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The last session of the program is always exciting for the students, as this is when they travel on their own to do research for their Independent Study projects. It's also a festive time, with students celebrating an American Thanksgiving and holding a final tea for their host families.
INDEPENDENT STUDY:The session was kicked off with a day full of Independent Study project presentations. These provided the students an opportunity to learn more about the possibilities for their projects and to share information with each other. The director as well as the program assistants helped the students prepare to depart, by giving feedback on their proposals and dispensing advice and tips on traveling. Reminding students to use Sinhala as much as possible, advising them to hire translators and to record notes daily, and arming them with tape recorders and cassettes, the director and assistants sent them off well-equipped to dig deep into their various projects. Students were also reminded that they continue to represent the ISLE Program as they travel, and that they would come back to a celebratory Thanksgiving dinner at the end of the month.
Once students were in the field, the director and assistants traveled to various locations to make sure the students were doing well, and in one case to deliver supplies to a group who were staying in a small, rural village. Overall, the Independent Study period went very well, and students returned with valuable, first-hand research experience that helped build a base of knowledge on topics as varied as the politicization of the tsunami, women workers, ethnic and religious conflict, industrial development and the environment.
Oral presentations by the students were held several days after their return, on the heels of final Sinhala Exams. The students spoke about their topics to the group at large, and specifically to a faculty member and a student discussant who would ask questions and engage the presenter in dialog about the project. There was much to be gleaned from this year's presentations.
"The language of a culture channels truths and revelations about that culture..."
-- 2005 ISLE Student
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. Repetition is key, according to this year's group. Many used home-made flash cards, and a writing/re-writing technique to memorize the alphabet. Small group and one-on-one sessions in the classroom were also very instrumental. Students quickly found that speaking Sinhala in the home, with one's host family, is an incredibly efficient way to learn the language as well. "Once you speak Sinhala, you get treated much better, and not like a tourist," one student learned.
- "The language instruction was exceptional. I never would have expected to learn so much over four months."
- "Professors Herath and Meegaskumbara are incredible resources for the ISLE Program, and I am thankful for the time and commitment they gave ..."
- "Sinhala was and is my biggest 'in' to Sri Lankan culture!"
- "Overall, the best language classes I've ever had."
THANKSGIVING: This year's celebration included staff, faculty and host families, and resulted in an Olympic feat of cooking and preparation by chef Harsha Seneviratne and students who were in the midst of Sinhala finals and oral presentations. Harsha prepared three turkeys, stuffing, rice, sambol, and alu hodie, and students and guests also contributed a number of dishes. To say the food was plentiful and delicious is an understatement.
THE FINAL TEA: This event provided students and families a chance to engage in a last, formal outing together before the program's end. After "short eats," conversation, and concluding remarks by the director, many photos were taken of families and fellow students. The evening was then capped off with dinner at a local restaurant for the students, assistants and the director and her family (unfortunately, the director did not attend since her young child was not feeling well). The dinner was a great way to say goodbye, and to reminisce about shared experiences in Sri Lanka.
"Come with an open heart as well as an open mind."
-- 2005 ISLE Student