Goodbyes are hard ….

Elon students and Maryville students say goodbyes (for now) at the Frankfurt airport before Maryville students board for their flight to Knoxville, TN — these students have formed an exceptional community of learners in the past 3+ weeks and plans for visits across the mountains are already underway. 😀




Our Final Reflections: A Collaborative Post from our Blogging Team

Today was the final day of our journey. It is hard to believe after months of anticipation and preparation, our time in India is coming to a close. But as Lalitha, one of our shakti-filled resources for this course told us, we must go where the river flows and life will be easy. So, we must all move on to whatever awaits us back at home with excitement for what is to come and appreciation for our three weeks in India.

During this time, we have seen two states, seven cities, the Western Ghats, the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian sea, spent two nights on a train, slept in a cozy village, taken countless auto-rickshaw rides, and done everything in between. Our expectations for India and ourselves have not only been met but surpassed. 

None of us could have expected the array of diverse experiences we have had while immersed in this rich culture. We have each been influenced by this experience in unique and unforgettable ways. I know that we will all remember this course for its lessons, adventures, and special moments. Through the creation of a series of beautiful moments, we have experienced India in a way that cannot be recreated.

We have learned about ourselves as well as each other as we have challenged one another and bonded over new adventures. Each of us contributed to the collective experience, making this course an unimaginable episode in our college careers.

At the end of this wonderful COURSE (not a trip!), I think we are all filled with a lot of emotions. Speaking for myself, I’m filled with a bit of uneasiness. Admittedly, being in India suited me. I got used to the bustling traffic, the constant loud noises, and the honking that came from every moving thing (including boats). I’ve gotten used to and even enjoyed haggling for an auto-rickshaw and the items that will soon be given as gifts to our loved ones.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to be coming home (yes Mother, I am). But I’m sad to be leaving. India has become a new home for me, an academic home where everything kind of makes sense in the most unexpected ways. Everything smells different every second, and the sights change at the same pace. But I think I’ll be okay finally going back home. At least I’m going back.

During these last few hours of our stay here, we are all reflecting on the ways in which this course has broadened our perspectives academically, how we’ve grown to know each other better, and how much we have achieved over these three weeks. We are all going back to our respective universities and starting our U.S. lives over again, but many of us have been revived. India has taught us to be direct and to be daring, and hopefully we can translate some of the lessons we have learned here into our daily lives back in the US. We are so thankful for this opportunity to be connected to both each other and this incredible country and we will always remember this life-changing adventure.

India, you have stolen our hearts.


Cochin: A City of the Arts, a guest-post by Emily Collins

One of the many murals around the city

One of the many murals around the city

Namaste everybody, this is your girl Em Collins and I’m here to write a bit about our experience in the city of Cochin in Kerala. Among the popular sites we got to see like the Chinese Fishing nets along the fish market and the Jewish synagogue, the intricate and colorful street art was one of my favorite parts about this cool beachside city. When stopping for a slice of chocolate cake with my colleagues at the Kochi Art Café, I was able to read more about the Kochi Muziris Biennale, an art festival held all over Kerala. The Kochi Biennale Foundation works around the year to strengthen contemporary art infrastructure and to broaden public access to art across India. Guest artists among local artists will display their art pieces and latest paintings out in open areas and down alleyways in the city for all to see and enjoy. These art pieces are forms of self-expression and show the range of diversity in identities. Since our course focuses on exploring three Indian identities including caste, gender, and religion, I enjoyed looking at other facets that are just as important. The range of painted murals I got to see was very interesting, some focusing on the collaboration of different religious icons and others featuring women and wildlife. The mural I especially looked forward to seeing after learning about it in my Hindu

