Thursday, September 29, 2011

What Exactly is a Rickshaw, Anyway?

Some of you reading may be wondering, 'what is a rickshaw, anyway?'  

Let us introduce you:

Autorickshaw: a small, triangular shaped vehicle, the color of a bumble bee, used to transport small or large numbers of goods or people for a small monetary fee through insane traffic with a fantastic sense of urgency, all while sounding like a bicycle with a baseball card stuck in the spokes. Usually contains some sort of shrine to a god or gods on the dashboard, which may or may not have burning incense and/ or flashing lights in addition to other fantastic, psychedelic decor.

Why did we choose a rickshaw to name our blog after? 

Good question. Kandyce, ISP Program Assistant, is a little obsessed with rickshaws. She named her own blog after rickshaws, too. She really, really wants to spend at least one day of her life as an autowalla, or rickshaw driver. 

What's more, though, is that we want our program to be about adventure and riding in a rickshaw is definitely that - swerving through traffic, playing chicken with overloaded buses, the incessant honking... it's a little bit overwhelming. India is a little bit overwhelming at times too. Sitting in a rickshaw zipping through the streets, though, offers a safe place from which to view the craziness of life on India's streets.  In many ways, the backseat of an autorickshaw is the best way to experience the beautiful insanity which is India. It's immediate - right there in your face, in your eyes, in your nostrils - but still an environment where you can observe without losing your sense of balance. Like that, we want ISP to be immediate - what's the point of studying abroad if you don't directly experience the culture that you're studying? But we also want ISP to be a place of balance and reflection where you can take in the environment and grow to understand it.

 You can cover more ground in an auto than on foot, and our program strives to offer students a wide range of experiences in the many different environments which India offers. We take our students to major centers of culture and society all around India, and give them direct experiences of both the wealth and poverty, the glories and the struggles, of modern India. It's a diverse journey which gives you the chance, from the auto's back seat, to reflect on global connections and the ways in which we in the West have impacted the rest of the world.

Autorickshaw drivers are the salt of the earth in India. Mostly from lower-income backgrounds they work long hours for little pay and struggle to make ends meet. You can learn a lot about poverty in the classroom but a twenty minute conversation with an auto driver on your way to the market may teach you more than the classroom ever could. Those conversations are an essential part of our learning model at ISP, learning through relationship and connection, particularly with the societally or economically disadvantaged.

So riding in rickshaws is much more than a simple move from point A to point B. It's an opportunity for learning, for growth, and for encounter with the other. Come riding with us!

Want to read more about what we do?
We go on trips. We celebrate festivals. We make friends. We eat things (good things). We learn things.
Sound like fun?  (We thought so!)

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