The final session is a busy one, and emotional, as the students realize their final days in Sri Lanka are looming, amidst presentation of their Independent Study projects and their final Sinhala oral examinations. There were sad goodbyes, final teas, a belated Thanksgiving celebration, and perhaps not a small amount of exhaustion. The students departed Sri Lanka and the ISLE program on December 11, 2006.
The students didn't disappoint their instructors, who felt throughout the program that this year's group was especially diligent and efficient in their Sinhala studies. Professor Meegaskumbara and Mr. Herath were impressed with the final oral examinations, and many students expressed satisfaction with what they'd learned and felt it greatly assisted them in their daily interactions on the island.
- "I think that the language component is very well developed and conducive to successfully gaining adequate language skills."
- "My Sinhala proficiency was essential to the execution of my independent study project, especially for the occasion that my tape recorder was broken and I was unable to translate the conversations I thought I was recording. After my initial shock at discovering that the machine wasn't working, I realized that I had understood everything that was said, and simply wrote it down. I also think that some level of proficiency in Sinhala helps earn your interviewee's trust."
- "In Kandy it helped to make me look more legitimate as a student, and I think it made people more excited and often more willing to speak with me."
- "My experience here would have been completely different if I had not learned Sinhala. My life is much easier here with a little knowledge of Sinhala."
After a day full of Independent Study project presentations early in the session, students departed for their I.S. locations. Due to security issues, some locales were changed and plans had to be altered in some cases; but the students persevered, and Professor Meegaskumbura was once again invaluable in providing guidance and advice. Sumanesena stayed tuned to weather and mudslide reports and provided a critical stream of communication both ways between the center and the students, to keep everyone apprised of road closing and bus and train schedules.
Overall, the Independent Study period went very well, and students returned with valuable, first-hand research experience that helped them gain an even deeper understanding of the culture and history of Sri Lanka.
The center's Thanksgiving celebration was held on Tuesday, December 5th, after the final Sinhala orals, and all the staff joined in the celebration. Harsha provided the turkey, gravy and stuffing, which was reportedly quite excellent, while the students all brought a dish. The students had made arrangements to travel to Sri Pada later that evening. They climbed the mountain to watch the dawn on the following day and got back to Kandy a little before noon on Wednesday.
The day after, Professor Meegaskumbara generously invited everyone to his house for a dinner party. The students, assistants, director and Mr. Herath all attended, and great fun was had.
THE FINAL TEA:
All of the students and host families attended the year-end final tea. Also in attendance were Professors Premasiri and Liyanage, and next fall's ISLE Faculty Director Larry Lutchmansingh. In response to observations made by former ISLE students concerning the lack of "closure" and ceremony at the final tea, this year's group brought out the large jungle fowl brass lamp from the ISLE Center living room and lit it. Director Ryor gave a brief speech of thanks and wishes for the continuation of the relationships formed during the program. Lots of pictures were taken, including the "official," final group photo.