ISLE Program

Fall 2008 Pre-Orientation

The seven students participating in the Fall 2008 ISLE program bring the total number of ISLE students to more than 410 over the past 27 years.

For some students this may be their first trip abroad, but increasingly the ISLE students are seasoned travelers. Whatever their background, the students bring a desire to better understand the world as well as a commitment to make a contribution to it. The ISLE program provides students a truly unique opportunity to work toward these goals through cross-cultural study and living in Sri Lanka.

Although small, this is a geographically far-flung group, with participants from Bowdoin, Carleton, and Holy Cross Colleges. Because of this, one pre-orientation meeting with all group members was impracticable. Instead, several smaller meetings were held for ISLE participants on each campus. Administrative Director Sree Padma Holt and Fall 2008 Resident Faculty Director Nancy Wilkie met with the four students from Holy Cross College after the ISLE board meeting in mid-April. At Carleton, Professor Wilkie met with the Carleton students at another preparatory meeting. At Bowdoin, Carleton Professor and 2006 ISLE Resident Faculty Directory Katie Ryor, Sree Padma Holt, and recent Bowdoin graduate and Fall 2008 Program Assistant Dan Brady met with the participating Bowdoin student. At all orientation meetings, recent ISLE program participants from each campus also attended and shared their insights and experiences with the fall 2008 students. After the meetings, the students were encouraged to continue their dialogue with on-campus ISLE faculty representatives and staff as well as recent ISLE students as they prepared for the program.

In addition to attending orientation meetings with ISLE staff and former ISLE students, the students use a private Web site tool called Blackboard to gather information on a wide range of topics, including academic courses, information on travel such as immunizations and passports, practical advice on life in Kandy, packing, and much more. Blackboard also provides a group discussion board for exchanging ideas and concerns, asking questions, and getting answers. Important information was also distributed to both parents and students using an email Listserve, and Padma was always available to answer individual questions by phone or e-mail.

Students carefully chose their courses, and started learning Sinhala. The language learning aspect is particularly challenging, but it's well worth the effort to arrive with at least a few phrases, and it helps students to meet and speak with Sri Lankans from the very beginning. Students also read preparatory readings (please scroll down for more information on the readings) to help them become familiar with Sri Lanka's history, culture, geography and people. Both the pre-program readings and the preparatory language study get the students off to a strong start by giving them a basic understanding of Sri Lankan people and culture before they arrive in Kandy. 

Students are also required to read the ISLE HANDBOOK and to bring it with them to Sri Lanka for reference. The Handbook is invaluable, covering a wide variety of topics, including preparing for the long flight, health and safety tips, tips on how to have a successful homestay experience, academic expectations, and more. It includes helpful advice on the transition and adjustment to Sri Lankan culture, societal expectations and the varied nature of the academic experience in Sri Lanka.

Below are our student profiles:

Chris Burke
Chris Burke is an English Literature major at Carleton College. He has taken several courses on South Asian Culture and looks forward to seeing what he has studied come alive. Two years ago Chris traveled to Bhutan, meeting government officials as well as his  Bhutanese peers. He has also backpacked in Chile and traveled widely within the United States.
Jared Christensen
Jared Christensen is a Carleton College Religion major considering a concentration in South Asian Studies. Previous to his semester with ISLE, Jared studied in France for a year. He is fascinated by the influences and interactions between Buddhism and Hinduism. Current interests include Buddhism, imperialism, post-colonial identity and nationalism, cultural exchange and other contemporary developments, and he hopes to tackle some of these issues through his studies in Sri Lanka.
Maria de la Motte
Maria de la Motte is an Anthropology major at Holy Cross College who enjoys extending her academic interests beyond the classroom. This summer, she traveled to Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua to learn and work on a permaculture farm. Maria is fascinated by environmental and social issues in both Latin America and South Asia, particularly agriculture and the role of women in environmental and social movements. Readings on Buddhist environmentalism have made her even more eager to study in Sri Lanka.
Sheila Donahue
Sheila Donahue is majoring in Economics and Accounting with a concentration in Asian Studies at Holy Cross. Her father's career in the U.S. Navy and the family's frequent moves meant that Sheila has lived in Japan, Hawaii, and both coasts of the United States. Her experience adjusting to new circumstances will be an asset on the program. Sheila has studied imperialism and nationalism in South East Asia, and plans to build her knowledge of South Asia by studying with ISLE. She looks forward to learning about all aspects of life in Sri Lanka on the ISLE program. 
Michelle Granara
Michelle Granara is an English major at Holy Cross with concentrations in both Creative Writing and Peace and Conflict Studies. She is very interested in global politics and international relations. Michelle also enjoys traveling and athletics. She has traveled throughout much of Europe as well as Central and South America, she volunteered and participated in a homestay in Spain, and she recently participated in an immersion program in Tanzania. Michelle was an All-American lacrosse player in high school and enjoys hiking and swimming. You are invited to check out Michelle's blog about her observations and experiences on the ISLE program.
Kristin Henning
Kristin Henning is a Pre-Med and Religious Studies major at Holy Cross with an Asian Studies concentration, balancing her pre-medical science and math courses with Asian Studies courses. Kristin has traveled to communities in Honduras, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic, participated in two spring-break immersion programs, and recently returned from summer travel in Uganda. She plans to pursue a degree in International Public Health and to work as a medical missionary with a focus on medical policy.
Sarah Lord
Sarah Lord is a Religion major with a Psychology minor at Bowdoin Colege. Although she has traveled to London and Paris, traveling to Sri Lanka will be Sarah's most adventurous endeavor so far. She is particularly interested in Buddhism and eastern religious thought and eagerly anticipates building on the material she has studied at Bowdoin at the University of Peredeniya. Outside of her major, Sarah enjoys studying poetry and Environmental Studies. This summer, she worked to raise awareness and support for legislation to decrease fossil fuel emissions in the U.S.