One public artist's depiction of peaceful religious coexistence

One public artist’s depiction of peaceful religious coexistence

Traditions class in the fall was the one of Shiva, representing Hinduism, Jesus Christ, representing Christianity, and the Kaaba, representing Islam, combined all in one picture. It is a popular icon that represents the religious integration that is present in all of the parts of India we have seen. It was also fun to explore the city and try to find as many of the alternative pieces designed by the graffiti artist “Guess Who.” This free art was located in multiple places, some on brick walls, some in vacant buildings, and other pieces in small cafes found in the pockets of neighborhoods. Coming across the intricate designs was always a surprise because some were in more private places while others were casually among parking signs and clothing stores. Another art form we were lucky enough to get a taste of while in Cochin was the Indian dance-drama Kathakali. I wrote my paper about this form of theatre and was very excited to finally see it in person. Both the make-up and the costumes were elaborate and colorful and the physicality of the 10474204_10203271817455919_7702813464360116629_nmovements and emotions of the actors was very enjoyable to watch. In reflecting about our travels, I am really happy Cochin was one of our stops so we were able to explore even more contemporary art and culture!

I love the thali! A guest post by Nina Pryor

Hello everyone this is Nina Pryor, guest blogger for today! I am glad to say that during these past three weeks we have enjoyed everything that the India’s Identities course has taught us. Through the course’s three foci, religion, caste, and gender, we have all had a one-of-a-kind experience that will shape our worldview forever. When I first heard about the course, I was immediately intrigued by the stress on fully immersing ourselves into South Indian culture and society, whether that be by dressing in traditional Indian clothing, learning key Tamil phrases, or my favorite, eating the local cuisine. Food is the love of my life, and I have no shame admitting this to the entire Internet community (or just the people following this blog hehe). This passionate love affair began when I learned how to make my first perfect cheese omelet at the tender age of five and it shows no signs of ending. Since then I have expanded my cooking repertoire immensely and have found happiness in things like the Food and Wine cooking magazine and restaurant week in New York City. I have always admired Indian cuisine. There are so many different components, complex flavors and preparations within a single dish that blend perfectly together. It truly is an art that many cannot replicate. Staying in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, we have experienced many different types of local dishes that are specific to each state. Beginning in Tamil Nadu, we were introduced to our first thali meal. This meal consists of steaming white rice on a banana leaf surrounded by six different types of sides that are meant to represent the six rasas or flavors that aid digestion. Tamil food is layered with spices such as chilies, cardamom, allspice, and many other local spices. The food is hot so it usually given with some type of curd (yogurt) as a cooling component to the heat of the meal. The food in Kerala we had was very different. There is coconut in all of their dishes so the sauces and sides are milder and sweeter. There is also more cinnamon and nutmeg in the food, which adds a certain depth to each component of the dish we have had. Honestly, this is a poor attempt at contextualizing this amazing foodie experience, but I hope that this gives you a taste!


Forests, Tourism, and Sustainability, a guest-post by Emma Everett

We have been in India for more than two weeks now, and I feel like I have been able to get a more in-depth view of sustainability issues here. We have been in Kerala for several days, and the people all over the state seem to have a solid understanding of the importance of environmental sustainability. Many have also shown us ways in which they conserve.

When we first got to Kerala, we were in a town called Thekkady, and we were staying a hotel that immediately struck me as being environmentally friendly. The reception area and the rooms were open air, meaning they had no central A/C. They had signs in every room informing guests to be considerate of their limited resources of water and power, and I came to find out that their hot water was solar heated.

Our hotel was located in an area where I felt like people generally cared about sustainability. I concluded that this was because we were in the Western Ghats, a place where conservation has been a concern for years. People there have always had to think about the balance between forms of land use: agricultural vs. natural. In other words, if there is too much land used for farming, the natural wildlife gets depleted. This is why wildlife conservation becomes important. For decades uncultivated land in the Western Ghats had been depleted with tea and coffee plantations, but now there are 20 National Parks and 68 Wildlife Sanctuaries, one of which we visited. The Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is very important to the people of Thekkady, and it conveys a sense of how important conservation is in this area. These designated spaces are also used to protect various animals like the Asian Elephant and Bengal Tiger, both of which have declining populations.

