This option will reset the home page of this site. Restoring any closed widgets or categories.

Reset

THE SRI LANKAN FULBRIGHTER Volume 9 – Issue 1 – 2013

· US Fulbright Grantees’ Mid-year Review Conference in Colombo

· Amabassador Guerra-Mondragon, member of the Fulbright Foreign Schoalrship Board, visits Sri Lanka

· Inaugaration of the 60th Anniversary Celebrations of the US-SLFC: Keynote address by Mr Jayantha Dhanapala

· Serendipity Group celebrates the 60th Anniversary of the US-SLFC in Washington DC

· News from the US-SLFC

· The US-SLFC hosts the 2013 EducationUSA Regional Conference for South and Central Asia

· Passion Play and Music Tradion in Sri Lanka by Kamalinie Casie Chitty

· Learning Sinhala by Allison Newman

· Madam, what is the American Dream?”: Reflections on teaching English at a Sri Lankan university by Natalie Lampert

The US Fulbright Grantees’ Mid-year Review was Held at the Fulbright Commssion in Colombo on the 15th of March 2013.

clip_image001The review was attended by external reveiwers from the academic community: Prof Jayadeva Uyangoda, Senior Lecture in Political Science, University of Colombo, Dr Dushy Mendis, Head of the Deparment of English, University of Colombo, Dr. Saman Dassanayake, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Management, University of Colombo, Ms. Dilini Walisundera, Senior Lecturer, University of Colombo, Dr Saman Kelegama, Head of the Institute of Policy Studies and Dr. Jaanaki Gooneratne, Senior Scientist, IIT.

US grantees making their presentations at the Mid-year Review in Colombo

clip_image003

clip_image005

clip_image007

The 60th Anniversary celebrations of the US-SLFC in Washington DC, November 2012

clip_image009 clip_image011 clip_image013 clip_image015

clip_image017


clip_image019

Amabassador Guerra-Mondragon, member of the Fulbrght Foreign Schoalrship Board toured Sri Lanka in Febrauary 2012

Ambassador Guerra-Mondragón presently heads an international consulting firm, based in New York, to advise U.S. companies that want to do business in Latin America and the Caribbean, and vice versa. In addition, Guerra and Associates advises foreign governments on which U.S. firms they should link with in order to advance mutual interests. Government clients include Mexico, Peru, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and Catalonia in Spain.

Previously, Ambassador Guerra-Mondragón was United States Ambassador to Chile from 1994 until 1998. He has enjoyed a varied career in diplomacy, business, politics and law.

As U.S. Ambassador to Chile, Ambassador Guerra-Mondragón presided over the best ever historical relationship between the United States and Chile. He actively pursued and solidified continuing excellent relations between the two countries. Of special interest was the Ambassador’s persistent advocacy of a comprehensive free trade agreement with Chile. Assistance to the U.S. American community was a major aspect of his work. He received the highest commendation for his management of the Embassy in Santiago.

Prior to his position, Ambassador Guerra-Mondragón was President of TKC International, Inc., an international government relations firm in Washington, D.C. His domestic and international clients included the governments of Aruba, Azerbaijan, Catalonia, Japan, Mexico, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and major international companies such as Bunge y Born and France Telecom.

Ambassador Guerra-Mondragón, prior to his private sector work, was a U.S. foreign service officer at the U.S. State Department from 1976 to 1986. During these years, he served as staff assistant to the U.S. Secretary of State, Desk Officer for Colombia, Desk Officer for Nicaragua, and Executive Director to the U.S. National Commission to UNESCO. He was also Special Assistant to the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and, afterward, Political Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.

In 1984, Ambassador Guerra-Mondragón was assigned on a detail from the U.S. State Department to the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) as Program Director for Latin America and the Caribbean for two years. During this time, he traveled extensively throughout the region meeting with all the principal democratic political leaders.

Ambassador Guerra-Mondragón also served as a staff attorney for the United States Commission on Civil Rights from 1969 to 1972. From 1973 to 1975 he was Deputy Administrator of the Office for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in Washington, D.C.

Ambassador Guerra-Mondragón was appointed by President Bill Clinton as a Commissioner of the American Battle Monuments Commission in Washington, D.C. President Clinton also appointed him as a Member of the official U.S. Delegation to the Presidential Inaugurations of the Presidents of Bolivia, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (1993); Colombia, Andres Pastrana (1998); Venezuela, Hugo Chavez (1999); and Chile, Ricardo Lagos (2000).

Ambassador Guerra-Mondragón is a Member of the Council on Foreign Relations; Member of the Puerto Rican Bar Association; Member of the Council of American Ambassadors; Member of the Foreign Policy Association; Member of the Inter-American Foundation; former Chairman and still Member of the LatinoJustice Board for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDF); Member of the Board of El Museo del Barrio, New York, New York; and Member of the Board of the Limon Dance Foundation.

Ambassador Guerra-Mondragón was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 4, 1942. He attended Fordham University, the school of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Puerto Rico Law School.

Ambassador Guerra-Mondragón is married to Alicia Rodriguez.

Courtesy:http://eca.state.gov/fulbright/about-fulbright/foreign-scholarship-board/members/
clip_image021

Humanising International Relations Amidst Realpolitik

The address by Jayantha Dhanapala, President, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, on the 14th of June 2012, at an event to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of

the US-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission in Sri Lanka

—————————————————————————–

Good evening ladies and gentlemen.

My subject has been given to me by the Fulbright Commission but I tweaked it by adding the bit about ‘Realpolitik’ because I do feel, as Chris Teal, the Chairman of the Fulbright Commission has told you, that the humanist aspect in international relations has gradually encroached upon realpolitik but the hard core of realpolitik remains there.

Let me begin by saying that 2012 appears to be the Year of Diamond Jubilees. We had the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen of England which has, of course, been highly publicised. We had the Diamond Jubilee of the University of Peradeniya where Tissa and I went to University and many of us have very nostalgic memories of that university and, of course, today we celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the Fulbright Commission in Sri Lanka. I have not been so academically gifted as to be a Fulbright grantee or recipient, but as a diplomatic representative of the Sri Lanka Government in Washington twice – as the First Secretary in the 70’s and, subsequently, as an Ambassador in the 90’s – I do recall the important role that the Fulbright Commission and Fulbright scholars, both Sri Lankan scholars in the U.S. and the U.S. scholars here, have played in enriching the U.S. –Sri Lanka relationship.

I would like to take this opportunity of beginning with a tribute to Senator William Fulbright, whom I had the privilege of meeting when I was the First Secretary and whose funeral I attended when I was Ambassador. Fulbright, I think is very definitely amongst the great internationalists in U.S. politics in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As you know, there are broadly speaking two strands in U.S. foreign policy. There is the isolationist ‘fortress America’ strand and there are the internationalists/idealists like Woodrow Wilson – a dichotomy that has led to vast changes in international politics. Fulbright was among the greats of the internationalists and although he had a chequered career being a segregationist coming from the Southern State of Arkansas, he completely altered the face of American foreign policy because of his powerful resistance to the Vietnam War and his role as Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His book titled “The Arrogance of Power” has remained a seminal contribution to U.S. foreign policy. I think he was, in many ways, a man ahead of his time. And, I like to quote something that he said in the “The Arrogance of Power’. He wrote, “Throughout our history, two strands have co-existed uneasily- a dominant strand of democratic humanism and a lesser but durable strand of intolerant Puritanism….The great challenge in our foreign relations is to make certain that the major strand in our heritage, the strand of humanism, tolerance, and accommodation, remains the dominant one.” I think the “humanism” part of that quotation is probably what led to the selection of this topic, `Humanizing International Relations amidst Realpolitik’.

And it’s a logical segue into my theme which looks at international relations as of course the saga of the rise and fall of empires although multi-polarism has now replaced uni-polarism today. But in the past we have had several super powers from time to time going back to ancient times. And, war and peace have alternated in many ways reflecting the contending aspects of the nature of humankind. There has been violence, both explicit and structural, and there has also been of course the fact that realpolitik and the pursuit of national interest, which the Chairman of the Fulbright Commission, Chris Teal, talked about, will remain an essential part as long as the nation state remains an important component in the structure of international relations. Now, I don’t want to convert this into a 101 course in the theory of international relations, but it is a fact that there has been, from very old times, a clash between realist theories of international relations and the more liberal, moralist theories of international relations. Though we have Machiavelli, Hobbes, Morgenthau and others talking about an anarchical society where the state and the power factor of states is the most important deterministic aspect, you have the other liberalists and the moralists who think more along the lines of Hedley Bull, E. H. Carr and others talking about the world as a society of states with common norms, with ethical democratic practices and international law governing international relations. It is important for us to try to examine the relative importance of these two strands in international relations. My own view, of course, accords with those of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto of London which was issued on the 9th of July, 1955, especially since that manifesto forms the bedrock of the 1995 Nobel Peace Laureate, the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, which I am privileged to lead at the moment. And what the Manifesto said, inter alia, and I quote –

We have to learn to think in a new way. We have to learn to ask ourselves, not what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there no longer are such steps; the question we have to ask ourselves: is what steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties?”

And it concludes, “We appeal as human beings to human beings. Remember your humanity, and forget the rest.

