ISLE Program

2006 Session II Activities


Session II offers more structured classes than Session I, which is devoted mostly to the Northern Tour, and begins with students taking their first Sinhala exam. Sinhala studies continue, and Prof. Meegaskumbara and Mr. Herath began conducting small group and individual sessions, along with their regular classes. All of the students signed up for numerous sessions with them. (We're pleased to report the language instructors are very impressed with the efforts of this year's group.)

Alex showing off his expertise at the
Kandyan Drum.

Extracurricular classes such as Dance and Drumming and Batik offer a chance for students to get creative. Each student tried Dance and Drumming for the first two sessions, and most have continued the course and are very committed! Mr. Surasena even offered some extra sessions to go over some of the more difficult dances.

There are plans to do a Kandyan dance performance at the Pushapadana Girls College (see below) at the end of Session III.

Professor Amarasinghe clearly loves teaching Modern Sri Lankan Politics. There is lots of dicussion and the class is very lively and engaging. The final panel was a huge success, featuring several Buddhist monks, including one who is a current Member of Parliament (and who was unusually frank, according to Prof. Amarasinghe). Prof. Meddegama came to help with translation. Students found it extremely interesting.

  • "This was my favorite class this session, both because of the style of teaching and the knowledge of the professor. I found the class extremely relevant and helpful for understanding the situation in Sri Lanka."

  • "Amazing and fascinating lectures ... I can’t say how helpful and encouraging this professor was. It would be impossible to ask for anything more."

  • "The JHU panel was outstanding and illuminating. I am grateful to have had such an opportunity to listen to these politically active, venerable monks, and to better understand their side of the political spectrum."

Professor Tudor Silva's Ethnicity and Social Identity course went very well, with students coming to class fully prepared and interested in the topic at hand. The course explores Sri Lankan society through three primary bases of social/collective identity: caste, social class and ethnicity. It covers a broad scope of issues critical to understanding the role of ethnicity in Sri Lanka today.

  • "I think this course is extremely important in order to gain a depth and clarity about the many issues relating to caste, class, and identity that exist throughout Sri Lanka."

  • "The course gave me a good background into the conflict [in Sri Lanka]..."

  • "The field trip was excellent. It was so helpful to talk to Tamil plantation workers, because I think it provided a different perspective than I would have gotten otherwise."

Students enrolled in Professor de Silva's Colonial History course ended Session II clearly recognizing the tremendous contributions he has made to the field of Sri Lankan history. Professor De Silva lectured for the two-hour period with a break, with Dr. Jayasinghe assisting during the frequent question and answer periods.

  • "The content and style of presentation were highly enjoyable. He is a wonderful lecturer and he is always willing to clarify confusions."

  • "This class was very useful in helping me understand the colonial history of Sri Lanka, which also helps to explain many recent occurrences."

  • "Professor de Silva was captivating."

"The field trip to Nilambe was awesome. It was great to get some instruction on meditation, and I feel that having that exposure really helped me understand Buddhism much better."
-- 2006 Student

Theravada Buddhism is always a popular course, offering students the opportunity to learn both theory and practice from a variety of sources. Professor Premasiri makes Buddhist doctrine very clear in his lectures and gives excellent handouts summarizing the material. As in the past, Professor Premasiri organized a field trip (see below) to the Nilambe Meditation Center, which everyone found informative and enjoyable.

  • "This class was very helpful in gaining a basic understanding of Theravada Buddhism."

  • "This course was extremely significant for my ISLE experience. It helped me to better understand the culture, my family, and gave me some things to think about myself."

  • "I think this course is important to the ISLE program because it gives information on the roots of Buddhism, which becomes an important foundation for future study of the religion in Sri Lanka."

The Myth and Ritual course is taught by Professor Udaya Meddegama. His storytelling and exploration of Sri Lankan rituals and traditions help students understand many facets of Sri Lankan culture. Professor Meddegama's lecture style often feels more like a conversation, pulling the students in and holding their attention.

The bali tovil ritual fascinated the students (bali celebrates the presiding deities of the planets, with offerings made to ward off evil influences; tovil is "devil-dancing," a healing ceremony with roots in folk religion), as did the bodhi puja ceremony (veneration of the bodhi tree) near Dangolla. Students had an opportunity to speak with the monk conducting the puja and to observe devotees. Students also made a trip to the Kataragama religious complex in the south of the island.

  • "Topics and lectures were amazing. I have never been so enthralled in a two-hour class."

  • "The content of the lectures was highly amusing, as professor Meddegama has kissed the blarney stone and is therefore a wonderful story teller."

  • "Professor Udaya Meddegama is wonderful! I always looked forward to going to his lectures and loved listening to the tales he told."


Chris observes as Colleen receives a pirit (protection) thread
from a ritual officiant at the conclusion of a traditional bali ceremony
staged at the ISLE center as part of Myth & Ritual studies.


