This year's group of students - 19 in all, from six of our consortium colleges (Colby, Carleton, Grinnell, Swarthmore, Whitman and Bowdoin) - came into the ISLE Program after the disastrous 2004 tsunami changed the country of Sri Lanka in countless ways. To these students' credit, not only were they looking forward to learning about Sri Lanka's ancient history, but in also learning about its recent history, about the culture and people both pre-tsunami and post-tsunami. These students' depths of curiousity and interest have worked to create a wonderful group of program participants whom we suspect will reap great rewards from their experiences.
"If you can't stand academics or if you can't set out on your own, don't come. If you are open, excited, curious, tolerant and thirsty, then get on the plane!" -- Swarthmore Student
Students participating in the ISLE Program are taken through a number of steps leading up to the August departure, focusing both on academics and on the cultural experience. Program preparations commence several months before the actual travel to Sri Lanka, and began this year with acceptance letters from 2005 Faculty Director Professor Lynn Kremer of Holy Cross College. Early in the year, program assistants Sarah Gettie Burks (Carleton, ISLE student in 2003) and Colin Dieck (Bowdoin, ISLE student in 2002) were appointed.
PRE-PROGRAM READING AND PREPARATION
ISLE Administrative Director Sree Padma Holt set up a Listserve email group for the students, and sent out the pre-orientation readings before students left their campuses. The students are strongly encouraged to do the reading and the Sinhala alphabet studies before departure. We were pleased to see that this year, some students really made progess, and even used Sinhala to greet their host families in their personal letters of introduction.
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.
"I'm pretty sure it's the monsoon season based on what I've seen in the news... Is it just the beginning or will the season change when we arrive? I took a weather class and I've been obsessed with weather for quite some time."
-- Pre-program Listserve posting
The administrator's office also sees 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.
Sree Padma hosted a pre-orientation gathering at Bowdoin early in May, inviting ISLE students from the New England area to attend. Generally at this time of year, students are busy with finals and graduation, but several students reserved time for this very important session. Returning students gave presentations on various aspects of the program, and new students were informed of any changes being introduced into the 2005 Program.
PREPARATION FOR THE DIRECTOR AND ASSISTANTS
Faculty Director Lynn Kremer and assistants Sarah and Colin attended a weekend of orientation at Bowdoin in June. Sree Padma Holt spends this time going over program details and procedures with the director and assistants, and much is discussed that generally paves the way for a smooth program.
Professor Kremer has traveled extensively in Indonesia and also India, and has a strong passion for the Indonesian performing arts. She teaches theater at Holy Cross, and has written and directed a number of performances that have been performed in New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and in Ireland. Her travel experiences abroad and her academic background will provide a colorful component to this year's ISLE Program.
Assistants Sarah and Colin reached back to their time in Sri Lanka to contribute to the discussion, and later were extremely helpful in posting advice and tips to the students via the ISLE Listserve tool. This email list is a valuable resource to each year's group: students typically have questions on everything from appropriate clothing to malaria medication. The knowledge of each year's assistants is essential in preparing the new group for the journey ahead.
Professor Kremer also traveled to Sri Lanka in July with Sree Padma to meet with ISLE Center staff and faculty. She met with University Vice Chancellor Kapila Goonasekera, Dean Ranjith Amarasinghe, and the De Silvas, the homestay coordinators, among others. This trip offered a critical opportunity to tend to issues that would pave the way for the students' arrival later.
"Sri Lankans think it is a disgrace to waste food. Make sure that you eat whatever you put onto your plate."
-- ISLE Handbook
The students' ISLE Handbook, 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.
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 and that prospective students find it useful.