Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Snapshot of our Classes

You may be wondering what it is like to take a class in India. Some things are very similar- the prof will give a lecture, and the students studiously take notes. But some things are very different. In India, great respect is given to one’s elders and so students are expected stand up when their professor enters the room. Our students are not actually taking classes with other Indian students. They do however have Indian professors who offer a different perspective on issues than we from our western perspective can see.
Since we are in India, the class opportunities are very exciting! Here is a quick run-down on what our students have been up to lately:
Hard at work cooking
Indian Cuisine- How awesome is it to learn how to cook Indian food IN India! And not only that, but after they finish making a dish, they get to eat it! Somehow or another the ISP director and program assistants seem to find their way to the kitchen around lunch time in order to have a taste! 
Today's creation!
Indian Literature- Students are getting the chance to read many pieces of literature not studied in the west. These authors provide a unique perspective that students are really enjoying.

Indian Social Work- In this class students learn a lot in the classroom on topics of poverty, caste, and social justice etc. It is very important to learn how Indians are helping themselves and working to build up their nation, rather than just the western perspective of us coming to rescue India. One of the benefits of this class is how much learning takes place outside of the classroom! Just on their walk to college or a typical day, students may come across beggars or street children and have to process what they see and decide how to respond.

Indian Design- Where else do you get to design and create your own sari, salwar kameez, or kurta? Students are hard at work creating their own design masterpieces- can’t wait for the fashion show! Meanwhile, they are learning and practicing different forms of design such as tie-dye and batik.
The Master and the Student
Indian Art- This past week students had the chance to try their hand at pottery. The pottery master went over some instructions and then let them try for themselves. Here are some of their incredible pieces!

Final product!
Contemporary India- Students are learning so much in this class, that it is hard to narrow it down. Put simply, this class teaches the history of India up to the present-focusing on important aspects. 

Religious Landscape- This is a very engaging class! Students have the opportunity to not only learn about other religions in the classroom, they also have the chance to visit many of these places of worship to see for themselves what it is all about. Students go on a visit to several Hindu temples, Sikh gurudwara, different denominations of churches, a Buddhist temple, and a Jain temple. Students also interact with neighbors and friends who may be a different religion and have a different mindset then theirs which just expands their opportunity to learn.
A little puja across the hall from the apartment
Next week we are headed to the neighboring state of Kerala (God's Own Country) for classes and various site visits. This will also be the first train trip for the students! There are sure to be some interesting stories!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"It's so beautiful!"

If I had a rupee for every time I heard that phrase or said it myself this weekend, I could buy a delicious meal of naan and chicken tikka masala from Myx. We really enjoyed a very full weekend up in Ooty- a hill station a couple hours away.
At 5:45am on Thursday morning the batch was ready to load up the jeeps and head out. The mountain road is full of switchbacks, but at every turn you are rewarded by a view more beautiful than the last. Trees and sheer rock faces give way to the florescent green of carrot and potato fields and rows upon rows of tea.
The magnificent view!
  In the morning we visited an NGO called Freedom Firm which rescues and works with girls who are forced into prostitution in India. Check out: http://www.freedom.firm.in/ It was great to hear their stories, meet some of the girls, and even purchase some of their beautiful hand-made jewelry. Next we drove down the mountain on the other side to go to Mudumalai Tiger Reserve for our tiger safari! Driving into the reserve we spotted several wild elephants in the bush which was a complete surprise! Then we boarded the "invisible" camouflaged bus for the real safari… managed to see some rasam deer but not much else; maybe the bus wasn’t actually invisible after all! Afterward we saw the mahout’s or keepers feed their tame elephants which was pretty cool.
Elephant camp
Friday morning we headed out to our next destination: Avalanche camp! On the way the view became even more spectacular when we rounded a curve and saw a lake stretched out on the valley floor! We stopped to take some snaps, and then noticed that one of the jeeps had a flat tyre…which was fine because it meant we could explore the tea field right across the fence!
Wandering through a tea field
When the roads became too rough to pass, we were dropped off to hike the rest of the way to the camp- another 6 kilometers (almost 4 miles) up and down steep rocky and muddy and slippery terrain which was quite fun! Arrived in the beautiful campsite and spent the rest of the afternoon kayaking in the lake, sunning ourselves on the rocks, hiking to a waterfall and just enjoying the beautiful wilderness. That night after a wonderful time of singing around the campfire, we headed out on a night hike which was a little unnerving but incredible to see the brilliant night sky! We tried to get some sleep in our tents that night despite the cold mountain air.
Avalanche camp site
Saturday was another early morning- we said goodbye to the friends we had made at the campsite and the beautiful view and hiked the 6km back to our waiting jeeps. Back in Ooty we visited a tea factory where they showed and described the long process of sorting, drying, and grinding the tea- you can bet we all have more appreciation for each cup of chai we drink now! In the afternoon we had the privilege of visiting a Toda tribal village where they warmly welcomed us in. We learned more about their community, played with the kids, and admired their beautiful embroidery work.

