri Lankan dance and drumming, and to take part in a performance at the end of classes. This year’s participating students performed five pieces, under the tutelage of dance instructor Peter Surasena, and drumming instructor Mr. Sirisoma, at the university. The performance was a success, and was followed by a party at the residence of a host parent.

dance drumming
Left: Sarah Gettie (assistant) performs in the ISLE girls' Kandyan Dance.
Right: Sarah and Peter W. take a bow at the end of
their drumming ensemble piece.

Cooking classes, with instructor Harsha Seneviratne, wife of Professor S. Seneviratne, were a hit again this year! Harsha is a professional caterer and caters food for official dinner parties at the university and elsewhere. She conducted four classes, each full to the brim -- there was no room in the kitchen for last-minute (hungry?) attendees hoping to gain entry. This is a wonderful way for students to learn even more about Sri Lankan cuisine, in addition to what they learn in their homestays.

Sri Lankan cooking instructor Harsha Seneviratne
teaches students to make potato curry.

ISLE students seem to have endless supplies of energy. In addition to their studies, many students volunteered for a bit at a local orphanage, attended a musical concert hosted by the Alliance Francaise, hosted a Halloween party (attended by host families and some faculty with children), and visited an elephant orphanage in Kandy. It's safe to say that by the time Session III ended, many students were feeling very much a part of Sri Lankan life.

An elephant being bathed by his mahout at Pinnawela elephant orphanage.

Elephants cooling off in the water and the mud at Pinnawela.

Driver Sumanesena and Nick under a giant tea cup at the Zesta tea cafe.

The back of a public bus.

The traditional Halloween party wrapped things up for the session, and this year faculty and staff (and their children) were invited. Everyone enjoyed the festivities. This year's group of students also may have set a record for agreeing on a 2005 ISLE group t-shirt design. The process can be quite contentious, but this year everyone seemed happy with the winning design, and a peaceful end to the proceedings put a nice finishing touch on Session III.