Emilee O’Brien ’17 came home from India and Sri Lanka with a new wardrobe and a new outlook on South Asian culture.
She found her colorful new kurta tunic to be surprisingly comfortable and discovered that her embellished traditional Rajasthani slippers looked great with jeans.
More importantly, O’Brien’s study away experience debunked her previous ideas and stereotypes about the countries and gave her an in-depth look at each nation’s people and culture.
“It made me think about what it means to be human,” said O’Brien, a political science major and poverty studies minor. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience in a part of the world that everyone needs to see.”
Fifteen Furman students traveled to India and Sri Lanka last fall with Veena Khandke, visiting lecturer of Asian Studies, and Karni Bhati, associate professor of English. It was the first time Sri Lanka has been included in the India study away program.
Students earned 16 course credits for four interdisciplinary courses, “Travelers’ Tales: South Asia in Travel Writing,” “Film and Visual Culture in South Asia,” “Poverty, Gender and Development in India,” and “Urbanization, Health and Environment in India.”
Their six weeks of preparatory studies on Furman’s campus included everything from a look at the massive film industry of Bollywood to the challenges of offering health, education, housing, and basic services in India, which has one of the world’s largest economies and roughly 300 million people living on less than $1 a day.
Their India experience began at Madras Christian College in India, where students enjoyed lectures by MCC faculty and took field trips across the region. Each student had an iPad with them for the duration of the trip, where they logged journal entries and recorded details of interviews they conducted along the way. One of their final assignments included a policy paper evaluating India’s success in reaching its millennium development goals in 2015.
Students’ tour through India brought them to several UNESCO World Heritage sites including the seventh century trading post Mamallapuram, the 12th century Airavatesvara Temple with its beautiful animal carvings, and the majestic 16th century garden mausoleum of the Mughul emperor Humayun. While in Sri Lanka, they visited the ruins of the country’s first capital, viewed frescoes of the life of Buddha in Ranagiri Cave Temple, and spent time with 89 orphaned elephants in Pinnawela.
“The India/Sri Lanka Study Away experience is always a thrilling learning experience for the faculty who direct the program,” said Khandke. “Some of us grew up in India, but seeing South Asia through the eyes of our students, reading their journals and reflections, and engaging in discussions with them always re-energizes us, and we find more ways of understanding and interpreting a fascinating, complex, and dynamic part of Asia.”
“The program was a perfect match with my major. It exposed me to so many religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam,” said Julia Britt ’18, a religion major from Greenville. “You could wake up in the morning and hear the Muslim call to prayer and look out the window and see a Hindu temple. It was the most unforgettable two months of my life.”
Yiming Hu ’17, a political science and Asian studies major, took hundreds of photos along the way of everything from tigers in Ranthambore National Park to hazy views of the Taj Mahal.
The experience was eye-opening, especially as a Chinese student, Hu said. “India and China are neighbors, but there are so many misunderstandings about India in the Chinese media,” he said.
Hu said the trip gave him a head start for graduate school, where he plans to study Chinese policies against the Uighur minority.
“To be able to understand the world from a liberal arts perspective is amazing,” said Tabitha Colter ’17, a double major in physics and philosophy from Knoxville, Tenn. “We had experiences that you just can’t get in a classroom.”
To learn more about Furman’s study away opportunities, visit http://www.furman.edu/academics/study-away-and-international-education