That clearly emphasizes the people-centred nature of the humanistic approach to international relations. And if you look at what has happened since World War II — where we saw a colossal loss of over 60 million lives and a reordering of the world after World War II on the same lines as what happened in post Napoleonic Europe with the Congress of Vienna, except that it was on a much vaster global scale — you will see that the advent of the United Nations was a key factor in the humanizing of international relations. So what I propose to do this evening is to discuss the Charter of the United Nations and what impact the birth of the United Nations has had in humanizing international relations. I would like then to go on to talking about human rights, the Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and the human rights mechanisms in international relations, which have contributed enormously to the humanizing of international relations. Then go on to talk about the laws of war and international humanitarian law and in particular the role of the ICRC. The next step would of course be a discussion of economic development and the humanizing of that and to talk about humanizing cultural relations, the human security concept and yet, despite all of this, the persistence of realpolitik, and perhaps, then to conclude by bringing some of these strands together.

To begin with, the watershed event in 1945: the formation of the United Nations, especially through the vision of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Charter, I think, is an important document because in many ways it is a fusion of the idealistic aspirations of humankind with a pragmatic acceptance of the realities of power politics. For while the Preamble and Chapter 1 on the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations upholds noble objectives such as the prevention of war, the use of force, the equality of all nations and the importance of human rights and international law the Charter does make allowance for realpolitik, through the structure of the Security Council and in the way in which five permanent members have the veto. So you have this unique combination of the humanizing of international relations with the persistence of realpolitik in the Charter itself, which forms the basic constitution of global society. And if you look at some of the preamble with all its rhetoric about saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war; to reaffirming faith in fundamental human rights; in the dignity and worth of a human person; to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties can be maintained; and to practice tolerance and to live together in peace – all these are extremely important. But what is crucial is Article 2.4 where there is a specific rejection of the use of force. All members must refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. And that rejection of war, as an arbiter of disagreements in the international community is a fundamental way in which international relations has been humanized. So we are declaring the illegitimacy of war. Of course, in addition to that, we have seen that in the Charter there is in Article 51 a provision for the use of self-defence on the part of sovereign states and there is under Chapter 7 permission for the collective use of force in the collective interests of international peace and security but it has to be sanctioned by the Security Council. So there is the fact that the UN is not a pacifist organisation. It is a very pragmatic organisation combining elements of realpolitik with this soaring idealism, which gives the people and civilians in particular a special place and a special protection.

Now together with this is the fact that there was this very important resolution on decolonization in 1960. Resolution 1514(XV) of December 14, 1960 – as it is referred to – which has represented a milestone event because it denounced colonialism and the enslavement of one group of people by another. And no colonialism, no imperialism, therefore, is countenanced under the UN Charter as a consequence of this resolution. It resulted in a massive political re-shaping of the world with more than 80 former colonies being emancipated over a period of time and the growth of the membership of the United Nations to its present number of 193. And still there are 16 non-self governing territories in the world but they have to report to the UN and they have to be under a UN mandate of trusteeship. So this is one of the great humanizing aspects of the United Nations as a result of a resolution passed in the General Assembly.

We then come to international law. I think it is very clear that international law has become increasingly valid in its application to all countries, whether they are big or small, rich or poor. The importance of international law of course, was signalled in 1948 itself with the establishment of the International Court of Justice and the fact that countries can take their disputes to the International Court of Justice, as indeed they have, in order to resolve disputes through peaceful means. But in addition to that, of course, international law has given an importance to the legitimacy of one’s actions. You can no longer talk about having illegal actions accepted in the international community. And as my friend and former colleague, Dr. Rohan Perera said at the Romesh Jayasinghe Memorial Oration the other day, countries still try to justify their position by citing international law, however wrong they may be. Clearly one of the most serious and egregious violations of international law was the invasion of Iraq in 2003 where without the sanction of the Security Council we had the U.S., the U.K. and their allies invade Iraq in order to have regime change of Saddam Hussain.

Apart from this issue of international law, let me move on to human rights and talk about the fact that the Declaration of Human Rights, which was a adopted in 1948, was another milestone which I think helped to place people at the centre of international relations and gave an importance to the individual and the rights of the individual in many, many aspects. I think, it’s a document that is well worth re-reading because of its vastness and comprehensiveness in covering every aspect of human rights. Now clearly, of course, flowing from the Declaration there have been other conventions that have been formulated. There have been 9 treaties and Sri Lanka belongs to all of them. There are also treaty bodies that have been established under those treaties to ensure that countries who have ratified the treaties have fulfilled their obligations. Another aspect of human rights, and I don’t need to dwell on this subject because I think most of you are aware of the various conventions, the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council which has been very much in the news in Sri Lanka recently, and of course the Universal Periodic Review which every country whether it is the United States or whether it is Sri Lanka is subject to. The opportunity is there through the ICCPR for even individuals to make complaints about their governments’ violations of human rights to Geneva. These are very important rights that have been conferred on private citizens of any country and which applies to whoever the country is and which has, I think, stretched the scope of international relations to include private citizens.

And you have, as a consequence of this, the ending of apartheid which has been one of those strong planks of the United Nations. There was for a long time a committee against apartheid and the flow of international public opinion was very much influenced by the debates in the United Nations until we finally saw what seemed immutable at that time, the collapse of the structures of apartheid. And so again, this led to a great humanizing of international relations. There are also other specialized agencies like the ILO and the WHO which have also contributed to the humanizing of international relations. Standards of work have been established by the ILO with ensures no exploitation of labour. And there has also been of course a very strong element within the UN about violence against women and children. There is the Security Council resolution 1325 which talks about women and security and all these aspects and now, there is a creation of a UN women’s organisation led by the former president of Chile all of which has been a major thrust in the humanizing of international relations.

To go on to the laws of war, I think very clearly after World War II – even though we had the Hague Conventions before that -we had the Nuremberg and the Tokyo trials, which helped to advance the frontiers of the laws of war. And finally the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the additional protocols of 1977 drew very important distinctions between combatants and civilians. Now of course, realpolitik will persist and there will continue to be problems with regard to implementation of these Geneva Conventions, but having been associated with the ICRC in Geneva, I would like to pay a sincere tribute to that organisation, for having acted selflessly, independently, and on behalf of humanism in international relations, by pressing forward the implementation of the Geneva Conventions not just in Sri Lanka but all over the world including in the United States – visiting prisoners, monitoring civilian conflicts, and ensuring that decent civilised behaviour continues to prevail under the most painful and impossible conditions. We have had, more recently, the painful episodes in Rwanda and in Srebrenica and special tribunals have been established in order to try those who are guilty of violations of international humanitarian law. But another great advance has been the Rome Statute and the creation of the International Criminal Court where for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity we now see even leaders of countries being arraigned in that court and being punished. And so there is culpability for crimes committed. Accountability is achieved and impunity has ended with the way in which the Rome Statue has worked.

And then in my own areas of work, that is disarmament, we have seen a steady progression of international conventions to ban weapon of mass destruction. We have had a Biological Weapons Convention and a Chemical Weapons Convention. We still don’t have a Nuclear Weapons Convention, for obvious reasons, but we have also had the banning of inhumane weapons. We have had a Mine Ban Convention, thanks to a remarkable combination of civil society groups and certain countries. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has still not ratified the Mine Ban Convention but that is, I think, part of the unfinished business in our own humanizing of our international relations. That is where another quote from Fulbright is relevant. He wrote, again in “The Arrogance of Power” – “I believe that man’s principal business, in foreign policy as in domestic policy and in his daily life, is to keep his own house in order, to make life a little more civilized, a little more satisfying and a little more serene in the brief time that is allotted him”.

There has also been progress in other areas like cluster weapons and so on, a lot of progress being made in order to try to ban specific weapons that are obviously inhumane. And there are weapons of the future, kinetic weapons, weapons like the drones, weapons like the autonomous weapons where you send in a robot into a battle field and it acts on its own probably killing school children and women in pursuit of a war or an attack that has been launched. So you have this aspect that has, of course, helped to a large extent in humanizing international relations.

Let me very quickly talk about economic development. We know that following the Industrial Revolution and the birth of capitalism, particularly in the West, there has been a deification of the market economy and market forces by Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, the Chicago School and others, and the GNP became the only tool of measuring economic development until we had new concepts emerge through the World Bank institutions and Mahbub ul Haq. But more especially through the UNDP, where the annual Human Development Report acquired special emphasis, where investment in the human condition, in health, education and the distribution of the incomes more equitably were regarded as being the criteria for assessing true human development. And of course, in the Human Development Index, we in Sri Lanka have been placed very high and it is something that we should continue to treasure and consolidate. And now, we have the effort to help the global South in the North South divide, we have the Millennium Development Goals which we hope to achieve by 2015. We have a Global Compact which brings in the private sector to assist in the achievement of some of the objectives of human development. And we have new concepts like sustainable development which came out of the Brundtland Commission Report and which is today, being consolidated with the Rio Plus 20 Conference that will meet next week in Rio. Climate change is another way in which we are trying to extend the frontiers of humanizing international relations by trying to talk about a collective identity of human beings on this planet and arrest the pollution of the ozone layer and other dangers caused by climate change. The IPCC reports that were done under the aegis of the UN has contributed to that. And essentially, therefore, the sustainable development motto of meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to realize their needs, I think, is one of the important contributions that have been made.

