Veggie Stand. By Noel McCann '13. View this photo and more at the ISLE Student Tumblr

Frequently Asked Questions

I've heard about Sri Lanka's recent civil war; how safe is the country now?

Since the conclusion of the civil war in 2009, all travel advisories from the U.S. Dept. of State have been lifted and Sri Lanka has been declared safe “country-wide.” During the war, most of the violence occurred between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Government of Sri Lanka armed forces in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of the country—far from the ISLE Center in the Central Province. Although student travel was restricted during that time, ISLE ran successful and safe programs throughout the 26 years of war. During the past eight years following the civil war, many of our students have enjoyed remarkable educational experiences in regions of the country that were once off-limits.

Where is the ISLE Program located?

The ISLE Program Center is located in Dangolla, a quiet middle class neighborhood adjacent to the University of Peradeniya just outside of Kandy in the “hill country” or Central Province. Kandy is a hub for education and traditional Sinhalese culture, and home to popular cultural sites such as the internationally renowned Royal Botanical Garden and the Dalada Maligawa (“Temple of the Tooth-Relic”), the latter a major pilgrimage site for Buddhists throughout Asia. Students live with host families in various neighborhoods of Kandy ensuring their safety and comfort. It can be confidently stated that ISLE students are safer living with their host families in Kandy than they may be on home American college campuses, and certainly much safer than if they were living in major American cities.

Who supervises the students to make sure that they are safe?

Homestay families and onsite staff, including the ISLE Program Director, Program Assistant, and ISLE Center staff members work together to keep students safe. They provide students with the information and support necessary to stay mindful, smart and safe in Sri Lanka. The ISLE Student Handbook, which students receive during the pre-departure period, discusses rules, strategies and appropriate conduct for staying safe as a foreigner. Once students arrive to Sri Lanka, they begin their first week with an orientation on safety, sexual harassment, and cultural sensitivity. Each student receives a cellphone and contact numbers for ISLE staff and administrators, and an introduction to reliable “tuk-tuk” (taxi) drivers. ISLE students often travel as a group or in pairs, a custom that insures safety when traveling beyond programmatic ventures, but by the last phase of the program when students are engaged in independent study and may be traveling alone, they make use of cellphones to remain in contact with the ISLE staff on a frequent basis.

Are there any diseases in Sri Lanka that we should be concerned about?

ISLE students are provided with a list of required and recommended vaccinations that they should get 4-6 weeks prior to departure. While Sri Lanka has been declared effectively malaria-free by the World Health Organization, dengue is still prevalent on the island. Dengue fever is a non-vaccine disease that is transmitted through mosquitos. It is highly recommended that ISLE students always carry insect-repellant, preferably with DEET.

What happens if my son/daughter gets sick?

If the ailment is not serious, the homestay family will take care of the student. In the case of a more serious issue, the student will be taken to the Suwasevana Private Hospital (which is located close to the ISLE Center), Lakeside Hospital (operated by the Seventh Day Adventists near the center of Kandy), or the University of Peradeniya Hospital. The Program Assistant or another staff member will always accompany the student on hospital visits or stays. Many doctors in Sri Lanka have obtained their medical degrees from the United Kingdom (UK) or the US. The quality of health care in Sri Lanka is high, and Sri Lankan doctors are very adept at diagnosing the kinds of illnesses endemic to the tropics.

Are students required to carry health insurance?

All ISLE students are required to have a primary health insurance plan with international coverage. Most college student health plans offer such coverage, but it is the responsibility of students and their families to check with their health insurance providers to make sure they have adequate coverage. The ISLE Program fee includes supplemental medical and travel insurance. The policy offers emergency assistance service for extraordinary needs. It is not a health insurance policy and does not provide medical payments; rather it is designed to work in tandem with your existing insurance. Students received the benefits of this policy upon their departure from the United States until their arrival back in the U.S. Students may wish to purchase travel insurance in the case of trip or flight cancellation or interruption.

