A Look Into Our Semester of Prep by Marlena Fernandez
The India’s Identities study abroad course is certainly a unique adventure for both Elon and Maryville students. From the first meeting of Elon students with Amy and Brian, I could tell that this course was going to be an interesting combination of serious academics and a world of new experiences. Elon students attended three hour classes once a month prior to departure as part of the University’s system of 1 credit-hour prep courses for winter term courses abroad. The class times became intense hours of discussion, learning, and cultural immersion. From engagement in the current topics to updates on travel logistics, the class time we had with Amy and Brian was invaluable.
These class meetings were supplemented by reading assignments and briefs for each set of readings. The briefs were short discourses that allowed students to think deeper about the reading and identify the key points. The briefs served as more than a summary; these briefs where a synopsis of the variety encounters that we will face in India as we study gender, religion, and caste through immersive experience. Notably a favorite portion of class time was the chance to try a new India food item, which was yet another way that we have dipped our toes into India while in America.
Outside of class students were expected to study Tamil, a popular language in the region we will be visited. Though Tamil can be a bit intimidating, Amy’s vast experience with the language has certainly been a great help. Amy and Brian even made a Thanksgiving video to emphasis the important Tamil words and phrases that we will use while in South India.
The semester held many other experiences in addition to the class meetings. The first of these was a retreat to Asheville that united Elon and Maryville students in one place and an open atmosphere. Over the course of the weekend, many nervous faces turned to brimming smiles, strangers became dear classmates, classmates became new friends, fears were discussed and assuaged, hopes were considered and enlivened, and, of course, Indian food was cooked and devoured. That weekend has proven to be pivotal to group dynamics and the creation of a social contract that will carry us all through our three weeks in India. I am grateful for the opportunity to meet my Maryville classmates and am eager to see them again.
One way that contact is being maintained between Elon and Maryville is the Facebook group for all of us. Throughout the semester we have all posted exciting, intriguing, and engaging articles on a myriad of topics in India. Most of the articles were found in the popular Indian news such as The Times of India and The Hindu. Postings often lead to insightful and stimulating discussions that have increased our understanding of modern India while helping us learn more about each other.
Two film screenings were also important to our pre-departure development. The screenings of The World Before Her and In God’s Land have allowed us a glimpse into the nation of India. We have seen the reflections of daily life across spectrums of turmoil and triumph. From gender relations to caste conflicts, learning from this additional medium has developed a new element of understanding to our knowledge base. This visual medium was further stimulated by the visit to a Hindu temple in Cary, NC. The temple is an astonishing and glorious representation of Indian Hinduism. The white glistening walls, the magnificent structure, the extravagant murtis, each contributed to the overwhelming experience. We had the chance to absorb each aspect of the temple and the worship occurring there as we walked around in amazement. The temple visit was followed by an Indian buffet at a local South Indian restaurant. Again, food was used as an opportunity to prepare ourselves for the adventure that lies ahead in just a month.
The final assignments that each student will complete before department are two papers, one on a site we will visit and one on a topic that we will address. Each student will become resident experts on their site and topic and will give a presentation of each while we are in India. These assignments offer the chance to really delve into the details of our personal assignments. Most of the education has been centered on broad, overarching themes with use of specific examples; however, students will be able to explore their assignments in more depth than before. I am excited for my site and topic research and look forward to sharing me new knowledge with my classmates. More than anything, I know that all of us are ready, mentally and emotionally, for our course to India but honestly cannot believe that it is nearly time to depart.