ISLE students are immediately fully engaged in the program upon their arrival in Sri Lanka. There are orientation tours through the town of Kandy (including visits to the Dalada Maligava and nearby temples), and at the University of Peradeniya, plus a visit to local orphanages where students have the opportunity to volunteer. Material Culture class begins immediately after orientation, and Sinhala language classes, which began just two days after arriving, continue right through the eight-day tour of archaeological and pilgrimage sites in the north. Language instructor Mr. Herath accompanied the group on the tour to help them practice their Sinhala. By the time students meet up with their host families, they know enough Sinhala to engage in simple, polite conversation.
One of several Sinhala course field trips took the students to nearby Kingswood College in Kandy. It was an opportunity to get a sense of the various educational settings in Sri Lanka. ISLE students will visit another school during Session II.
After attending a tea for foreign students studying at the University, one of our own ISLE students (Sam) spearheaded an effort to draw up a "constitution" that will be the first step in establishing a foreign students club at the university. This group of ISLE students are integrating very well with students at the university. This is a great way for them to feel more a part of Sri Lankan life, and it will be an important part of the students' overall experience.
Material Culture Prof. Sudharshan Seneviratne delivered four lectures to the students in preparation for the tour to sites in the North Central Province. Unfortunately, due to a sudden health emergency, Prof. Seneviratne could not accompany the group on the tour. Faculty director John Holt conducted the tour with Mr. Daya Sissera (Prof. Sudharshan’s assistant), along with program assistant Phil Friedrich. Language instructor Mr. Herath also provided local color along the way; much of it was humorous, to the delight of the students. (We are happy to report that Prof. Seneviratne has recovered from his illness.)
The tour began on February 14, 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. Now is a particularly beautiful and comfortable time to tour Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Polonnaruva, the ubiquitous rice paddies were a brilliant green and the tanks were filled to their brims.
The group took the long way back to Kandy, through Mahiyangana which allowed students to see some remote and rural areas of the island. They also had a chance to visit the famous Mahiyangana stupa (site of the Buddha's first visit to Sri Lanka).
Returning to the ISLE Center, students were very busy at the end of Session I (the first of several "crunch times" in the program), writing their Material Culture essays, and preparing for their first big Sinhala exam. Session II’s elective academic courses on politics, ethnicity and social identity, Buddhist ethics, environmental studies, and folk culture will no doubt keep students just as busy and engaged as did Session I.
(More photos on Photo Gallery page.)