To move to cultural relations, there is, I think a recognition today, increasingly, of the diversity in the international community. The fact that each culture, whether it is an indigenous culture or whether it is a culture of the countries that constitute the United Nations, has to be treated with respect. And so, instead of having the thesis of a ‘clash of civilisations’, which came out of the Harvard professor Samuel Huntington, we have the concept of an ‘alliance of civilisations ‘which is led by Spain and Turkey, two countries which in fact experienced an alliance of civilisations when the Ottoman Turks went to Spain and left behind rich cultural treasures in the South of Spain. So this is, I think, a specially important way in which the equality of cultures and the mutual benefit of having an interchange of cultures is recognised. We also have seen the development as referred to earlier in ICT, the way in which computer technology and telecommunications has shrunk the world and made it a much more inter-dependent and globalised world. And there is, of course, the work of UNESCO which has not only heightened our awareness of other cultures and which has designated a series of sites as world heritage sites including sites in Sri Lanka, but which has made us appreciate the common heritage of human kind.

Let me go on to the human security concept which evolved through this idea of sustainable development through human rights. It’s really a freedom from violence and fear of violence because while we talk about national security in the post Westphalian (1648) world where the State is the primary unit in international relations, there is also the individual and the question of the security of the individual as heightened by the human security concept which ensures that although you can have national security with a country’s sovereignty well protected, you can at the same time have insecurity of the individual. What we need therefore is to move into an ideal situation, where there is both national security and the individual security of the citizens of that country. So the idea of human security has been main-streamed. There was a report, again under the aegis of the United Nations, which was led by two co-chairpersons, Sadako Ogata, a remarkable woman from Japan, and Amartya Sen, the famous economist from India, which came out with a more detailed description of this concept. The fact that is important for us, in the words of Kofi Annan, is to ensure that there is development with security and with human rights as well.

There is a lot of work being done on human security in Vancouver in the Simon Fraser University by Professor Andrew Mack and others and I would like to quote from their report which said “We have argued that the demise of colonialism and the Cold War, removed two important causes of war from the international system and the impact of growing levels of economic interdependence, the fourfold increase in the number of democracies in an emerging norm of war averseness have reduced the risks of war still further.” So we have, remarkably, come to a situation where there is a declining number of civilian deaths in conflicts, a declining number of conflicts in the world today, and in fact, military expenditure, which reached $1.7 trillion last year, has remained relatively static, probably caused by the great recession. Nevertheless there is a levelling off of conflicts. And that augurs well for the future.

Now of course, in spite of all this, in spite of the fact that we have the ‘responsibility to protect’ concept which is aimed at humanizing international relations further, we have in its application elements of realpolitik. Why talk about responsibility to protect in Libya and not in Bahrain and Yemen? Why talk about it in Syria and not in other countries? So there clearly are gaps. Just as much as the Charter of the UN had this combination of realpolitik and the idealistic aspect of humanizing international relations, in the practice of international relations we still have this dissonance that takes place. We have the persistence of the realist school. You have the protection given to Israel by some of these great powers in the Security Council which ensures that it has the protection of a veto; you still have nuclear weapons that are held especially by the U.S. and Russia – 95% of the nineteen thousand nuclear warheads are held by them – and we have about US $ 100 billion being spent on nuclear warheads and their modernisation by about nine countries. We still have big banks being supported by multilateral institutions like the IMF and the IBRD and in many ways neglecting the real needs of the people and we still have a situations where might prevails over right.

To come to a conclusion, what do we understand by all this? Let me identify two events. One is that on the 16th of May, five small countries known as the S-5 (Costa Rica, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Singapore and Switzerland) attempted to float a resolution in the General Assembly in order to ensure that certain rules apply in the way in which the veto was used in the Security Council. And they were shot down. They were shot down not only by the great powers who, of course, had their vested interests to protect but they were also shot down by many others who didn’t want too much reform in the Security Council because they were afraid that their regional rivals might get in to the UN. So there was this curious combination of forces and when the Legal Adviser of the UN said that it was necessary for a two thirds majority to approve this resolution and they didn’t have a two thirds majority, the S-5, the Small 5, had to withdraw that resolution. That is an indication of the limitations of the humanizing of the international relations in a big bad world where realpolitik still exists.

Secondly, next week, the nations of the world go to Rio, 20 years after the 1st Rio conference. Now it is very evident from all the reports of the International Panel for Climate Change that the problem is a very serious one. This serious problem affects everybody – not just the Maldives because they are likely to go under in a few decades hence, or Bangladesh, where again large parts of that country will be flooded. But it affects all Brazil, United States etc. There will be a gradual warming in the Arctic which will result in all manner of changes, good and bad. And it is therefore in our collective self interest to do something about it. But there are some countries so determined to stick to their lifestyles that they will not make the necessary adjustments; they will not make the investment in solar power, in wind power and other renewable forms of energy in order to help us collectively to get out of this situation. History has shown us that environmental reasons, environmental factors have led to the decline of civilisations and unless we therefore take heed we will not be able to get out of these situations ourselves. There may be band-aid solutions like the Kyoto Protocol some years ago, which was again not ratified by the United States, and there may be other temporary changes but a determined effort to humanize our approach to the climate change problem is unlikely to succeed next week when the nations of the world meet.

And so, let me say that although we face situations of a gradual progress in the humanizing of international relations, elements of hard realpolitik remain holding us back and holding back our progress. Now this can of course be argued by some as a protection of national interests. But can national interest be divorced from the human interests of individuals in nation states? That is a very important question. Let me end with a quotation from my favourite Secretary General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld, who once said, “Everything will be all right – you know when? When people, just people, stop thinking of the United Nations as a weird Picasso abstraction and see it as a drawing they made themselves.”

Thank you.


Remarks Delivered by

Tissa Jayatilaka, Executive Director US-SLFC, Ambassador Esala Weerakoon, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Sri Lanka and John Stifler, Fulbright Alumnus,

at

the United States – Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission – 60th Anniversary Event,

in Washington DC on 09th November 2012

Welcome and Remarks by Tissa Jayatilaka, Executive Director, US-SLFC

Ladies & Gentlemen:

On behalf of the United States-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission (US-SLFC) and the Serendipity Group, I welcome you and thank you very much for joining us this evening to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Fulbright programme in Sri Lanka.

I have had the privilege and honour of serving as Executive Director of the Commission now for a little over one third of its period of existence.

Yes, I do know where the bodies are buried!

In my opinion, the Fulbright programme is the best of the many gifts the United States has given to the world. Unlike most others, it is a gift that comes with no strings attached. It recognizes and fosters a meritocracy. And, significantly, it is a two way street, as educational exchange under the Fulbright programme is mutual — Americans coming to Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans coming the United States for study and research.

Since 1952, over a 1000 citizens of our two countries have been Fulbright beneficiaries. Since 1979, around 50 Sri Lankans public servants have participated in and benefited from the Humphrey programme which, in Sri Lanka, is also administered by the US-SLFC.

There are many outstanding Sri Lankan Fulbright alumni. In the interests of sticking to my time limit today, I’ll mention the names of only two such alums. In the very first batch of Fulbright scholars in 1952 was Mr. Bradman Weerakoon, the father of Amb. Esala Weerakoon, the present DCM of the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington,D.C. Weerakoon senior is a retired civil servant who served as Secretary, if my arithmetic is correct, to no less than 7 Sri Lankan prime ministers. How he survived this ordeal remains a mystery to me.

Perhaps Fulbright fellowships, apart from helping to broaden one’s academic horizons, also train one to be a glutton for punishment!

The second Sri Lankan Fulbright alum I wish to name tonight is Kingsley de Silva, Emeritus Professor of History of the University of Peradeniya. He is without doubt the foremost living historian of Sri Lanka and the first ever to write a comprehensive one volume History of the island.

From among the Sri Lankan Humphrey Alumni, 9 were picked to serve as Secretaries to members of the Sri Lanka Cabinet in 2005–with one of them serving as Secretary to the President of the Republic–the equivalent of the chief of staff of the U.S. President. Among the American Fulbright stars are Prof. Jim Gair of Cornell; Prof. John Holt of Bowdoin College; Prof. Charlie Hallisey of Harvard; Prof. Anne Blackburn of Cornell; Prof. John Stiffler of University of Massachusetts at Amherst, our keynote speaker this evening.

Modesty kept me from keeping to the last to mention the names of Sri Lanka-born American Fulbright stars but they certainly are not the least!

These are:

Emeritus Professor Gananath Obeysekere of Princeton; Emeritus Professor H.L. Seneviratne of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville; Prof. Vidya Samarasinghe of The American University and Dr. Vijaya Samaraweera, Historian turned legal scholar, Boston, Massachusetts. You would acknowledge even after this cursory glance at the past that the US-SLFC has done a pretty decent job in recognizing academic merit and professional talent in the last 60 years.

As Senator Fulbright once said the Fulbright programme is a modest programme with an immodest aim. It seeks to humanise international relations by the promotion of greater understanding of diverse cultures and societies outside our own. The means to this end is educational exchange. Of course we know that all of us–whether we live in the global north, south, east or west–have ways to go before we reach the goal set for us by Senator Fulbright. But we keep trying.

The Fulbright programme in Sri Lanka has striven to contribute immodestly to the humanizing of Sri Lanka. The mandate of the Commission is to promote mutual understanding between the peoples of Sri Lanka and the United States.

