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

India Letter Home

Dear Friends and Family,

We write to you from our last days in India. As we leave this country, we will remember the lessons it has taught us, the relationships we’ve made, and the beautiful sights we have seen. These are some snapshots of our five weeks in India, through the eyes of the students.

India is a place of poverty and hunger, but also a place of color, beauty, culture, and life. At first, I felt overwhelmed, homesick, and nervous about navigating the streets, the way of life, the people, and the places. I wondered how I would ever cross the streets with so much traffic and beeping, who I could trust, and which places to visit. I wanted so badly to make sure I approached every moment with an open heart and an open mind in order to learn from each experience. Therefore, I gathered my nerves to get the nerve to try new things and experience the culture of India. With patience and persistence, I eventually felt adapted to living in India. I woke up and knew what food my Amma had cooked for me, went for a run around the apartment and spoke with the young children from the complex, got ready and bargained with a rickshaw driver to take me to the coordinator's house where I met other students and Ramya to go shopping for the day, found a small store, smaller than some American bathrooms, to print out my homework assignments, went out and looked at beautiful clothing during the day, and then arrived back at home to have dinner with my homestay parents. Although the day was simple and occurred locally, I learned about my comfort with and enjoyment of exploration and that with focus, determination, and an open heart you might just find that level of comfort and adaptation that you thought might be impossible at the beginning.

We have only been to one country and we have learned so much about ourselves already. Most of us have noticed which issues we are most passionate about, we are starting to think about injustices and problems throughout the world, and all of us are asking much better questions about the world around us. India made a lot of people uncomfortable because the culture was so different from what we were used to--we were thrown into it but, looking back, it was the best way for us to embrace a culture that always continued to challenge us. From spicy foods to bargaining with auto rickshaw drivers, from struggling with saree lengths to finding internet cafes, we learned how to adapt to the country we were living in. It holds a special place in our hearts.

As a dance major, I wasn’t expecting to have a lot of experiences related to my major, but, on the contrary, I discovered that dance is a huge part of Indian culture that pervades everyday life. Many of our homestay families watch an Indian dance competition TV show. As we saw on our rural visit, many young people are involved in traditional dance groups in the style of their home state. It is one of the ways in which our generation of Indian youth keeps India’s rich cultural traditions alive. Students from colleges near Trichy, the jump-off point for our rural stay, put on several dance performances. At the end the boys were invited to join the male dancers on stage for one song, and then the girls from Trichy invited the girls up on stage to dance one song with them. We were impressed by the drama, athleticism, and beauty of their art, and touched by their willingness to share it with us!

I didn’t know what to expect from India before I got there. All I knew was from Slumdog Millionnaire and I imagined some of their customs might be similar to those found in Egypt, where I am from. Well, it was like nothing I have ever seen or experienced before. It was fantastic. I was afraid I would not like it if my personal values and beliefs were different, but I realized (it is a lot harder than it sounds) I have to free myself from all the concepts belonging to where I am from. I need to look through Indian eyes and let new information sink in before I react; it is impossible to fully do that but I have to try or it’s not worth traveling.

India is so different and unique that it can often seem overwhelming. There is so much to soak in in such a short period of time; however, our homestay families were very willing to help us adapt. We were all so grateful for our Ammas’ and Appas’ (Mom and Dad in the Tamil language) kindness and generosity. Some would even say they were too generous with the amount of food they served at each meal!

We had many assignments that required us to have conversations with our homestay families. My Amma was always more than willing to answer any question I proposed. She was open and honest with her answers, giving me insight into Indian culture. In addition, I was surprised how much she wanted to learn about my culture. As a result, my interviews turned into lengthy conversations that broke barriers between cultures and brought me and my Amma closer together. I look forward to doing the same in both China and South Africa!

The most valuable aspect of the learning process for me in India was the fact that, in order to deal with differences of the new country, we were forced to confront our own culture. We had to do our best to understand and reconcile differences with guest lecturers regarding beliefs about research, life priorities, and the future. One expert discussed the future of technology in medicine, one the growing trend of medical tourism, one the history of India, and several the basis and importance of Indian traditional medicine. We also spoke with many community members—in our homestays and at local schools and organizations—which brought to light some very interesting and some very puzzling differences in cultural values. We usually followed up these conversations with discussions among ourselves about our reactions. Furthermore, we encountered a very wide variety of cultural norms and living conditions, prompting a lot of reflection on the things we appreciate the most about life in our home culture. In short, we learned at least as much about ourselves as we did about India in our time here. I am sure this process of self-realization will continue in China and South Africa, though I believe the base we’ve built here will allow us to tackle new cultures in a whole new way.

All the best,
Health & Community, Fall 2012

Written by students: Alyssa Cuddy, Simone Elder, Julia Discenza, Hadi El Rabbat, Elizabeth Harris, and Emily Clennon

Edited by: Ben Smith, Trustees’ Fellows

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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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