How does ISLE select homestay families?

Families are selected through a process of visits and interviews. Each family must be able to provide a private bedroom for the student, must prepare three meals a day, and must be enthusiastic about hosting a foreign student. Many ISLE homestay families have long-standing relationships with the ISLE program, and many have had several students stay with them over the years.

What can my son/daughter expect from the homestay family experience?

In addition to providing meals, families encourage language learning, and include the students in their religious and social activities. They make it possible for students to become actively involved in many aspects of Sri Lankan daily life. Frequent visits by relatives and friends add further diversity to students’ family-life experiences. ISLE host families are situated either in the hills of Dangolla, the quiet residential neighborhood in which the ISLE Study Center is located, or no further than 20 minutes away by 3-wheeler taxi from the Center. Host families can be varied: from very young working couples with young children to widows and retired people. Students are asked to list their preferences during the pre-departure period to assist with the placement process.

How does the academic experience compare to my son's/daughter's home college workload?

Classes and coursework are demanding. Many of the ISLE faculty have taught at ISLE consortium colleges in America, and design their classes with a similar level of academic rigor. All academic classes are supplemented with field trips and tours, which grant students a unique opportunity to learn in the field. The intensive Sinhala language course includes daily assignments and written/oral exams. Students are also expected to practice their language skills outside of the classroom. The Independent Study project provides a unique opportunity to conduct four weeks of field research, and culminates in a 15-20 page paper. This project is wonderful preparation for a senior thesis or honors project.

Where do ISLE students live during Independent Study?

Each ISLE student works with ISLE staff and administrators to locate a homestay family in the area where he/she will be researching. This contact is often a friend or acquaintance of a homestay family member or a staff or university faculty member. Students make at least one site visit prior to beginning the IS period, during which they meet their new homestay families. In the rare case that a homestay family is not available, students will be placed in reliable accommodations such as convents, monasteries, university hostels, or reliable rest houses.

How does ISLE stay in contact with students during the Independent Study period?

ISLE students use their program cell phones to stay in contact with the ISLE Center staff and administrators. The Program Assistant will set up a bi-weekly check-in with each student, to keep tabs on the student’s progress and experience.

What do Sri Lankans eat?

Rice and curry is the standard Sri Lankan meal. Lunch and dinner will often consist of rice and a variety of vegetable, fruit, meat, or fish curries. Other popular foods are Pol Roti (a flat bread made with coconut), Appa (similar to a crepe), and Indi Appa (similar to pasta). There is also a rich variety of fruits that are native to Sri Lanka, including papaya, mango, pineapple, mangosteen, and more. The diet is very healthy.

Do ISLE students cook for themselves?

ISLE students are never expected to cook for themselves. The host family will provide all meals, but they will respect the dietary preferences of their ISLE student. If the student is a vegetarian or does not like a particular food, he or she should let the host family know right away. Food plays a central role in Sri Lankan culture, and it is important to Sri Lankan hosts that their guests enjoy the food.

Will it be difficult for my son/daughter to adjust to life back in the US?

Students experience varying degrees of “reverse culture shock” upon returning home. Adjusting to the pace of American life is often an issue at first. It is important that students have an outlet to share their stories and experiences to friends and family members who are willing to listen. Most ISLE colleges will organize events for returning students to share their experiences with each other or with prospective students. ISLE encourages all alumni to work with the Communications and Enrollment Manager to spread the word or help host an event on their campuses.

Aside from course credit, what will my son/daughter really get out of this program?

Perhaps the experience of a lifetime! ISLE students usually mature in remarkable ways as a consequence of their encounters with a profoundly different culture. They learn to adjust, to exercise patience, to solve problems, to be resourceful, and to understand that people with fewer material resources than most Americans can live very happy and fulfilling lives. ISLE is a very high quality academic program, but it is also an experience that is a catalyst for pursuing professional/vocational interests. It can be a defining experience.