Also while in Thekkady, we visited an organic spice garden. Organic gardening has become increasingly popular in India, particularly in Kerala. People not only in India but around the world have grown to appreciate foods and other products that are grown with minimal harm to the environment. This is why the majority of organic spices grown in Kerala are strictly for export to places like the U.S. and Europe.

Once we left Thekkady, we headed for the houseboats for a night and then traveled into Kochi, a town on the western coast of Kerala that has been colonized by various European powers since the 16th century. On our first afternoon there, we took a walking tour around the beachfront and surrounding areas to get a feel for the town. I was immediately struck by the contradictions surrounding pollution there. When I first saw all of the modern public art, trendy cafes, and tourists from all over the world, I thought Kochi would a place where protecting the environment would be important to many people. And for some it obviously was. There were signs up all along the beach urging people not to litter, and trash bins were located everywhere. There was even a larger than life “trash sculpture” of an enormous crab on the beach. It was titled Mad Crab and was erected out of litter from the beach to prove how much trash there actually was, but with all of these efforts, the beach was still heavily littered. The water was also full of garbage.

Some of my classmates and I got the opportunity to witness how the Chinese fishing nets operated after we had been invited up on a platform by some local fisherman. I was amazed by the size of the net, and as it was raised from the water, we were all expecting there to be some innumerable number of fish to be brought with it, but to my surprise, after a long process, there was only 3 fish. I couldn’t believe it. This net was enormous. How could this be? But after some discussion with the man who first invited us, we realized how big of an impact water pollution has on these people’s lives. He told us how they lower and raise these large nets by hand over and over again all day just get a very small haul. He even showed us the toughness of his hands from pulling the ropes all day. This really struck me, because if there was more of an emphasis placed on cleaning up the water, the fish would flourish and the families in Kochi would have a much better opportunity to take advantage of a body of water that is supposed to be rich with runoff from the highlands.



Houseboat! A guest-post by Emma Warman

This boat is real!

This boat is real!

From Kerala to the U.S.A., hello from Emma Warman, guest blogger here to describe our weekend houseboat adventure here on the coast of South India. After an early morning departure from Thekkady on Friday, we arrived at the dock before noon to catch our first glimpse of a cove of the vallams, or boats, bobbing in Kerala backwaters leading out to the Arabian Sea. We split among three houseboats with our belongings, and voila, we were off! The waters were even more breathtaking by boat. Palm trees teetered over the water, tiny homes of fishermen and women lined leafy green peninsulas, and ferries full of schoolchildren jetted past us in an exposition of Lake Venpanatu’s vibrant backwater community.

Just one of the many awesome items the boat's cook served us for lunch

Just one of the many awesome items the boat’s cook served us for lunch

Lunch was served aboard shortly after departure, prepared from scratch by the captains of each vallam. Fresh karimeen, or blackfish, fried to perfection with a tangy pineapple masala were served with tea and coffee to follow in the afternoon. Relaxation is always relished when you’re an India’s Identities student on the go, so when your professors hand you a sunny afternoon on a houseboat in Kerala, you take it and say, nanni!


From my journal, a sketch of the waterways

The vallams were tied to palm trees on the coast for evening class time. With the permission of Brian and Amy, some students and I ventured into the rice fields along the shore to revel in the tall grass and indescribably green carpet that spread before us in 180 degrees. Before class, we jumped in the backwaters and floated until the orange sun slid behind a hazy palm tree horizon. South India’s vast diversity in geography and people, and the lushness of each place we further explore, has not yet failed to amaze me and I don’t believe it ever will.




Off to the village!!

From the Chinese fishing nets to the Dutch Palace, Pardesi synagogue, the history of exchange and colonial contact, traditional Kathakali dance-drama, and the profusion of public art and art galleries, being able to encounter so much of what we have studied in our preparatory course has really enriched our days in Cochin. We’re headed to the village today so will be off the grid until we’re back in Chennai in a couple of days — ’til then, here’s a group shot of us from last evening!