The ISLE Program is based in Kandy, a city of about 130,000 people in the central highlands of the island. Built around a lake, surrounded by forested hills and tea estates, Kandy has a mild tropical climate that attracts seasonal visitors seeking relief from the heat and humidity of less congenial parts of the island. It is also home to the University of Peradeniya (see University photos), the institution of higher education with which ISLE has been formally affiliated since 1983.
The last capital city of the Sinhalese Kingdom, Kandy remains the center of traditional Sri Lankan culture. In the city and surrounding countryside, music, dance, and other artistic and craft traditions are preserved and perpetuated to an extent rarely seen elsewhere on the island.
Sri Lanka's historical roots and its religious and ethnic identities reach back to the first millennium before the Common Era. Early in the island's history, immigrant groups from northeast and south India brought Buddhism and Hinduism to the island. Through centuries of interaction, social and cultural features of these groups commingled at many levels, while political dominance of one or the other reinforced separate identities. Muslim traders established small communities as early as the 8th century, adding a further element of diversity to the island's populace. From the 16th century until Independence in 1948, Sri Lanka fell to successive colonial regimes of the Portuguese, Dutch, and British. These colonial powers dramatically influenced economic and political life and introduced several varieties of Christianity to the island.
In light of its rich cultural and religious diversity, Sri Lanka celebrates 28 holidays a year. Almost every month they observe a festival or two. Most of the dates of these festivals vary from year to year, determined by lunar movements. Each full moon (poya) has a special religious significance for Sinhala Buddhists. ISLE students will have a chance to observe these and other festivals during their stay in Sri Lanka.