Whilst doing so, in recent years we have also sought to promote understanding between and among the different ethnic groups of Sri Lanka with a view to re-forging an over-arching Sri Lankan identity as opposed to a narrow ethnic identity. We have re-doubled our efforts in the direction after the bloody internecine war between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan state came to an end in May 2009. Healing wounds and rebuilding hope are not easy, but these are tasks we have to continue to pursue with sincerity, empathy and deep commitment. And, continue, we shall. I wish to conclude with my thanks to the following:

Don Camp, Jane Ross and the other members of The Serendipity Group;

To our distinguished speakers this evening;

Don Camp-– an intimate friend of many years and former colleague

Assistant Secretary Robert Blake, close friend and the most education-friendly U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka. I have had the pleasure of working closely with;

DCM Esala Weerakoon, close friend and consummate diplomat.

Prof. John Stifler, fellow – traveller and our keynote speaker

Ms. Susan Ness, Vice chair, Fulbright Foreign scholarship Board, who I was delighted to get acquainted with today and Mary Kirk, a close friend and colleague of many years, presently Director, Office of Academic Exchange Programmes, at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Department of State.

I also wish to place on record my deep appreciation for the assistance we received from Sue Borja, Branch chief of the South and Central Asia fulbright Programme, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the Department of State and Programme Officer for Bangladesh, Nepal , Sri Lanka and The Maldives, Teressa Mastrangelo and my colleagues at the US-SLFC without whom this event would not have got off the ground.

Thank you very much.

Remarks Delivered by Ambassador Esala Weerakoon, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Sri Lanka

Ambassador Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, Executive Director, United States – Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission, Mr. Donald Camp, Chairman of the Serendipity Group, Ms. Susan Ness, Vice Chair of the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, Ms.Mary Kirk, Director, Office of Academic Exchange Programmes, Prof. John Stifler, Fulbright US Scholar Alumnus, 2008, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a privilege and honour to be associated with the celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Fulbright Programme in Sri Lanka.  I thank the United States – Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission and the Serendipity Group for your kind invitation.

I bring greetings and felicitations to you from the Government and the people of Sri Lanka and from Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya on this happy occasion. 

As Tissa Jayatilaka has reminded, there is a personal link I have with the Fulbright Programme in Sri Lanka.  My father was an early beneficiary of this wonderful academic exchange programme, when he read Sociology at the University of Michigan in 1952.  That link has been deepened by my warm personal relationship with Tissa who has given, for over 20 years, so much leadership to the US – Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission.  Through his public speaking and erudite writings, valuable insights on American thought and culture have been steadily streamed into Sri Lankan life, be it in the spheres of education, literature, politics and foreign policy.  Many of us eagerly await Tissa’s forthcoming book on “US – Sri Lanka Relations”.

The United States – Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission enjoys a solid reputation in my country as a well administered institution.  It is known for its transparency, for its scrupulous adherence to fairness in the selection procedure, and above all, for its zealous guarding of its autonomy.  

By means of the significant academic and professional exchanges that the Fulbright and Humphrey Awards have provided to Sri Lankan and American scholars for over 60 years, our two peoples have come together in a most productive and meaningful way.

Sri Lanka has been a friend and democratic partner of the United States since the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries in 1948.  Commercial contacts go back to 1787, when sailors from New England first anchored in Sri Lanka’s harbours.   Our first bilateral relations began then.  I recall, as a boy discovering with my father and Ambassador Chris Van Hollen sometime in the year 1975, the monument in Galle which marks the final resting place of the first American Consul, Mr. John Black. US – Sri Lanka bilateral relations are deep, enduring and multifaceted.   As we know, however successful our bilateral relations may be, the people-to-people contact that is fostered by the Fulbright Programme is unique and invaluable.  These person to person contact has resulted in lifelong friendships between citizens of our two countries and their families.  This the vision of the late Senator J. William Fulbright, the founder of the academic exchange programme which bears his name, namely the promotion of mutual understanding between the people of the United States and people of Sri Lanka and elsewhere.  Long may the Fulbright Programme flourish and may the US – Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission continue to grow and continue to enrich our two societies in the future. 

Congratulations on your 60th Anniversary. We look forward to the next 60 years, as we celebrate the 60 years gone by.

60th anniversary celebration of the U.S.-Sri Lanka Fulbright exchange

Keynote address by John Stifler

11 November 2012

To say it’s an honor to be here is to understate considerably. Next to having two wonderful children, the other best experience of my life has been to spend eight months in Sri Lanka on a Fulbright grant, and it’s an experience for which I will never stop being grateful.

What made it so great? Certainly there’s the obvious appeal of the whole Fulbright program: an opportunity to be abroad not as a tourist but to do some actual work. A Fulbright grant means being in another country with a purpose beyond going to see the mountains and the elephants – although to be sure those things are beautiful. It means scholarly research, teaching, studying, recording, writing, and more things.

But the experience I’m talking about involves a connection that’s deeper than the work, the specific assignment or project for which one gets this grant. It is a connection with oneself; a connection with what it means to be an American; a connection with one’s own awareness of other kinds of culture, ethnicity, religion, ritual, sports, food, language, you name it. And it is a connection with something ineffable, something you cannot name, label, categorize or measure.

Then too, the Fulbright experience, as I had it in Sri Lanka and as I think most of you in this room have seen for yourselves, means being part of an organization of amazingly dedicated people who run the program, with all its practical complexities, while managing to keep their sense of humor. I’m referring to those who work in the State Department, the CIES, and the U.S.-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission office in Colombo. You know them.

All of us have our own stories – travel stories, personal anecdotes, bits of history and other lore we’ve picked up along the way. In Sri Lanka, for example, I learned how to tell whether a set of elephant tracks was made by a female, a common male, or a tusker. It’s interesting to try to say what all these stories add up to. It’s also pretty tricky. Something important in this experience is elusive, or at least it eludes me.

One useful approach to explaining the Fulbright exchange in Sri Lanka is that the island richly deserves its old name of Serendip. Serendipitous experiences abound there, if you get the time and the connections that the Fulbright fellowship provides. The most stunning of these, for me, was going to the ancient city of Anuradhapura, not on the usual Triangle tourist ticket but in the throng of pilgrims who gathered there on the weekend of the poson poya. If I’m going to tell one story about my time in Sri Lanka, this is it.

One evening in Kandy, when my wife and a friend of hers were visiting from the U.S., we went to Helga’s Folly, the surreal, super-colorful hotel and restaurant perched high on a hill above the city. To get home again, we took a tuktuk driven by a man named Anura. Anura who also owns a shop near the university, was a pretty assertive guy, speaking good English. I phoned him another time when I needed a driver, and while he was driving me, he asked what places I had seen in Sri Lanka during my stay so far. I mentioned Sigirya, the Pinewala Elephant Orphanage, Galle Fort. He asked where else I hoped to go, and I mentioned the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnoruwa.

“I’m going to Anuradhapura this weekend,” he said. “With my family. It’s a big pilgrimage time. Would you like to come with us?”

I thought to myself that Senator J. William Fulbright would certainly want me to accept this kind of invitation to this adventure. “Yes, I would,” I said.

Friday morning we were on the road, in a flatbed truck, Anura driving, another guy and I sitting next to him in the front. In back, Anura’s various aunts, uncles and cousins had rigged a tarpaulin overhead and tied several of those ubiquitous plastic arm chairs to either side panel of the truck’s cargo area. They had a stove, too, keeping warm a big pot of what smelled like a very good lunch.

A vast number of other people and vehicles were on the roads that day too. Beside the road all along the way were other groups of people who had set up tables and in some cases tents where they were serving food. Free food – that’s a big part of poson poya weekend. A good Buddhist gains merit by giving food to others. Rice. Jaggery. Tea. Cakes. Dried fruit. Pull over, stop the truck, take a plate.

While I was eager to share most of the experience with Anura and his relatives, I had made sure to reserve a hotel room for myself before leaving Kandy. When I made the reservation on the phone, the man on the other end of the line said, “Seventy-five dollars U.S.”

Having recently paid $60 for a night at the splendid Galle Face Hotel in Colombo, for a room and a sumptuous breakfast, I suggested that $75 seemed a bit high.

“Well, we are the finest hotel in Anuradhapura, and you will have an excellent room, very clean, with a.c.”

“All right,” I said, figuring my options were limited. “I’ll be coming up from Kandy on Friday afternoon.”
“You are living in Kandy?” he asked.

“Yes. I am teaching at the University of Peradeniya.”

“Ah. Well, we do have a lower rate for Sri Lanka residents.”

“What would that rate be?” I asked.

“We can discuss it when you arrive.”

When I arrived, at the end of a five-hour journey, in a battered white truck with the aforementioned tarp over the back and chairs fastened to the side panels and occupied by eight Sri Lankans, the man at the desk took one look and said, “Forty dollars.”

That evening I joined Anura and others as we walked around some of the vast ancient city. More than once, it has seemed to me that the weekend was like a Buddhist Woodstock – and I mean those words respectfully. The number of people on hand was probably close to the number at that great festival in 1969 in upstate New York, and the feeling of a shared experience, peaceful and happy, seemed not dissimilar. Five hundred thousand Sinhala Buddhists … and a blue-eyed Episcopalian from Massachusetts. One person I passed looked up and said to his neighbor, “Suddha.” No one else, however, seemed to take much notice of my light skin.

The moon was full of course, since a poya is a full moon holiday, and it shone on the enormous white curve of one of the city’s largest temples. I saw some monks laughing like old friends on any weekend evening. Vendors sold colorful paperback religious books, shirts, snacks, and – very useful the next day – sunglasses. Some people were preparing places to sleep under the trees; others stood in lines for more of the free food; some lit candles; others simply walked around.

