ISLE Program

Fall 2009 Pre-Orientation

The seven students participating in the Fall 2009 ISLE program come from Carleton, Holy Cross, and Whittier Colleges.

Keep checking these pages for further updates on the activities of the ISLE Fall 2009 students.

Preparations in Sri Lanka

The students have spent a busy summer preparing for their upcoming semester in Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, preparations in Kandy in anticipation of the students' arrival have been equally intensive. Before the students arrived, ISLE Administrative Director Dr. Sree Padma Holt and ISLE Fall 2009 Resident Director Professor Roger Vetter engaged in numerous planning sessions with ISLE faculty and staff members. Following are some photos of those planning meetings.

Padma, Roger, Punchi, Tilak

Here Padma and Roger meet with Independent Study Advisor Professor Punchi Meegaskumbura and ISLE Office Associate Tilak Jayatilake.

meeting with Premasiri

They also met with Professor P.D. Premasiri of the Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies at the University of Peradeniya who teaches the ISLE course, "Theravada Buddhist Thought".

meeting with Prof. de Silva

Roger and Padma meet with Professor Kingsley de Silva, who teaches the course, "Colonial History of Sri Lanka" for the ISLE Program, and who serves as the Executive Director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) in Kandy and Colombo.

Professor de Silva

Professor de Silva in his office.

Padma, Roger and archaeologists

The ISLE Program offers students the opportunity to see and study Sri Lankan archaeology in person through the "Material Culture" course and the northern tour of archaeological sites. Here Padma and Roger confer with archaeologists H.G. Dayasisira and Aruna Rajapakse, who will accompany the students on their upcoming archaeological tour.

Dayasisira and Rajapaksa

Archaeologists Dayasisira and Rajapakse.

Vetters and Halpes

Poetry, Art and Drama Professor Ashley Halpé and his wife Bridget (pictured at right) invited Roger and Val Vetter and Padma to their home in Kandy for preparatory meetings.

Chez Halpe

The Halpés show the Vetters their extensive art collection, which Professor Halpé also uses in his courses.

Roger, Padma, Prof. Halpe

Roger and Padma confer with Professor Halpé.

Professor Ashley Halpe

Professor Ashley Halpé.

tropical bird

This beautiful tropical bird greeted Padma and the Vetters when they arrived to meet with the Halpés.

Student Preparations

In addition to attending orientation meetings with ISLE staff and former ISLE students, the students are provided with information on a wide range of topics, including academic courses, information on travel-related issues such as immunizations and passports, practical advice on life in Kandy, packing, and much more. They also use a Web-based forum to discuss ideas and concerns, ask questions, and to get answers from program staff. Both students and parents receive periodic updates on important preparatory issues via an e-mail list serve, and the Administrative Director is always available to answer individual questions by phone or e-mail.

After being sent preliminary information and language learning materials, students have carefully chosen their courses, and have started learning Sinhala, the majority language of Sri Lanka. Although learning Sinhala is challenging, it is well worth the effort to arrive in Sri Lanka with some knowledge of the alphabet and speaking at least a few phrases. Students will need their Sinhala skills from the very beginning, in order to strike the right note with their host families and other local people and to be ready to start their cultural immersion.


To help them prepare for living in Sri Lanka, students are required to read the ISLE HANDBOOK and to bring it with them for reference. The Handbook is invaluable, covering a wide variety of practical 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.

Students are also provided with additional preparatory readings. These include English translations of selections from The Mahavamsa, 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 students also read two modern Sri Lankan books over the summer: When Memory Dies and Life Means Not to Kill. The former is a novel which 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. The latter is an autobiographical account by a former Buddhist monk of the tumultuous period between 1988 and 1980 in Sri Lanka.

Students are also provided with copies of The Insight Guide to Sri Lanka. The Guide 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.

In addition to the required readings, students are also asked to do independent research and reading on Sri Lankan and South Asian history and culture, to help prepare them for the coming semester.

Below are our Fall 2009 student profiles:

Kate AthensKate Athens, from Princeton, New Jersey, is a a religion major at Carleton College. She is particularly interested in learning about religion in Sri Lankan culture, and she's also very interested in history, art, literature, and education. Kate has traveled to France for cultural immersion programs and is proficient in French. She has also lived in London, but this will be her first experience in Sri Lanka.