Trying a cup of chai at the tea plantation
By the time we got back to our guest house in Ooty, we were all fried! That night we enjoyed a delicious dinner of pizza and donuts and then crashed by 9:00pm! Sunday was a free day with many options of things to do. Some students visited the Botanical garden, attended a church service of mostly ex-pats who live and work in India, or shopped along the streets of Ooty. Most everyone found their way to the chocolate shop that sells homemade chocolates in order to load up for the next few weeks before heading back down the mountain.

We arrived home tired and dirty but happy from our fun and full time in beautiful Ooty! Check out more photos on our Facebook page!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What We've Been Up To Recently

Last week we had Wednesday off for Gandhi Jayanti day so we decided to go to a nearby waterfall to hike and relax in the water.We had to cross a rickety free swinging wooden bridge with lots of broken boards and the sides missing in many places! Another adventure in India! The water was so refreshing and since we went early we had the area to ourselves for awhile. We had fun slipping and sliding in the water and trying to maneuver in current!
Enjoying the waterfall

For a field visit this past week we went to KCT- a nearby school- to interact with the students. It turned out that our students were seated in the front as a panel and were asked questions about culture and college in America!
Our group at KCT 
We have also had a gathering with our peer mentors where we ate good food and introduced them to the game of Mafia, gone shopping at a nearby  market, and seen beautiful sunsets from our apartment roof! On Sunday some of us attended a festival at church where we got to try many new foods including momo's, whole fish, byriyani, custard, and jello cups!
Jello cups at church???
Sunday afternoon we went to a Sikh Gurdwara to observe their service and learn about their customs and beliefs. We enjoyed a delicious meal with them afterward and experienced their generous hospitality.

The group at a Sikh gurdwara
This weekend we are headed up to Ooty- a beautiful hill station surrounded by tea plantations. We will be visiting various NGOs, touring a tea plantation, and GOING ON A TIGER SAFARI! Catch our update next week when we return!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


We returned Saturday night from our first weekend trip to Madurai. We boarded the ‘Barbie Bus’ (white with purple trim) at 6:00am Friday morning to travel to the Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary (TTS) in Madurai. We toured their beautiful campus and got to explore their archives including seeing Scripture written on old banana leaves! In the evening we set out along the very busy and chaotic streets of Madurai to visit try Jigarthanda- famous Madurai drink that was fantastic! Next we went to the Thirumalai Nayak Palace to enjoy their sound and light show which explained the history of the palace. 

Enjoying jigarthanda drink!
 The next morning we set out early for Sri Meenakshi temple which is a HUGE Hindu temple that at least 15,000 people visit a day! We were happily surprised to see an elephant standing in the courtyard of the temple and many of the students got ‘blessed’ by the elephant where it put it's trunk on your head! What a cool experience!
Sri Meenakshi temple

A student being 'blessed' by the temple elephant!

We also visited the Gandhiji museum and read more about his life and how he influenced India.

On our drive back to Coimbatore, we stopped at an orphanage for children with HIV. At first they had a little program for us where they sang and danced and even taught us a dance! Then we all ran to play outside on their playground. These children were adorable- running around showing us their tricks and including us in their games. Shouts of ‘Akka’ (older sister), ‘Ana’ (older brother) rang out across the playground and I think we were all equally blessed by this interaction with these dear sweet children!

Our whole group enjoying the children at the orphanage.

Check out more pictures from our trip on our Facebook page- India Studies Program (ISP)!