We circled the temple, then sat facing it. At one point Anura quietly motioned to me to put my hands together and bow slightly forward. A prayer is universal.

I thought, very briefly, “How did I get here? What combination of circumstances, forces, whatever, has brought me to this place, this moment in the world?” In all my imagining of what a season in Sri Lanka would be like, I could not have conjured up anything so enormous and wonderful. On previous trips to exotic places, I had had some kind of advance knowledge. Kathmandu. Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. The Alps. Those places are magnificent, but they’re also more obviously famous and well advertised. Before going to each of those places, I had some idea of what I was going to see. This trip was beyond any planning.

There was a lot more serendipity for me on that island, notably including endless coincidences on the administrative side of the Fulbright grant. Maybe it’s just because Sir Lanka really is a small island and everyone there knows everyone else, but even so….

I met Tissa Jayatilaka in our Washington orientation sessions, naturally enough, since he’s the director of the U.S.-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission in Colombo. Only later did I find out that Tissa had earned a diploma in American studies at none other than Smith College. The Smith campus is not more than three miles from my house in Northampton, Massachusetts. My mother went to Smith, as did many friends. Almost every day, I walk or drive by the building where Tissa lived during his first visit to the United States.

Shortly before I left the United States for south Asia, my son graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. At the pre-graduation baccalaureate exercises at this famously Quaker college, the featured speaker was a man who had just returned from a long peace-seeking mission in Sri Lanka, mediating between the government and the LTTE. He spoke feelingly of the pain and the hope he had encountered.

When I got to Colombo, one of the first U.S. embassy people I met was Jim Moore, the deputy ambassador. Jim is a graduate from another small American college – Colby, in Maine. Colby has a long tradition of encouraging its students to spend a semester or year abroad. At the time, my daughter was a third-year Colby College student on her own semester abroad.

At our small group’s orientation at the Fulbright office on Flower Terrace in Colombo, one of the speakers was Tissa Abeysekara. Sadly, this wonderful writer and filmmaker died while I was in Sri Lanka; I was lucky to hear him speak a few months before his passing. Among his various writings was the popular collection of stories “Bringing Tony Home.” Colombo bookstores are full of fiction works written by Sri Lankans and published by Sri Lankan publishing companies. You can find “Bringing Tony Home” in any of these shops, but when you do, you will notice that its publisher is not one of the local outfits but, instead, North Atlantic Books – an American company founded and run by one of my friends from college.

The first American I met at the University of Peradeniya, on her own study-abroad with the I.S.L.E. program, was a young woman who not only attended Amherst College, as I had, but in fact lived there in the same room I had lived in. Nazreen Sansoni, the gracious owner of the Barefoot stores and café who also attended one of the writing workshops I conducted in Colombo, is a graduate of Western Michigan University, which lies a short distance from my mother’s family’s original home town in that state.

Beyond being sweet and amusing, these coincidences were also, I think, a portent of how connected it would be possible for me to feel in Sri Lanka. They were an indication of how accessible the country would be to all of us who were there on this grant. I had heard that the Fulbright association would open doors for us grantees, but I had no idea how many doors, and how quickly they would be flung open.

There had been talk, back at our Washington orientation, about how we would all receive Fulbright scholar identification cards that would ensure our easy entrance into whatever we were trying to visit. In fact, somehow those cards never materialized … and it didn’t matter at all. The doors opened just the same.

For example: In composing my application for the Fulbright grant in the first place, I had said that the research component of my time in Sri Lanka would be the current state of Sri Lankan literature in English. In an effort to seem as though I had some clue about what I was proposing, I did the obvious. The name I could quickly come up with was Michael Ondaatje’s, of course, but beyond that? I Googled “Sri Lankan writers.” Anne Ranasinghe. Jean Arasanayagam. Carl Muller. Those looked good. I put them into my application with some reference to how these were names with which I was, ahem, familiar.

The first book I bought on arriving in Colombo was a collection of essays written about Sri Lankan literature and published in honor of someone called Professor Ashley Halpe. Reading the cover, I saw that Professor Halpe was an esteemed professor of English literature at Peradeniya, and that one of the essays in the book was by Tissa Jayatilaka. Better buy this book.

A week later, sitting at my desk in the English faculty room at Peradeniya, I looked up and, recognizing him from his photo on the book, saw Ashley Halpe standing there. He offered a quiet, warm greeting. We became friends. Three weeks later, I was standing at a table at the Galle Literary Festival, as Anne Ranasinghe signed my copy of a book of her poems. Shortly after that, I was sitting in Carl Muller’s living room, drinking scotch and talking with him about publishers and book reviewers in Colombo. Jean Arasanayagam invited me to dinner with her family, and we spent a couple of long evenings discussing religion, politics, the university and all the other things you’d like to imagine. This, I realized over and over, is exactly what is supposed to happen when you get a Fulbright grant.

Colleagues at Peradeniya took me to the Gratien Literary Awards ceremony. A couple of weeks later, to my delight, that year’s winner came to visit me at Peradeniya. And there were other cultural experiences besides literary ones. As part of Bridget Halpe’s choral group, I got to sing the Verdi “Requiem” in a televised concert in Colombo. Thanks to another new friend in Kandy, I got to watch the famous Esala Perahera not only from the sidewalks of that old city but in fact backstage at one of the temples, where I could see the mahouts feeding and dressing the elephants and electricians checking the strings of lights on the elephants’ backs, while scores of traditional Kandy dancers fastened on their red sashes and the rest of their costumes in preparation for night after night of the great parade.

It would be a mistake, though, to suggest that the essence of the Fulbright experience in Sri Lanka is that it’s a magical adventure only, or that the main activity of a Fulbright grantee in that amazing country is to sit back in one of those classic plantation lounge chairs – you know the ones, with their long, wide flat wooden arms on which you can rest not only your elbows but a bottle of scotch and two or three glasses, or a pot of tea and some cups, plus a couple of books and a small radio or a laptop – and just chatting. Being in Sri Lanka on a Fulbright grant is real work, and exhilaratingly so.

For me the work included a great deal of teaching. Especially, it involved using what I do at the University of Massachusetts to help students at Peradeniya University to develop their writing abilities. I also had the opportunity to do some work in the economics department, including a talk about language and the persistent challenge, for a native speaker of Sinhala or Tamil, in getting the verb tense and prepositions right in English.

Then there were the workshops in Colombo: creative writing, business writing, and, especially, the workshop that Tissa and Ramya arranged for journalists. These gatherings contained profound lessons both for the participants and for me, notably including many lessons about editing – how it is (or isn’t) practiced in Sri Lanka, how it can be done better — and about the differing roles of journalists in our two countries. I am quite sure the journalists who participated in this workshop got some fundamental lessons about how to compose, select, clarify, reach a larger audience better.

My workshop at the Postgraduate Institute of Management brought together a number of participants who are teachers themselves. That class was lively, and I would dearly love to use that connection to create a further, larger exchange between P.I.M. and UMass. The challenge, I regret to say, is summed up in what one American colleague offered as a reason why no one in his department would be interested in going on an academic visit to Sri Lanka: “Area studies aren’t a focus for us anymore.” Not a good reason, in my opinion, and maybe someone else at UMass will be more sanguine. But then too, while the people in charge at P.I.M. are eager to welcome an American visiting faculty member, they appear reluctant to think that one of their own native faculty members might go off to the United States when he or she is badly needed in the classroom in Colombo. These problems are there for us all to sort out, sooner or later.

More about the work: While I was busy with reading current Sri Lankan literature and teaching various classes and leading workshops, two of my fellow Fulbright grantees were also teaching university students, one in physics, the other in social work. Another was studying maternity healthcare available to Tamil women who work in the tea plantations; another, ambulance service and emergency medical care. The two most recently graduated from college were doing research on the slave trade in the Indian Ocean several centuries ago and on women’s groups.

What does the Fulbright experience in Sri Lanka lead to? You all have your own assessments; these are the ones I see:

Through this program, Americans gain a much greater awareness of Sri Lanka as a country. My own wife will admit that until I received the Fulbright invitation, she herself had not actually known where Sri Lanka is, and she was hardly alone. Also, any American who has visited India is enlightened by the almost immediate discovery, upon landing at Bandaranaike Airport, that Sri Lanka is most definitely not India Junior; it’s a very different place, in some ways more cosmopolitan and more mature.

The educational opportunities available through the U.S.-SL Fulbright exchange indeed work in both directions. For one of my American fellow travelers, this time in Sri Lanka was a step toward completing his PhD. For me it included a re-acquaintance with Henry Fielding, an author who bears numerous repeated visits, and Horace Walpole, who doesn’t, but whose “Castle of Otranto” provided many moments of mirth and good quips from my second-year students at Peradeniya.

Shortly after I left Sri Lanka, a young Peradeniya graduate who edited a literary journal (and published an essay I wrote for it) received a Fulbright grant herself, subsequently coming, sure enough, to the comparative literature program at my own University of Massachusetts. At the same time, one of my best Peradeniya students was accepted to the UMass graduate program in English literature – not with a Fulbright grant, but with sufficient funding from UMass to make his academic sojourn in the U.S. possible. My recommendation may have helped him gain acceptance. I remembered how my own path to postgraduate study in England was made easier because I had a recommendation from an English poet who had come to the U.S. as a visiting writer where I was an undergraduate; now, in a small way, I had perhaps repaid the favor.

