ISLE Program

2006 Session I Activities

Although some students expressed concern at the end of Session I about frustrations with learning Sinhala (it's a very busy time, due to orientation and Northern Tour), students are keeping up and slowly discovering a rhythm and pace that works for them. It's an intense language program, and students are reassured that their instructors know this and are aware of the challenges. A seminar was held on the pre-program readings, and to the delight of the director and instructors, every student participated.

Prof. Seneviratne (Material Culture) expressed that he is very pleased with the students, and with both their group discussions as well as individual meetings. Director Ryor notes that the students are exhibiting very responsible and diligent work habits, and has no doubt that their academic pursuits will be thorough and rewarding.

  • "The little Sinhala I have been able to use has enhanced my conversations in that it separates me from the tourists to the island."
  • "[Learning Sinhala] has certainly helped to enhance my experience ... I feel much more comfortable and confident knowing that I can communicate with people."
  • "I really enjoyed having Herath on the [Northern Tour] trip, and my interactions with him during the tour helped me to keep up with my Sinhala as well."
  • "Even very small amounts of Sinhala make it easier to connect with Sri Lankans and it's great to see how well you are received when you attempt to speak it. This morning when a couple little girls passed me on the street and wished me good morning, I answered back in Sinhala and the looks on the girls' faces was priceless."
* * *

  • "The Material Culture course is a great way to understand the ancient history of the island which is still so extremely relevant to the affairs occurring today..."
  • "I think that this course will remain in my memory as one of the most important aspects of the ISLE Program... [This course was] awesome, mostly because of the Northern Tour and Professor Seneviratne’s knowledge on the subject. "
  • "I now have a much firmer grasp on Sri Lankan material culture and history, archeology, and how the past has shaped/influenced the present issues in Sri Lanka."

The Northern Tour began on August 16, taking the students to Anuradhapura, the first capital of Sri Lanka; to Mihintale, a monastic city developed around the cave that sheltered the first disciple of Buddhism (Mahinda); to Sigiriya, where the Monarch Kassapa built a stupendous palace on top of a mammoth rock; and to the medieval capital of Polonnaruwa. The group started at the Ibbankatuva megalithic burial site, and the drip-ledge caves at Vessagiriya, in Anuradhapura.


Professor Seneviratne explains the layout of the 3rd Cent. BCE Somavathi Stupa
site on the way to Anuradhapura.


Professor Seneviratne introduces ISLE students to his most recent archaeological undertaking
at Vessagiri during the first day of Northern Tour. Vessagiri, located in the Anuradhapura area,
is home to drip-ledge caves used by forest-dwelling monks beginning in the 3rd Cent. BCE.
ISLE students were able to freely explore the site as it is currently being excavated under
the direction of Professor Seneviratne.

dig site

ISLE students check out one of Prof. Sudarshan Seneviratne's active archaeological digs.

Black Water Pond

Malaika, Colleen, Katie H., Megan, and Amberlee take in the scenery of Mihintale's
"Black Water Pond" on the second day of Northern Tour.


Carolina and Malaika listen intently to a lecture at a Monastic site.


Katie D., Dan, and Reid concentrating on Prof. Seneveratne's lecture on
drip ledge caves and forest dwelling monks.

Favorite Things So Far?

- "The flora and fauna - everywhere you turn there are interesting species of animals and plants, creating vibrant sounds and colors."
-- 2006 Student

Professor Seneviratne's assistant on the tour, Poori, has a graduate degree in museum studies and heritage management, and took the group to three museums in Anuradhapura. Sinhala instructor Mr. Herath also went along on the trip, to assist the students in keeping up with their Sinhala studies. Students found individual sessions with him extremely helpful and more of those are being scheduled. Assistants Flynn and Phil helped keep the group moving, on time and on target, and contributed greatly to the overall success of the trip. Sumanasena (driver and performer of bureaucratic miracles; see staff info page) kept things running smoothly behind the scenes and was a font of knowledge.

rock beds

Jayme, Carolina, and Kristen testing out the austere rock beds of 3rd Cent. BCE Jain Monks.

Pidurangala ROck

Amberlee enjoys breezy relief from the heat of Norther Tour atop Pidurangala Rock.

rock top

Amberlee and Reid peacefully taking in the world from the top of Sigiriya Rock.

All the hotels were comfortable, and students enjoyed the pools and the tasty food. They were awed by Sigiriya Village, and enjoyed the Ecovillage tour. Several students have expressed interest in doing their independent studies here.


Katie D. capturing the view atop Sigiriya Rock in words.


Alex enjoys the serenity at the top of Sigiriya Rock.

Favorite Things So Far?

- "Bonding with my fellow students on the awesome Northern Tour;"
- "There is not just one thing ... My host family, my fellow students who are devoted to learning about Sri Lanka, all the wonderful resources... The combination is what is fantastic."
- "Finding out that learning Sinhala is not as hard as I thought, and is much more useful than I thought."
-- 2006 Students

Students reflect on the day's activities atop Sigiriya. As part of the Material Culture course, each student was expected to keep a journal of his or her personal reactions and reflections to the sites visited on Northern Tour.

Sigiria hike

Back L-R: Dan, Liz, Carolina; Front L-R Kristen, Megan, Jayme, and Katie S.
crossing under the "finish line" of the Sigiriya Hike.

audience hall

Liz, Patrick, Chris, Colleen, Katie H. and Amberlee convene in an ancient audience hall in Polonnaruwa.

ancient oil baths

Mike tests out an ancient oil bath (sans oil) during a visit to Alahana Parivena
in Polonnaruwa on Northern Tour. The bath would have been used to sooth the aching bodies
of monks during Polonnaruwa's period of cultural efflorescence (1055-1200 AD).
Mike reports that, despite its looks, the oil bath is quite comfortable.

  • "Northern Tour was great. I am pleased that I was able to visit the sites with someone who was as knowledgeable about the history, cultural context and contemporary issues regarding each site as Professor Seneviratne."
  • "The field trip made up the majority of this course, and was fantastic. Professor Seneviratne has every little detail perfectly planned out."
  • "Northern Tour was spectacular. It is certainly the best and most important part of the course. The itinerary is masterfully crafted."
  • "Northern tour was wonderful. It was a great experience to be able to see the sites in person and expresses so much more than a picture can."

(More photos on Photo Gallery page.)

- Go on to Session II Activities