ISLE: Language, Culture, and Identity in Sri Lanka
Program flag in the ISLE Center in Kandy
This semester-length program is designed to allow students to experience a deeply immersive introduction to an island nation that is seldom visited by Americans even though it occupies an important place in world history, with major implications for religious history, the history of Asia, and more recent history surrounding struggles for social justice, self-determination, and the importance of cultural identity. The island has richly layered cultural traditions, religious traditions that are older than Christianity, and a truly astounding ecological diversity. It is an extraordinary place for students interested in a wide array of disciplines.
Called Ceylon by the British during colonial times – a name still used for the wonderful tea grown on the island – the country has also long been known as Lanka. The honorific "sri" (pronounced 'sree' in this part of the world) means "honorable" or "auspicious." So, the name means "the honorable Lanka." Most students who have studied in the program would quite agree with the implications of this name.
The program is a good match for Gusties who are interested in one or more of the following key themes:
- peace and intercultural understanding
- inter-religious dialogue and cooperation
- inter-linguistic dialogue and community building
- ecological diversity, sustainability, and conservation
- gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and other forms of human identity and the complex relationships between them
- traditional medicine, ethnobotany, and eco-folklore
- Buddhism as both a religious and cultural identity
- postcolonial theory and the colonial and postcolonial history of South Asia
- political science and political history
The program is modular, with three distinct learning modules:
- In the first module, students take Sinhala Language I while acclimating to the culture of the island and beginning to experience its many wonderful traditions.
- In the second module, students take a seminar on the history and culture of Sri Lanka plus two elective courses from this list of offerings:
- Sinhala II (Note: Students who take both Sinhala I and Sinhala II can meet the Gustavus foreign language requirement in this one-semester program.)
- Tamil Language I
- Buddhism and Other Religions in Everyday Life
- Environmental Science: Biodiversity through Space and Time (spring only)
- Ethnicity and Social Identity
- Images of the Feminine and the Social Experiences of Women
- Modern Sri Lankan Politics
- Traditional Medicine (fall only; includes environmental science content)
- In the third module, students complete a full-time independent study project during the final four weeks of the program, and then present their findings to the full group. Some of these independent projects have an internship component as well, set up in such a way that the experience is part of the research process. This project is part of the Sri Lankan seminar started in module 2.
The credits earned are equivalent to four Gustavus courses, as follows:
- Sinhala I (1 course)
- Sri Lanka seminar with independent project (1 course)
- Two electives (1 course each = 2 courses)
- Courses are taught by renowned faculty at the University of Peradeniya, one of the best universities in South Asia.
- Four weeks in intensive field research on a topic of the student's choosing.
- Accommodations with a host family, often leading to lasting friendships.
- Well-equipped ISLE Study Centre that is just for the use of the students and staff of this program, including a library and ample space for social activities, Sri Lankan dance lessons, and more.
- Opportunities to learn Kandyan dance, batik, cooking, meditation styles, and more.
- Numerous excursions around Kandy and to other important sites across the island, including some of the most important Buddhist sites in the world.
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. 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. In addition, the city boasts the auspicious Temple of the Tooth as well as many other religious temples and shrines, the Royal Botanical Garden of Sri Lanka, and an astonishing array of local craftspeople and other important amenities.
Amphitheatre at the University of Peradeniya
The program offers two, 16-week semesters each year. Fall semester is roughly late August to mid-December, and spring semester runs from late January into May.
While in Kandy, students stay with host families who live in many different parts of the small city. While on excursions, students stay in modest hotels.
The most up-to-date information is the ISLE Program's external website here
. Note that participating Gustavus students will receive the "tuition contribution" (about $8600 in 2016-17) as the first payment toward the program cost. In addition, Gusties will not pay room and board at Gustavus while participating in this program. Thus, the net cost for 2016-17 participants is about $7000 more than the cost of studying on campus for the same semester. The program fee is largely comprehensive, including tuition in Sri Lanka, room and board with host family, all excursions/admissions/activities provided by ISLE, orientations, and travel-related medical insurance.
This program is open to all admitted Gustavus students who are in good academic standing. There are no formal prerequisites.
- The program uses an "early decision" deadline for either semester, and that is December 1 of the year before the program start date. To meet this deadline, students should complete the Gustavus application linked here by November 10.
- Final deadline for fall semester is February 15 for the Gustavus application
- Final deadline for spring semester is September 15 for the Gustavus application
All students (except Lankan nationals) will need to apply for a visa in order to participate in this program. Details will be provided by the ISLE program staff approximately four to five months before the program begins. All students are encouraged to apply for or renew passports as soon as they know that they plan to participate. Passports must be valid for at least six months after the return
airfare date when you will fly back to the U.S.
Students with specific questions are encouraged to seek advising
or to send quick questions by email to the program coordinator (check the advising page linked here
to find the current coordinator).