A Kandyan drummer provides the soundtrack to the bali ceremony.

Field trips are one of the most eye-opening experiences for ISLE students. They fill in the gaps that students might feel they have in topics such as history or ethnic studies, as well as provide living illustrations of course lessons. Field work is essential to the program.

Theravada Buddhism students visted the Nilambe Meditation Center, where students took part in a day of guided meditation, dharma talks, and yoga practice. Paul, the yoga instructor at the center, told the group about his yoga class at the Medical Faculty at the university and invited anyone interested to come.


Buddhism in practice: Dan and Liz meditate amidst the "Up-Country"
hills at Nilambe Meditation Center.

Field trips are a large part of many courses in the program, but perhaps especially so for the Myth & Ritual class, which visited the Kataragama religious complex, Alutnuwara (a shrine village not far from Kandy), and the Kirinde beach temple in the south of the island. The group also visited the Mahayana cliff Buddha at the Dova Temple, near Ella. One student wrote: "The field trip to Kataragama was interesting. It was the point at which I most felt like I experienced a ritual personally.... The field trips were a crucial part of the course and really brought the lecture material even more to life."

smashing coconuts

Jayme takes part in a ritual coconut smashing (thought to be an
auspicious act for the smasher) at the Kataragama religious complex.

stupa at Kirinde

Katie H. makes her way down from the stupa at the Kirinde beach temple.

beach at Kirinde

Liz, Kira, Mike, Amberlee, Carolina, Reid, and Colleen enjoy a quick stop
at the beach while visiting Kirinde.

The Ethnicity and Social Identify field trip was very successful. It was pouring rain in the morning but stopped by the time the group arrived at the tea plantation. The group returned very late in the day, in order to attend the Lankatilika perahera that evening (see below).

tea plantation

Kristen interviews tea plantation workers during an Ethnicity Field trip.

tea estate

Katie D. talking with Tamil Children at a tea plantation in the Maltale District.

tea plantation

Katie S. interviews plantation Tamil women with the help of a third year
political science university student who grew up on a tea plantation near Ratnapura.

tamil kids

Plantation Tamil children visited by Prof. Silva's Ethnicity Class

Flynn and Phil organized an optional trip on the first Sunday of the session to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage. Almost all of the students attended, and a handful of the adventurous actually rode atop the gentle giants.


A group shot of those who visited Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, with Mr. Sumanasena
(the Program Driver), one Sunday morning.

elephant ride

Program Assistant Flynn Jebb and Sumanasena going for a ride on an elephant near Pinnawela.


Kira gets to know a young elephant at Pinnawela.

The field trip on the first weekend of the session to the Temple of the Tooth and Pushapadana Girls College was designed as an opportunity for the students to practice their Sinhala, especially with the girls at Pushpadana. Plans are underway for a Kandyan dance performance there at the end of Session III.

lecture at temple

Sinhala professor Punchi Meegaskumbura lectures during a field trip to Kandy's
Dalada Maligawa, while Mike, Katie H., and Kira look on. The Maligawa
temple complex houses the Buddha's tooth relic.


Students at Kandy's Pushpadana Girls School share a joke with
Kristen during a Sinhala language field trip to the school.

Most of the students - along with Prof. Meegaskumbara - took the opportunity to attend the Lankatilika perahera in early September. (Get more info on perahera.) The celebration was a bit slow to start, due partly to the determination of an auspicious time to start the ceremony and partly to the rainy conditions. Everyone had a great time.

NO COUCH POTATOES HERE: In addition to the Dance and Drumming classes, several students, plus Flynn and Director Ryor, have been attending yoga class at the University (taught by the yoga instructor at the Nilambe Meditation Center).

Professor Amarasinghe and Dr. Ram Alagan organized a cricket game with faculty and ISLE students, and most students attended. Much fun was had.


Dan bowls a laser during an afternoon cricket match at the University of Peradeniya.


Andrew bowls while Alex swings for a "6-er" during an afternoon cricket match at the university.
Katie D. and politics professor Ranjith Amarasinghe ready themselves in the field.


Patrick, Reid, and Andrew bust a move during Kandyan dance rehearsal.


The ISLE ladies rehearse one of many Kandyan dance routines under the watchful eyes
of Kandyan drum and dance masters I.G. Sirisoma and Peter Surasena.

Director Ryor began conducting small group lunches with the students to discuss their preliminary ideas for their Independent Study projects. Many had good core ideas, some more developed than others. Independent Study travels take place in the last session, in November.

• There was a student birthday at the end of the month so the group had a celebration with birthday cake during the last meeting before the IS Site Exploration travel.

• This month volunteering at the orphanage started on Sundays. Every week the two assistants and about seven students attend.

(More photos on Photo Gallery page.)

- Go on to Session III Activities