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Outreach Program in Jaffna : August 6th – 9th 2010

Jaffna is the capital of the northern province of Sri Lanka, which was inaccessible to most Sri Lankans during the 30 year long civil war which ended only an year ago. This was an area which did not have electricity for 15 long years and some had to cycle over 20 miles to get to their villages for the weekend. This city is home to the University of Jaffna, one of the regional universities in the country. Its people value education but have had only minimal opportunity of pursing their dreams of higher education. I, as the EducationUSA Adviser and my colleagues at the US-SL Fulbright Commission (US-SLFC) have been in contact with them through e-mail and other modes of sharing information even though these cannot be substituted for person to person contact.

I was pleased when I was invited by Jeff Anderson, Director of Press and Cultural Affairs and Robert Dowers, Chief of the Consular Section at the United States Embassy in Colombo to join the team from the Consular Office in Jaffna. They were promoting the Diversity Visa Lottery on Saturday, 7th August in the area and gave me the opportunity to talk to the participants about Higher Education in the USA. The only viable mode of transport to Jaffna was on a helicopter which only flew 3 times a week. This meant I would arrive in Jaffna a day ahead of the scheduled program and leave two days later. With the approval of Tissa Jayatilaka, the Executive Director of the US-SLFC, I arranged several programs to promote higher education in the US so that I could use my time in Jaffna to the maximum.

On Friday, 6th of August, I presented a session on “Graduate Studies in the US” which was hosted by the Jaffna University Science Society. The Adviser to the Society, Senior Lecturer Dr. Thabotharan, who had earned his BSc at University of Akron, Ohio, helped me by translating when needed. The session was not limited to the members of the Society and included students from all faculties of the university. This 2 hour presentation helped the students to understand the background of US higher education, how to select universities, financial aid and the application process. A lively Q & A session brought in a lot of lively discussion.

Subsequently I met the senior professors, lecturers and probationary lecturers of University of Jaffna with whom I discussed the availability of opportunities for them to continue their studies. I made a short presentation on the Fulbright Scholarships which was of much interest to them. I also discussed the all important letters of recommendations, what the US admissions officers look for in such letters and shared further information and handouts with the faculty on the subject.

Dr. Sivapalan, Senior Lecturer, Dept. of Chemistry, visited the US-SLFC at the beginning of the year. Through him, we donated some books on graduate studies (mainly the 6 volume set/Petersons, books on graduate studies, preparation books on TOEFL, GRE & GMAT etc) to the university. I was very happy to see the books on a shelf in a small reading room which was specially created for users who wanted to find out more about studying in the US. This Fall, a graduate from this university who I was advising through e-mail, received admission for her PhD in Chemistry at South Dakota State University. It was encouraging to know that she had used these books throughout her application process.

On Saturday morning and Sunday I met 18 students who had made appointments to meet me regarding their specific concerns. These ranged from how to write the statement of purpose to housing and meals.

I joined the team from the Consular Office on Saturday afternoon at the Veerasingham Hall in Jaffna. I spoke to the audience about studying in the US and how they can continue to get our assistance. There were many parents who were keen to find out more about the subject. I thank Ms. Nirlojini Annamali for translating my presentation.

During my stay in Jaffna, at Mr. Jayatilaka’s request, I also made preliminary arrangements for his impending visit to the University of Jaffan.

All things considered, my visit to Jaffna, long starved for information, was very fruitful. I thank Mr. Jeff Anderson for cost-sharing my visit and Mr. Dowers for the invitation. I also thank Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka for supporting my visit in-all-ways.

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A section of the participants at the University of Jaffna

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The book shelf in the reading room with books donated by US-SLFC

Nelum Senadira

EducationUSA Adviser

US-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission