Robert Wei, PhD
Associate Professor and Associate Chair, Chemistry Department
Sri Lanka, 2000-01
Like most Americans, before I went to Sri Lanka, I knew very little about the country. It's a small tropical island with many names, located off the southern coast of India. Most of us know the country as Ceylon, from where they export high quality tea. It was raided or colonized for many centuries by numerous countries, most recently by the British. Therefore, the education there is modeled after the British system. The country went through a period of violent civil strife sacrificing nearly 64,000 people- out of a population of 18 million. In fact, I was advised not to go there because of this. In many ways, Sri Lanka resembles India although Buddhism is the predominant religion. The country is still poor with an average per-capita income of $50-60 per month. I went to Sri Lanka to help develop a master's program in industrial and environmental chemistry at the University of Kelaniya, Kelaniya, Sri Lanka. When I left at the end of the 9 month grant period, the program was approved by the university and was being initiated.
Every year two Senior Fulbrighters are selected to go to Sri Lanka and I felt fortunate to be one of them. Since the educational system is modeled after that of the British system, including the university, I had to deal with academics with an attitude to which I was not accustomed. It took a lot of effort and convincing to get the master's program off the ground, since it was essentially modeled after the American system and tended to arouse a lot of suspicion and resentment on the part of certain administrators and academic colleagues who are more comfortable with their traditional system. As much as Sri Lankans are generally extremely friendly, helpful, and welcoming to visitors, most are poor, and many are still conscious of the caste system. A tiny population of the well-to-do, for instance, are expected to have several servants, while the poor native Sri Lankans usually do not frequent too many of the commercial establishments such as hotels. I am happy to be of help in bringing a student to CSU from Sri Lanka to pursue a Ph.D. degree in chemistry. I also hope to develop a more sustainable relationship with the University of Kelaniya by bringing a Sri Lankan professor to CSU on the AIA/Fulbright program soon.