Another hugely important point about the value of the Fulbright exchange is that the deep involvement it makes possible between an American and one foreign country enables that person to appreciate what it means to understand more deeply any other country. For me the connection has been Haiti, a place I visited for the first time this past summer. In some ways Haiti is more unfamiliar than Sri Lanka was for me on first arriving, even though it is more Western. Sharing some of the work of a small relief effort in Haiti, I feel as though I can do more, can be more useful, because I have been to Sri Lanka – and that’s not particularly because while I was in Sri Lanka the civil war was still going on, even though there are some similarities between the two countries, notably including uncountable numbers of destroyed buildings and many thousands of refugees. It is, rather, mainly a matter of becoming prepared for the unexpected, and of being excited to respond to it.

More specifically, living in Sri Lanka can enhance an American’s awareness of the role, in global economic and cultural development, of Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal and, in a different way, Canada, with its large population of Sri Lankan emigrants. (Last summer I stayed one night in a charming bed-and-breakfast in a town in Ontario. When I asked the proprietor where she was from originally, she said, “From Sri Lanka. Have you heard of it?”)

The Fulbright experience keeps expanding. Eight months in Sri Lanka made me understand how tea grows, how elephants learn, what the tsunami did to towns and people and the entire landscape, … and how the people in the U.S. State Department, whom I had once vaguely imagined to be a large set of interchangeable talking heads, have their own extraordinary hopscotching career trajectories, and how they are experts at packing not only their suitcases but their personal lives to move from one place to another while never looking burned out, never losing the ability to smile.

Speaking of the State Department, I’ll repeat another fact that you probably already know: Aside from the basic reports we write about what we did while abroad, Fulbrighters aren’t being sent overseas to collect information and then to be debriefed upon our return. We’re specifically reminded that nobody back in Washington or at the embassy in Colombo expects us to tout some official U.S. party line and to promote American foreign policy. As the Serendipity Group’s chairman Donald Camp said just now, we get to go off-track.

We are being sent to do our own research and teaching and, secondarily, to carry on what I’ve heard referred to as “soft diplomacy.” And I think I can certify that U.S. taxpayers’ dollars really are being very well spent in this cause. Without ever feeling as though there were some role we were supposed to act, I think we were, are, doing something to help make the United States of America look good to people overseas.

I’d like to pay a few more tributes to Sri Lanka and to my friends there:

I’ll especially pay tribute to cricket. For an American, just learning the rules of cricket and the strategies of the game is practically an entire Fulbright experience in itself – especially if, like me, you get the rules explained to you by three elderly women who invite you to sit in their living room while they drink scotch and you all watch a match on the TV.

To the natural world in Sri Lanka. The jamfruit trees, the monkeys, the monitor lizards in the lake in the center of Kandy, the kingfishers of many species, and the magnificent dusty, scrub-tree beauty of Yala, the national park where I saw four leopards in the wild.

To those who died in the long, awful war, and to those who were, and still are, displaced by that conflict. If you are Sri Lankan, you know these stories painfully well, and far better than I know them. I had the unexpected good fortune to be there and see the day the war ended. May 19, 2009.

To all the other foreigners in Sri Lanka, and to the further international exchanges possible there. Singing at the Russian Cultural Center for the visiting Cuban ambassador – a treat I would be unlikely to get in the U.S. Increasing awareness of the growth of contemporary China – not just because we can all see the big new buildings being built in Colombo with Chinese funds, but because I met and went hiking with two hilarious young Chinese men who, despite that country’s official downplaying of religion in general, were Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka as students of ancient religious knowledge.

The Fulbright experience evokes for me an image of getting into a boat on a river somewhere – an old river with many meandering bends, tributaries, eddies and islands. Sometimes you can steer the boat, sometimes the current or the wind carries you along and all you can do is hold on and watch to see what will happen next. But as you go along, more and more you feel how, while way leads on to way, all places are connected.

To sum up, here’s why the Fulbright program in Sri Lanka works as it does, why the experience is so rich and so powerful:

The Fulbright Commission can claim an extraordinary office in Colombo. When we all went to the South Asian Fulbright conference in Calcutta, we noticed that the Fulbright programs in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan were all directed by Americans. The director of the Fulbright program in Sri Lanka is a Sri Lankan, as is the deputy director. Tissa and Ramya possess native knowledge of the country, while each has a well-developed affinity for American speech, habits and thought.

The U.S. State Department and the various other Washington entities that overlap to create the Fulbright program – CIES, IIE – are full of amazingly warm, helpful people who either love what they do or else are among this country’s most brilliant actors.

Some of the success of the program must lie with the individual grantee. I did (and do) feel as though, through all the years of my life, all the way back to the first foreign coin I ever owned – a small round piece of brass marked “Ceylon” that I got from inside a cereal box when I was seven years old – something was pointing me in this direction.

And some of the success of this program – how much? there’s no way to measure – is, after all, Sri Lanka itself. Its geography, its history, its unfamiliarity to so many Westerners, its size, and something more. In the right circumstances, any country can provide someone with a feeling of ecstasy, an epiphany, enlightenment. Sri Lanka somehow does more than all those things. For this effect we have much thanks to offer to CIES, the IIE, the State Department, and the U.S.-Sri Lanka commission; to ourselves; and to the island. I feel blessed. I think we all are.

News from the US-SLFC

  • FAASL Lectures:

The FAASL lecture series was inaugurated in May 2006 and the Commission has hosted over 50 lectures by scholars, artists and public figures.

The Fulbright Alumni Association Lecture Series:

The lecture series was inaugurated in May 2006 and the following lectures were held in in the last half of 2012:

Re-visioning the Study of the Mind: The Intersection of Science, Buddhism and Art by Kelly Anne Graves: This presentation discussed the work of Fulbright student researcher, Kelly Anne Graves and was a followed by a photo exhibition of photography on images of compassion.

Sri Lankan Reform Buddhism in the Himalayas: Chittadhar Hridaya’s Sugata Saurabha by Regional Fulbright Scholar Todd Lewis

This lecture will explored the poetic masterpiece recounting the Buddha’s life written by Chittadhar Hridaya (1906-1982) of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Examining it as a case study of Buddhist modernity, it showed that not only does this text reflect the author’s awareness of indigenous Sanskrit sources, but it also demonstrates how Hindi translations from the Pali Canon, and Mahabodhi Society publications – both influences originating in Sri Lanka – shaped Sugata Saurabha, one of the great literary accomplishments of modern Buddhist literature.

Documentary filmmaking as legal advocacy, evidence, and argument:

The Yale Visual Law (YVL) project by Rebecca Wexler

As an independent documentary filmmaker and Visiting Fellow at Yale Law School, Rebecca Wexler co-founded and served as lead instructor for the Yale Visual Law Project (VLP), an initiative designed to enhance legal knowledge through documentary film methodology. In this talk Wexler will related some of the VLP’s proposals concerning use of documentaries within legal arguments in the courtroom; standards for the evaluation of video evidence; and methodological options for analytic knowledge-production in legal scholarship.

Activities of the EducationUSA Advising Center of the US-SLFC.

Pre-Departure Orientation

On July 13th, the Fulbright Commission hosted the students who were leaving to start their studies in the US for the fall semester. Embassy personnel, professors from local as well as American universities, American and Sri Lankan Fulbright Scholars, students home on vacation or returned and the staff of the Commission spoke on topics varying from understanding academic expectations, surviving your first year in America, how to manage your assistantships and living and studying in the U.S.. There was much lively discussions both individually and in small groups which helped the students who were about to embark on their journey on pursuing higher education in the USA, understand how to best cope with the new situations they would encounter.

Opportunity Grant:

During the application cycle of 2011/2012, we identified 3 applicants (1 undergraduate and 2 graduate students) as Opportunity Grant applicants. Sri Lanka received limited funds to help outstanding students who are in economic difficulties with the up-front costs of applying to the USA. Sheroze, the undergraduate applicant received admission to Cornell University with a full scholarship and Lasith and Madushani, the two graduate students received full funding for their PhDs through assistantships from University of California, Merced.

Visits from American Higher Education Institutional Representatives:

2012 has seen a surge of interest from American university representatives. During this period, about 25 university representatives have visited the Commission and on September 30, 29 university representatives travelling through Sri Lanka with the CIS Tour Groups would be attending a presentation by the Executive Director and the Student Adviser at the Cinnamon Lakeside.

The US-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission (US-SLFC)hosted the 2013 EducationUSA Regional Conference for South and Central Asia from January 28 – 30, 2013, at the Hilton hotel .

The theme of the workshop was “Telling the Story: Improving information about the U.S. College Experience” and brought in advisers from the two regions and resource personnel from the USA, for an intensive training experience. Organized by ECA and IIE, the workshop sought to build a strong network of professional advisers united in carrying out the US State Department’s policy of promoting U.S. higher education to broad and diverse student audiences. The workshop focused on skills development, particularly more proficient use of virtual platforms and guidance on policies and trends in international education. Another goal was to promote consistency in the content and management of EducationUSA Advising centers and programs.

A college fair was held as part of the conference with the participation of representatives from 14 American universities and testing institutes. This drew an unprecedented crowd and proved to be a huge success in promoting US higher education in Sri Lanka.

clip_image023

clip_image025clip_image027

The Passion Play and it Music tradition in Sri Lanka

clip_image029

At present I am reading for an MPhil at the University of Kelaniya Sri Lanka. The area of research is based on the Analysis and the Evolution of the Music of the Passion Play of Sri Lanka. The Passion Play spread from the Northern Coastal areas of the country.

