ISLE Program

2008 Spring Session III Activities

The third and final session of the program is the students’ Independent Study. After much research and careful planning with their professors and the program director, ISLE students spend nearly a month conducting research and working on their own personal projects. In most cases the students study away from the ISLE Center and their homestay families. Students take what they have learned in the classroom and on field trips together with their unique experiences with their families and immerse themselves in Sri Lankan culture.

This year's independent study session saw students travel to diverse locations such as Puttalam, Sinigama, Knuckles mountain range, etc. to study an array of topics (Muslim refugees in Puttalam, the Devol Deviyo devale (shrine), Kandyan dance and drumming, the Sarvodaya micro-lending project, etc.).

The start of session III also coincided with the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, which gave the students a nice opportunity to spend some time with their host-families (and their extended families!) and witness the traditional customs and rituals associated with the New Year such as boiling of milk rice, observing the auspicious times, and other local traditions.

Prior to the start of Independent Study, the guys made a trip to Sri Pada to undertake the midnight hike to the top. Sri Pada, also known as Adam’s Peak, is a holy location for various religious groups such as Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists in Sri Lanka.  The Buddhists who make the pilgrimage up the mountain do so to visit what they believed to be the Buddha's footprint in stone on the top of the peak.

Tilak and Adam

Tilak and Adam explore the locale surrounding the village of Illukumbura (Adam's Independent Study site) in the Knuckles mountain range.

Sam Drumming

Sam demonstrates the Kandyan drumming skills he honed over Independent Study during the presentation day (Sam studied with the Kanydan drum master Ratotta Sirisena for his Independent Study).

Following their time in the field, students returned to Kandy for what was a hectic final week and half. In that period they finished up writing their Independent Study papers and had their final Sinhala exams.


Aliya reflects on her Independent Study experience of studying the bhikkhu (monk) culture at the University of Peradeniya.


Marjorie presents her Independent Study findings (her project took her to Puttalam to study Muslim refugee camps).

A few student groups from the university invited the ISLE students on a day hike in Udawattakelle which was a nice break from the monotony of Independent Study paper writing.

Hike in Kandy

ISLE students join friends from the University for a hike in Kandy's Udawattakelle (a forest reserve behind the Temple of the Tooth Relic).

In addition to the paper, each student presented his/her Independent Study findings during an Independent Study seminar. The discussions were an opportunity for students to reflect on their own experiences, as well as put their work into conversation with what other students had done over Independent Study. The day was enriched by the presence of Prof. Meegaskumbura, who also commented on the papers in conjunction with Prof. Holt.

"I learned the most by far on my independent study where I was able to create my own syllabus and thus every night was able to read about things that directly related to what I had seen and experienced during the day.  My independent study was one of the most natural and fruitful learning experiences I have ever had.” (Bowdoin Student)

The final week was also an opportunity for two visitors from Holy Cross (Professor Todd Lewis and Professor Mark Lincicome) to interact with ISLE students, faculty, and host-families.

Group in home

Profs. Todd Lewis and Mark Lincicome of Holy Cross meet with ISLE faculty, Prof. John Holt, and Sree Padma Holt during a visit to Sri Lanka.

Group in discussion

Profs. Mark Lincicome and Todd Lewis in discussion with ISLE faculty.

The program culminated with the annual final tea. This is a tradition for the ISLE program, it is a wonderful opportunity for students to try out some traditional Sri Lankan garb and say goodbye and maybe most importantly thank you to all those who make the ISLE Program possible. This year's tea was enriched by the presence of the two Holy Cross professors and a number of ISLE faculty members.

Group outside

Marjorie and Asteria decked out in shalwar-kameez and sari with their host-families at the final tea.

Final tea

Conversation and a chance to say goodbyes at the final tea.

short eats

Enjoying "short-eats" at the final tea.

Sam and brother

Sam and his malli (younger brother) at the final tea, acting very much like brothers!

 Students at tea

Marjorie, Asteria, and Adam at the final tea.

Students at tea

Aliya, Adam, Marjorie, Asteria, Sam, and Chris in full Sri Lankan garb at the final tea.


Flowers in bloom above the ISLE classroom during the final tea.

 Prof. Holt

Marjorie, Yoni, and Professor Holt at the final tea.

Group looking on

Mr. Herath identifies the student caricatures on this year's ISLE T-shirt with Adam, Chris, Sam, and Yoni.

  group outside

The entire crew including host-families, students, and administrators on the ISLE lawn following the final tea.

Content and images were provided by Philip Freidrich