ISLE Immerses Students in Sri Lanka (and Gives Them a Small Taste Here at Bowdoin)

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Students interested in studying abroad with Bowdoin’s Intercollegiate Sri Lanka Education Program (ISLE) were recently treated to a bit of the country’s traditional food and tea.

ISLE, in conjunction with Bowdoin’s International Club, organized a Sri Lanka Tea and Culture Night at 30 College Street. I-Club vice president Hassaan Mirza ’17 said that the I-Club’s mission is to celebrate different cultures on campus and introduce them to students.

ISLE Communications and Recruitment Manager Emily Dunuwila, whose father is originally from Sri Lanka, and Sree Padma Holt, ISLE’s executive director, cooked dishes of Sri Lankan food. Faculty members and students talked about their experiences of living and studying in Sri Lanka.

Dunuwila, who grew up in upstate New York and went abroad to Sri Lanka when she was a junior in college, spoke about how her name has different connotations in the U.S. and in Sri Lanka. She said that growing up she had to deal with a surname that Euro-Americans found to be an odd sounding tongue twister. But when she visited Sri Lanka, she discovered her name is a marker of social prestige. People in Sri Lanka know her name (similar to how Americans know the name Kennedy), its origins and its significance in relation to the royal court disestablished by the British.

Stephen Kelly ’17 described his experience last summer working at a hotel in rural Sri Lanka where he experienced how class, ethnicity and language play out in local contexts. ISLE founder John Holt, Bowdoin’s William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of the Humanities in Religion and Asian Studies, told the gathered students about experiences of earlier students who had learned that being immersed in a culture, rather than merely reading or talking about it in a class, deepened their understanding of the culture immensely, sometimes in life changing ways. Holt launched ISLE in 1982.

ISLE Executive Director Sree Padma Holt and Visiting Professor of Religion Carmen Wickramagamage also touched on the varied perspectives held by Sri Lankans about Western cultures. They said there is a something of a love/hate relation to the West in Sri Lanka, stemming from the historical colonization of the country for 450 years by the Portuguese, Dutch and British on the one hand, and a widespread fascination with aspects of contemporary Euro-American culture on the other.

For more information about studying abroad for a semester in Sri Lanka, contact Emily Dunuwila at isle@bowdoin.edu or John Holt at jholt@bowdoin.edu.

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