The most prominent figure in passion play history of Sri Lanka is Father Jacolme Gonsalvez, a Catholic priest from Goa.

Father Jacolme Gonsalvez had an extensive knowledge in music and drama and could play several instruments as well. Which helped him to compose a text called the “Viyakula Pirisangam”, which was written in Tamil. This work consist of nine sermons on the Passion of Christ.”This is not meant for private reading but to be chanted in a loud mournful tune like lamentation of a mother over the dead body of her son” (Pilendran:1998,31)

This text is the grounding of the passion play tradition in Sri Lanka

Father Jacolme Gonsalvez used Latin melodies, Konkani musical traditions as well as local melodies and prose to compose his passion hymns. This being a genre of performance introduced to Sri Lanka by an Indian migrant missionary allows it to be viewed through a “Transnational Lens” so that the ties with the place of origin can be ascertained through this approach

Going back into history,the inception of the Passion Play in Sri Lanka is the Pesalai Passion Play.

According to Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra in his book ‘folk drama of ceylon’ it is the oldest Passion Play in sri lanka

This Passion Play has maintained and remained authentic identity through over 4 centuries.

The Pesalai Passion Play uses life sized puppets on stilts maneuvered by 4 or more persons. Hence the puppets and some of the costumes are as old as 400 years. The play is in nine acts. Presently the music is provided by a live orchestra and singers both male and female. The vocalists uses a purely Carnatic idiom of singing as well as an ancient singing tradition that existed in Jaffna called ‘Oppari’ and ‘Thevaram’

The music is provided on a keyboard with live music played on a few violins, side drums and Tabla(drum of Indian origin) The musical styles used in the play are heavily influenced by the South Indian Carnatic tradition.

In the Viyakula Pirisangam, there is a dominant singing style which is known as ‘Oppari’. ‘Oppari’ means lamentation and it is sung by women around a dead person’s body. They reflect upon departed persons life and happenings in their laments.

Fr Jacolme Gonsalvez uses this style throughout the play. Also it has to be noted that this lamentation style existed in Sri Lanka even before the Viyakula Pirisangam was written.

These are mostly similar to plainchants and are devotional singing styles. The Passion Play of Pesalai, in the pre-war era was performed on stage by the actors while the readings and chants were narrated off stage. But since then there are hymns and pasams been sung to accompaniment on keyboard music. Also a notable change is that there is now dialogue between the characters and not purely a narration.

Out of historical interest, the year 1983 was when all nine acts were performed before the ethnic unrest in the country. Since the Pesalai church and the Fatima Madya Maha Vidyalaya provided shelter to hundreds of refugees till almost 2008 they had no provision to stage the Passion Play again till 2000.

At this point the cast and community had to build a replica of the original stage. The original stage was built in 1907. Since then the Passion Play has been performed in 2003 and then in its original ‘stage’ at the church in 2008, 2010 and 2012. I was fortunate to witness the performance in 2012 and I was overwhelmed and enthralled at how captivating and sacred the entire performance was.

The Duwa Passion Play is as popular as the Pesalai Passion Play amongst the Sri Lankan, Sinhalese Catholic devotees

‘Duwa’ is in a small fishing hamlet off the coast of Negambo.

The Duwa Passion play dates back 400 years viz to the early 17th Century, and maybe considered as old as the Oberammergau passion play (Rohan: 2006).In the perspective of Sarachchandra it is arguably the oldest surviving musical drama according to textual research. (Sarachchandra:1966)

Similar to the world renowned passion play performed in Oberammergau, the Duwa Passion Play too, is a community effort. It is performed and produced entirely by deeply religious and devoted inhabitants of Duwa and not by professional actors. Moreover, the Play is performed in Sinhalese on a wide open air stage, by the sea, during the early afternoon, lasting 4-6 hours.

According to Prof. Sarachchandra the Duwa Passion Play is unique to Sri Lanka in several aspects from the use of life sized puppets to the music drawn from the Christian Church music thus making it a unique and localized production.

Originally the Roman Catholic passion play or Pasku natya was staged using life sized puppets. In later times the puppets seem to have been replaced by devotees, performing and singing. The Passion Play of Pesalai is an exception as it still uses the olden life sized puppets to date. The original concept of using three stages for the performance too has been retained to modern times in both areas.

The Duwa Passion Play traces its roots to the Goa Passion Play when the scenes were acted with the help of living devotee actors, ‘songs were introduced, and Christian church music was used and the accompaniment of western instruments, often the organ, came into usage’ (Sarachchandra: 1966, 126)

The present version of the Passion Play comprises of nine acts written by Father Marceline Jayakody who is a significant national figure in terms of his contribution to church music in Sri Lanka as well as the Passion Play in Sri Lanka.

In my recent research I have observed that the music of the Duwa passion play developed through history and absorbed an amalgam of cultural and musical traditions. It also shows that there are three major phases of musical transformation of note.

The first phase was the initial development during the early 17th Century. The Passion Play in Sri Lanka dates back to the Portuguese era when the Jesuit drama was a form of theatre practiced in the colleges of the Society of Jesus between the 16th and 18th centuries, as a way of instructing students in rhetoric and imparting Roman Catholic doctrine amongst believers and non-believers through the use of Drama (Peiris,1977). The forefather of the event is said to be Father Antonio Pixieto. The music and scripts used by Father Pixeto is no longer available (Perniola, 1983).

The second phase of development of the passion play was influence of the work of Father Jacolme Gonsalves. Father Jacolme Gonsalves was a student of the Jesuit College of Goa and the University of Goa. Ven.Jacolme Gonzalvez mastered Sinhala literature and was involved in the enactment of the Passion of Christ in Sri Lanka. Father Jacolme Gonsalves through his book the “Dukkaprapthi Natya” and the “Desana Namaye Pasan Potha“ provided a script for the drama based on localized form of drama and music (Perera, 1980).

The third major transformation took place in the early / mid-20th century when Fr. Kalasooriya Marceline Jayakody directed the Drama. Fr. Jayakody served as the head priest in Duwa in 1939. Originally, the Play used traditional statues for Duwa Passion play. Fr. Jayakody wrote the script for a Passion Play based on Dorothy L. Sayers book “The Man Born to be King”. He composed new hymns. He also introduced live male and female actors instead of the puppets.The music of the Duwa Passion Play bears witness to one of the oldest music traditions of the country which is the “Lathoni pasam”

Initially though the main singing style was South Indian singing, it is witness to one of the oldest musical traditions in the country which is the ‘ Lathoni Pasam’. With time,the music of the Passion Play has evolved from Tamil Lathoni (Lament) chants and Oppari (style of lamenting) from the North Eastern coast of Sri Lanka to a more modern music with nationalistic flavor and some Carnatic influence within the Duwa Passion Play

Been heavily influenced by the South Indian singing tradition in the inception in the 18th century the music has now become an authentic singing style of its own It has now undergone many changes and has settled into a style which is now authentic to Sri Lanka

This reflects on the ‘Transnational’ theoretical backdrop while tracing its evolution. The music is still evolving and it is a national heritage to have such an ancient tradition preserved within Sri Lanka.

Father Jayakody was the first Catholic priest to win the "Magsaysa Award"

Fr. Jayakody also won the international OCIC (Catholic Film Office) and the International UNDA (Radio & Television Homage Awards) as well.

The Kavya Mahopadya award from National Poets Union and Kavya and Literary Shiromani from Vidyalankara Pirivena and

In 1979 poetry book Muthu (pearls) won the National State Literary Award (the first catholic priest to have won a state award).

In 1982 He was honored with the title "Kalasuri" by the State, and "Kithu Nandana Pranamaya" by the Catholic Church for his contributions to arts and culture for over six decades.

Bibliography

E.Sarachchandra. (1966). The Folk Drama of Ceylon (Second Edition ed.). Colombo: Government Press.

Peiris, E. (1977). Sinhalese Christian Literature of the XVIIth and XVIIIth Century. Ceylon Printers

Pilendran, G. V. (1998). Tamil Catholic Literary Tradition of Sri Lanka. Jaffna: Catholic Students’ Union.

Rohan, W. (2009). Lankeeya Pasku Dukkaprapthn Natya, Ithihasaya, Akruthi ha Bhavithaya. S. Godage and Brothers.

Thero, P. I. (1995). Malpale Upan Pansale Piyatuma. Colombo: Sridevi Printers Pvt Ltd

Kamalinie Casie Chitty

Kamalinie received a visitor award to the University of Kansas in 2008 to study Music Therapy. Her main area of study is the Piano and Speech and Language Therapy.

Currently she is employed at the University of Visual and Performing Arts Sri Lanka as a lecturer for Piano.

She has been a soloist with the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka and holds a FTCL and LRSM qualifications.

Learning Sinhala

clip_image031

Alison Newman was in Sri Lanka on a Fulbright from 2008-2009, and did research on maternal health in the Kandy District. She lives in Vermont.

The tuk-tuk weaved through the 2pm school pickup rush hour traffic on the Kandy-Peradeniya road, which was narrow with shops set close to the edge, and pedestrians on skinny sidewalks. My boyfriend Brian and I were sitting in the back seat, and our fearless driver, Sangeeth, was in the front, steering us through the chaos.

“Me llamo Sangeeth,” my driver said.

“Mage nama Alison,” I responded.

“Como esta?,” said Sangeeth.

“Kohomeda?” I said.

