Campus News

New Year Marks Milestone for ISLE Program

Story posted December 28, 2006

The Intercollegiate Sri Lanka Education (ISLE) Program is celebrating its Silver Jubilee in early January. Since 1982, nearly 400 students from the United States have studied in Sri Lanka through this program. Students come from eight colleges: Bates, Bowdoin, Carleton, Colby, Grinnell, Holy Cross, Swarthmore, and Whitman.

Representatives from the affiliated colleges will travel to Sri Lanka for several days of Silver Jubilee events. Bowdoinís delegation includes President Barry Mills and his wife, John Holt (Consultant, ISLE Faculty Board Executive Committee) and Sree Padma Holt (ISLE Administrative Director).

They will arrive in Sri Lanka next week and will attend presentations by ISLE faculty at the University of Peradeniya, and each will stay for one night with one of the programís home-stay families, so they may experience firsthand one of the most important aspects of the ISLE Program.

The campus is not near areas of violence associated with the ongoing civil war in the country. Sree Padma Holt says the fact the ISLE Program has run for 25 years despite the war speaks to careful planning and oversight. "A successful academic program can be sustained under difficult conditions with the cooperation of the faculty, administrators, and students," says Holt.

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University of Peradeniya Vice Chancellor B.L. Panditharatne (seated left) and Bowdoin Dean Robert Wilhelm (seated right) sign the official ISLE agreement of affiliation in 1982. John Holt (standing, far left) and Ambassador John Reid (standing, next to John Holt) observe. Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy, Colombo.

The program started in 1980, when five professors specializing in South Asian religions — John Strong from Bates, John Holt from Bowdoin, Bardwell Smith from Carleton, Yeager Hudson from Colby, and Lowell Bloss from Hobart William Smith — discussed starting a study-abroad program, with Buddhism as its focus, for undergraduate students in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is the home of the oldest continuous Buddhist civilization in South Asia. A year later, the discussions took the shape of a constitutional draft by John Holt under the name of Intercollegiate Sri Lanka Education (ISLE) Program. On behalf of Bowdoin College, Dean of the College Robert Wilhelm agreed that Bowdoin would be the agency college for the ISLE Program. Professor Bloss directed the first program in the fall of 1982 with 17 students recruited from the five member schools.

The ISLE programís directors say the efforts of the programís dedicated staff and caring host families change the lives of their students by maturing them intellectually and culturally, by giving them memorable experiences and by providing perspective and focus.

"As a developing country in terms of its political economy, students see firsthand, rather than just on the theoretical level, the nature of problems at hand," says Holt. "Because they take courses in a variety of disciplines, their understanding of the country's problems is not simply reductionistic, but takes into account a variety of factors — language, religion, politics, economy, ethnicity, history."

As it enters its next 25 years, ISLE is thriving, and those who administer the program say they have hopes of expanding and adding other institutions to its consortium.

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