Nancy Wilkie

Nancy Wilkie is the Resident Faculty Director for the Fall 2008 program. Dr. Wilkie is the William H. Laird Professor of Classics,Anthropology and Liberal Arts and the co-director of the archaeological concentration at Carleton College. Professor Wilkie is a past President of the Archaeological Institute of America. She has spent extensive time in Sri Lanka and Nepal, and currently serves on the Cultural Property Advisory Committee of the U.S. State Department. She previously directed the ISLE program in 1997.


Preparations for the program commenced well before the students arrived in August. ISLE Administrative Director, Dr. Sree Padma Holt, met ahead of time with faculty and administration at the University of Peradeniya to plan for courses and set up the program calendar for the semester. Dr. Holt also facilitates the orientation and preparation for each group of students by creating and involving the students in the Blackboard Web site and the Listserve email exchange, and by seeing that students follow the steps necessary to address tasks such as acquiring immunizations and passports. She is always available for questions from parents and students. The Administrative Director also acquires the necessary resident Visas for students through the Sri Lankan embassy before the group's departure, makes group travel plans, and holds numerous meetings with ISLE students and staff as they prepare for the coming semester.

Dan Brady

Dan Brady is the Program Assistant for Fall 2008. Dan was a participant in the ISLE program in 2006 and is a member of the Bowdoin College class of 2008, majoring in Religion and Government and Legal Studies. While in Sri Lanka, Dan was unanimously chosen by his peers as most likely to return as a Program Assistant. He has been in constant contact with the students and the Administrative Director throughout the pre-orientation period, and he will continue to provide invaluable assistance to the students and the faculty director in Sri Lanka. Dan is an excellent source on a range of topics relevant to studying in Sri Lanka, and he is also the source of all the photos and updates about the Fall 2008 program activities that you will see on these Web pages throughout the semester. 


Students were given an important novel to read before the trip, When Memory Dies. It is a story that follows the trajectory of three generations of a family through 20th century Sri Lanka, and offers many insights into the current political and social culture of the island.

Students are also asked to read some chapters in The Mahavamsa. The Mahavamsa is a Buddhist monastic chronicle dating from the 5th through 19th centuries. The text provides insight not only into the early history of the country, but also how the past has been understood by many Sinhala people in the present. The selections of readings from The Mahavamsa directly relate to our Ancient Material Culture course focused on the early history of Sri Lanka as well as courses offered in Sinhala culture and rituals.


The Insight Guide to Sri Lanka, which was also distributed to students before departure, gives some idea of what to expect from life in Sri Lanka and provides useful tips on Sri Lankan culture and customs, including proper etiquette and conduct. In addition, it gives a good overview of ancient and modern Sri Lankan history -- something students need to know to make sense of their experience in Sri Lanka.

We look forward to bringing you reports and photographs from the Fall 2008 group, including photos and updates about the students' arrival and orientation in Sri Lanka. Once again, we thank families for their support, and hope you enjoy the Web pages.