“I don’t think I can speak any languages now, you two are making me dizzy,” said Brian. Apparently three languages at once was a few too many.

Brian and I were on our way to our Sinahala lesson at the University of Peradeniya with a professor there, and a group of the other Fulbrighters. Finding a beginner’s Sinhala class in Kandy in early 2009 was not easy. There were few foreigners living in the picturesque city at this time. Many of the international NGOs in the area had left as political tensions increased, and most of the organizations that remained were based in the capital, Colombo, which was larger, more urban, more cosmopolitan, but also hotter and busier. Tourism was also at a low ebb because of the long civil war, so even tourists were few and far between in Kandy, a world heritage site..

Even though it was hard to find professional teachers, I still needed to learn a local language, just enough to get through the market, or haggle for a tuk-tuk ride, or tell someone to leave me alone. Sri Lanka’s official languages are Sinhala and Tamil., and I chose to learn Sinhala because it is the native language of the majority of Sri Lankans, especially in the Kandy District. Most Sri Lankans I encountered spoke some English, many spoke excellent English, but my complete lack of Sinahala was a handicap, marking me even further as an outsider, in a city where my height and whiteness already made me stand out. Also, my American accent was difficult for many Sri Lankans to understand, and I had resorted to speaking with a fake British accent in order to get my meaning across.

Sri Lankan English was equally exotic to me. One newspaper headline read “King Croc Comes a Cropper,” a phrase I’d only ever heard in My Fair Lady. Equally old-fashioned, when I was on the coast a young woman had asked me, “Shall we have a sea bath.”

Any Sinhala, however simple, had to help.

When I told Sangeeth I spoke Spanish, he told me he wanted to learn it so that he could speak with any Spanish tourists that came to Kandy. He had learned English partly in school, and partly through driving tourists like me around the city. His English was very good, but his Spanish was so far rudimentary, like my Sinahala. We agreed to exchange Spanish and Sinhala lessons as he drove me from place to place, and we had each created simple dictionaries to help the other. I figured anything I learned from Sangeeth would help supplement the Sinhala I learned from a professor in a group lesson with the other Fulbrighters, who had set up a group lesson for us.

The group lessons only happened a few times, scheduling was difficult with many of us who were traveling or trying to do research, but the classes helped give my language learning some structure. The professor at the University of Peradeniya taught the six of us some for the basics of Sinhala, including numbers and common greetings. Basic, but useful. However, even the professor, who spoke English perfectly, had trouble understanding me and said he’d never heard an accent like mine. I have to think the Vermont habit of dropping t’s in words like mountain and Vermont had something to do with it.

In addition to the nuts and bolts of the classes, Sangeeth taught me words and phrases that would serve me well in day-to-day life.

When the tuk-tuk broke down on the way back from Peradeniya to Kandy, “Deyyo dani, api no dani,” God knows, we don’t know.

When the train was running behind schedule “Mokada karanay,” What to do?

When the same streetside tout in Kandy heckled me about the market, “Eti!” Enough!, or “Pissu hadenuwa!” Making me crazy!

When there was a baby elephant, “Alipetiya, hari lassanai!” Baby elephant, very beautiful!

As Sangeeth and I both learned new words in Sinhala and Spanish we found similarities between the languges. The word for shoe was zapatu in Sinhala and zapato in Spanish, a remnant of Portuguese left in the language. Anasi was very similar to ananas, French for pineapple. In other ways, Sinhala was completely different than any language I’d ever heard. The system for plurals still confounds me, and I never learned a single letter of the complicated swirling alphabet.

Sometimes our language lessons included questions about English that I couldn’t answer, such as “What is the difference between Tortoise and Turtle?” or “What do you mean when you say ‘pretty good’?” and “What is “um”? or “Why do you talk so fast? Brian is much easier to understand. He talks slow.”

Sangeeth taught me the name of many animals, bat, cat, dog, elephant, monkey, and how to say “It’s raining,” wahinewa, very useful in a country that seemed to have many animals, and where it was either the rainy season or the dry season. He also taught me “sudu nona” white lady, which I often heard when I walked by.

I had other teachers as well. The children at Child Action Lanka where I volunteered (ostensibly teaching English, but mostly coloring and playing “Red and Green”, a simplified version of Red Light, Green Light) taught me many of the colors, and also the word “makara” for dragon.

When I began my research at women’s health centers in the Kandy District, my translators, medical students from the University, helped me fill in some of the gaps, and taught me new words. I even learned how to say “welcome” and “thank you” in Tamil, “vannakam” and “nandri.”

By the time my family arrived in April, a few days after the end of the civil war, my Sinhala was good enough to order food, or buy mangoes. When we visited the Kandalama Hotel in the dry zone, the staff were unduly impressed by my basic baby Sinhala. I was able to introduce my mother, amma, and younger sister, namgi. A month later when my father and stepmother visited, the staff at the Kandalam Hotel remembered me, and asked where my mother had gone, “Eya Amerikata yannava,” She goes to America, I was able to answer. And when we were in the open air hallways of the Kandalama I was able to point at the bats and say “waulo.”

The amount of Sinhala I learned was miniscule, but without it I would have been completely lost. The more I learned about Sri Lanka, Sinhala, and Tamil the more I knew that I would never completely understand, but language helped me glimpse what was below the green, abundant, chaotic surface.

I’m still not sure if Sangeeth encountered any Spanish tourists to impress with his language capabilities. But I do know that thanks to him I was able to answer, “Where from?” with “Mama Nuwara,” I’m from Kandy.

Madam, what is the American Dream?”: Reflections on teaching English at a Sri Lankan university

clip_image033

On my first day of teaching at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura last October, I woke up, tumbled out of the white mosquito net canopy that engulfs my bed, padded into the bathroom, and stepped on a cockroach. A live one. Wiggling it’s many, many legs on the green tile of my bathroom floor. I certainly did not imagine beginning that first big day screaming, but that’s what happened, and as I shuddered in my shower, I tried not to take it as an omen.

Four months later, I can happily report that while bugs are still an everyday part of life here in Sri Lanka, my experience as a Fulbright ETA has been nothing short of wonderful. I teach a course called “Academic Reading and Writing” at a university just outside of Colombo, and like many of my fellow ETAs, I am in fact not a teaching assistant as my title suggests, but instead have my own classroom, office hours, and syllabus – a level of responsibility that at first seemed daunting, but that I now embrace. Having only recently graduated from university myself, I worried about how my students would receive me (I’m not sure that I’d like being lectured to on a daily basis by someone only a couple of years older than me), but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by my students’ eagerness to not only improve their academic reading and writing skills, but to learn more about the English language and American culture.

When we’re not discussing novels, going over MLA format, or reviewing presentation skills, my students politely pepper me with questions about the United States. Before answering, I ask for their thoughts, as I’m always curious about what shapes my students’ perceptions of the U.S. (More often than not, it seems to be Hollywood.) On one such occasion, a student interpreted the American Dream as being “the car, the house, the dog, the cushy job…basically, things to be thankful for on the day of Thanksgiving.” A very interesting discussion ensued. And when I get into these kinds of conversations with my students, when I’m facilitating discussions about culture and language – sometimes based on the material I’m teaching, but often times not – the impact of the Fulbright program takes on a very visceral meaning.

I take to heart my role as a cultural ambassador here, something that I have been told the importance of from the moment I received this Fulbright grant. I am here in Sri Lanka to teach English, yes, but I’m also here to represent my experience of the U.S., to be a unique face of a unique culture, to offer my perspectives and knowledge when I’m asked to share them. This manifests itself especially in how I run my classes – I teach in an educational system quite different from the one I am used to, and as I encourage my students to step out of their comfort zones by participating in class and sharing their opinions, I’m striving to integrate some of what I know works with what works here in Sri Lanka. It’s a constant balancing act, but when challenges arise, I’m armed with a smile, a head bobble, and a refreshing dose of ‘island mentality.’

But as I reflect on the work I’ve done here in Sri Lanka and the work I have yet to do, I realize that my students are teaching me even more than I feel I’m teaching them. There is much more to my experience as a Fulbrighter in Sri Lanka than lesson planning and time in the classroom – I’m constantly humbled by my students and others I meet and talk with who share with me so many more parts of Sri Lanka than I could ever discover on my own. In a recent article in The Huffington Post, Tom Healy, chairman of the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, wrote that “Fulbrighters prove that storytelling is very much alive…they tell us about the worlds they find and the worlds they share in making.” We Fulbrighters are able to tell these stories because of the people who shape our Fulbright experience. For me, those people are my students, my colleagues, my Sri Lankan amma, my go-to tuk tuk driver, my Sri Lankan friends, the elderly woman who serves me milk tea in the university canteen every day. It is their stories and perspectives that ground and inspire my experience as a Fulbrighter, as an American, as a young, curious woman living in Sri Lanka. As I continue to meet people here who so openly share their worlds with mine, I’m able to share in the making of new ones. And that, I am learning, is the humbling and enriching experience that is being a Fulbrighter.

Natalie Lampert grew up in Washington, D.C. and Stuttgart, Germany and graduated from Elon University in 2011 with a B.A. in International Relations and English. Having traveled twice to Sri Lanka in 2011, she was thrilled to return as a 2012-2013 Fulbright ETA. Her favorite Sri Lankan dishes are kiribat and pol sambol, and she thinks there is nothing more thrilling than the four hour, middle-of-the-night climb that is experiencing Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) as dawn breaks above the whole island.