Bryanna BenedettiBryanna Benedetti was born and raised in Southern California and studies at Whittier College, where she is a Whittier Scholars (self-designed) Major. She plans to study moral and ethical development within religious and secular structures, with an added focus on gender. Bryanna is interested in learning about why people and society act the way they do. She also enjoys photography and hopes to be able to capture the beauty of Sri Lanka while there. Last January, Bryanna studied abroad in Morocco.

Pete BergPete Berg, from Connecticut by way of Carleton College, is interested in studying both religion and physics. He is particularly interested in Buddhism and Islam, and it was Pete's interest Buddhism that attracted him to the ISLE program. He is also excited to simply learn about Sri Lanka with ISLE.

Sarah DohertySarah Doherty is a studio art major at Carleton College. She likes literature, dancing, urbanism, camping, good food, good photos and bad photos, old movies, old music, and new travels. Sarah is from Annapolis, MD and before that Carmel, CA, so she loves water. She can't wait to explore Sri Lanka.

Dan GeigearDan Geiger is a Sociology major with a double concentration in Asian and Africana studies at Holy Cross College. He hopes to build upon his Sociology and Asian studies through the ISLE Program, and he hopes to tie everything together in an independent study focusing on development theory. Although he's in college on the east coast, Dan hails from Maple Plain, Minnesota.

Alex HeidAlex Heid studies Studio Art and Art History Carleton College. He loves to spend lots of time exploring cities and wilderness and reading and is very excited to learn about Sri Lanka. Alex grew up in St. Cloud, MN where he still gets to every once in a while. This summer he will be busy working in Peru, working for a sculptor at Carleton, and guiding some canoe trips in the Boundary Waters wilderness area.

Jen KnightJen Knight is a religion major at Carleton college. While she has learned to think of Minnesota as home, she is originally from northern California. She is primarily interested in religious social movements in Southeast Asia, but is thinking of exploring traditional healing practices in Sri Lanka for her independent study. She loves ethnic drumming, and has experience playing Afro-Cuban music. She is looking forward learning how to play Kandyan drums on the program. She's also really looking forward to learning Sinhala! 

Fall 2009 ISLE Faculty and Staff

Professor Roger VetterProfessor Roger Vetter is the Resident Faculty Director for the Fall 2009 ISLE Program. He has been a professor of ethnomusicology in the Grinnell College Department of Music since 1986 and has twice served as Chair of the Humanities Division. He has had extended field research experiences in Indonesia and Ghana, and in 2000 served as co-director of the ACM Zimbabwe Study Abroad Program. During the Fall of 2006 Vetter taught on the Semester at Sea program, and while traveling around the world developed an interest in studying how traditional performing arts are transformed into commodities in the global tourism marketplace. He has created a website for his course on musical globalization exploring this phenomenon, which he hopes to continue exploring while in Sri Lanka: Professor Vetter will be accompanied by his wife, Val.  

Val VetterVal Vetter is the coordinator for the Peace Studies Program at Grinnell College, where she has been teaching Javanese dance  for over 20 years.  She has lived and studied in Java during numerous long stays. The thesis for her masters in South Asian Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison focused on bedhaya, a Javanese court dance genre. She has had the opportunity to experience a range of cultures while studying in Taiwan and China, as well as living in Ghana and Zimbabwe.

Dr. Sree Padma HoltISLE Administrative Director, Dr. Sree Padma Holt  works with ISLE faculty and administrators 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, making sure 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.

Katie BerringerKatie Berringer, the Fall 2009 ISLE Program Assistant, was a student on the Fall 2007 ISLE program. She graduated this June with a major in Religion from Carleton College. After returning from the ISLE Program, Katie focused her studies at Carleton on South Asia and Buddhism. She considers ISLE to have been the single most personally and academically transformative experience she has had at college. Before returning to Sri Lanka in August, Katie is spending the summer teaching high school students at Carleton’s Summer Writing Program. She is thrilled to be returning to Sri Lanka as the ISLE Program Assistant. Katie will provide logistical support, advice, and much more to the Fall 2009 group of students. She will also provide all the photos and updates from Sri Lanka that you will see on these Web pages throughout the coming semester.

We look forward to bringing you reports and photographs from the Fall 2009 group, including photos and updates about the students' arrival and orientation in Sri Lanka. Once again, we thank the students' families for their support, and hope you enjoy these Web pages.