Finding the words to describe my time is India is close to impossible. We have had so many incredible experiences and met so many wonderful and strong people. We have spent the last three weeks trying to speak Tamil with auto rickshaw drivers, winding our way up the Western Ghats, eating food with our hands, visiting religious spaces, and being welcomed into people homes where people fed us until we were bursting. Every little experience that we have had has contributed to our learning experience in this course. Without the unscheduled situations where we had to “adjust” we would not have been able to grow the way we did. I wouldn’t change this experience if I could.
Coming back to the US after these three amazing weeks is going to be the weirdest transition I’ve ever experienced. Not having to constantly adjust a dupatta (scarf) and wearing skinny jeans again is going to be a change in habit.
When we went to Asheville only four months ago, I felt overwhelmed by the prospect of being surrounded by twenty other people for three weeks. But once we arrived in India and got into the flow of things, my need for alone time disappeared, at least until the last week.
I have been pleasantly surprised with the relationships I have formed with everyone on the course. In these three weeks, we have become a family. I look forward to having a Elon/Maryville reunion sometime in the future and will look back on this trip as one of the fulfilling experiences of my life.-Catherine Colbran
The amount of kindness we have been show by a wide range of people here is still difficult to process. My friends and family were all apprehensive when I said I was going to take a course in South India this January, but I hope I can convey to them the generous atmosphere here. And not just the smiling faces and open minds, but all of the hospitality we were shown from people of all religions is more than humbling. As I sit here on the last day, I am nervous about going back to the United States where we boast religious freedom, but are not always exposed to what authentic coexistence is.
Looking back, the most meaningful moment I had was going to the temple and being blessed by Hindu priests who didn’t care that I wasn’t a Hindu or that I was American. Their religion and culture is so inclusive. I saw this further when some of us were invited to join a wedding at the New Woodlands hotel. Everyone was welcoming and sharing endless food with us.
During our designated class sessions I struggled with the concept of caste-and I still do. However, one key point that showed me the complexity of the term is how caste can be inclusive, not only exclusionary. To me, all cultures have some form of a caste system, but it is sometimes simply implied and rather than explicit.
In terms of personal growth, I have a much better understanding of South Indian culture and an appreciation for their focus of the family. I would like to bring back and practice a more collective sense of identity instead of the fiercely independent culture that many Americans, including myself, have. I will miss the food like nothing else, but I hope to bring the creative use of vegetables and protein back with me to the States. I hate to leave behind Gobi 65 (a fried cauliflower snack that tastes better than any chicken nuggets in the world) but I can’t wait to see my friends and family! Please, just go to India if the opportunity presents itself. Just go.
I decided during my first semester at Elon that I wanted to take the India’s Identities study abroad course. I was enrolled in Amy’s Hindu Traditions class as she prepared for her and Brian’s 2015 India course, and she showed us pictures of 7th-century stone carvings, described the women who perform rituals for the snake deities, and introduced us to Indian epics full of heroes and demons and flying monkeys.
Two years later, I made it to India and spent three weeks exploring sites, interacting with people, and developing new perspectives on the things I had learned in my classes at Elon. Some of the time I was excited to make connections back to my coursework, like identifying characters in extravagant wall murals and recalling stories about local deities. Many times I encountered things that surprised me, or challenged my preconceptions about religion in South India, such as the visuality of Catholic practices and the number of roadside shrines and images we encountered.
We spent three weeks fully immersed in South Indian culture and society. Although I’m ready for a salad and I miss my cat, it’s tough to leave. I’ll miss the constant conversation about current politics and religious pluralism and things that matter. I’ll miss waking up every morning in India with the intention of experiencing something new and taking in all the day has to offer. Until next time, India!
I jotted down a prompt for this final reflection which reads “paragraph or two reflecting on our own experiences, both personal and academic.” Amy and Brian advised us to be prepared for the inevitable question: “how was India?” and the difficulty we would have answering it. I’m already encountering that difficulty in trying to draft a response — a paragraph or two is nowhere near enough. These past three weeks have been non-stop, as busy as the streets in Chennai, and I feel like we really have something to show for it. These have been three weeks of exploration, discovery, and complicating ideas we previously thought were simple. I have learned so much about culture in South India that can only be learned by seeing — so much that I thought I would never be able to process it all.
Honestly, I’m still reeling. The last few days of class could not have been better — we took time to process and sum up our experiences with religion, gender, and caste, and try to move towards cohesive theories for the construction of identities related to each. It was, in a way, academic closure: a rare privilege that I wasn’t sure I’d get. More than anything, though, it showed me how much more I have to learn. I began this course not even knowing what questions to ask, and now I see how valuable that knowledge is. This course has, in equal measure, frustrated, inspired, exhausted, bewildered, and enlightened me — it has been an unparalleled experience that I am excited to bring with me back home.
My time in South India has been different than any other experience in my life. I came in with so many worries and expectations, but now that I’m on the other side, I’m happy to say that it was incredible and will forever be too difficult to sum up in just a few paragraphs. I’m forever grateful to Amy, Brian, and our Elon-Maryville crew for allowing me to really step out of my Communications-comfort-zone and open myself up to learning about entirely new things, which I feel like I haven’t done much lately.
During our last class today, Brian asked us to name our favorite moments from the past three weeks, and I found myself unable to pick just one. From adventuring to Amy’s favorite spots in Mylapore and Chennai, unexpected train sleepovers, mini-concerts in Sunil’s village, lush tea estates, Cochin’s unique history, blessings from a temple elephant, and witnessing an entire city mobilize to defend their culture … how could I choose? There’s just one thing left to say: Thank you, India!