IHP Health and Community: Globalization, Culture, and Care (Fall)

India Letter Home

Namaskaram!
This letter begins with a greeting in Malayalam, the language of Kerala state in India, where we have been for the past four weeks. As we prepare to leave God's own country - as Kerala is commonly known - we have much to look back on and be thankful for. Upon arrival, the India Country Coordinator, Dr. Vijayakumar, and his team from Health Action by People (HAP) warmly welcomed us. We were overwhelmed by their hospitality providing a delicious welcome dinner, escorting us to the annual Onam festival and taking us to a local beach in the first few days.  We were particularly grateful for the sim card starter packs that ensured we had telephone contact almost immediately with our families, loved ones and with each other.

While in Kerala, we have been based at the government Medical College in Trivandrum where an air-conditioned room (really necessary for the hot, humid weather) had been made available for our use. Being on the campus gave us the chance to meet and interact with some of the Indian students, through whom we got a glimpse of our Keralite counterparts' lives. Through guest speakers as well as site visits, we have learnt much about the workings of the world-renowned Kerala Model - the healthcare system that delivers outcomes not unlike those of industrialized countries but at far lower costs. This was brought into sharper focus through case studies: for example, the occupational and environmental health group got an up-close view on how the city is dealing with the ballooning problem of solid waste management. They interviewed the garbage collectors and truck drivers who at the time were striking as well as the city's chief health officer.

We have found our taste buds constantly challenged by the spicy foods (yes, even at breakfast) and have learnt how to haggle with auto rickshaw drivers. We are also particularly appreciative of the cultural exposure afforded to us through planned events such as a Kathakali performance, an Indian dance-drama which originated in the 17th century. We also participated in an evening of traditional dance and singing at the medical college with famous musicians from Kerala. We were treated to a beautiful Indian rendition of The Final Countdown and were invited on stage to sing and dance with other students from the university.

India is also the country where we had our first homestays! Our families were spread throughout the city of Trivandrum and everyone had very different, incredible experiences. Food played a central role to our stays and we came to call Kerala by the nickname of `Spiceland.’ The spices and abundance of coconut in the cuisine have made Kerala a food paradise for many and left some with a pleasant, but inextinguishable, fire in their mouths and a true appreciation for bananas. Our host families were the basis for our overall cultural experiences throughout the entire country program. The Keralites were eager to share their state, taking many of the students to weddings, teaching us how to cook, ride their family elephants, introducing some to their entire extended family, and always showing us an amazing time and place.

This final week has been our vacation time, and we have spent it in various places throughout India. Some of us went to nearby Cochin to soak up some sun and relax in the backwaters on houseboats. Others made the journey north to Delhi and Agra to see the famous Taj Mahal. Some spent time in ashrams getting in touch with their zen mode and finding inner peace and enlightenment. Some even went as far north as Dharamsala in the Himalayas for epic adventures. Vacation was an incredible time for everyone and was the perfect way to end the India country program and begin our journey even further east.

After having laid aside Switzerland's forks and knives for our fingers in India, we look forward to chopstick adventures in China.

Until then,
IHP Health and Community Fall 2011 Cohort

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Credits: 16

Duration: Fall, 16 weeks

Program Sites:
USA, India, South Africa, Brazil

Prerequisites: None. Coursework in public health, anthropology, biology, or related field recommended.

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