Redford collegian returns home from semester in India

(The following is part one of a two-part report of Redford resident Erin Griffins recent time spent studying abroad in India. Part two will appear in next weeks edition.) When Redfords Erin Griffin began looking at colleges during her last few years of homeschooling, she noticed St. Lawrence University had a study abroad program in India. She was immediately intrigued by the program, and when she chose to attend St. Lawrence, she knew she would eventually enroll in the India program. It is different from most study abroad programs, the St. Lawrence junior explained. Most programs enroll you directly into a university in that country, but there is no enrollment in a university in this program. The program, which is titled, The New York State Independent College Consortium for Study in India, is open only to St. Lawrence, Hamilton, Hartwick, Skidmore, and Hobart and William Smith College students. Instead of enrolling in a university in India, the students travel around India learning the Hindi language, one of Indias national languages, and studying various aspects about the countries history and culture, with a focus on historical India and contemporary India. Well-educated tour guides at the sites they visited added volumes to their knowledge. In addition, each student was required to select a topic of research and collect information and conduct research throughout their stay in India, and upon returning to the United States, write a 30- to 40-page research paper. Erin was one of 19 students to take part in the semester in India which began Aug. 9. The group spent the first week in Delhi sight seeing and adjusting to the culture before beginning the rigorous academic requirements of the program. To blend into the Indian culture she and the other female students wore salwaar kaneezs, an outfit of baggy pants and loose fitting shirts that come down to your knees, and a scarf over their heads. She and the others experienced a bit of culture shock and were afraid to even go to a nearby market by themselves, but by the end of the semester we went all over by ourselves, Erin said. One of the difficult aspects of the Indian culture for Erin was the presence of so many beggars. Many of them disfigure themselves and their children so people will give them more money. It is real hard to see them, Erin said. And we were not supposed to give them any money. If you gave money to all the beggars you saw, you wouldnt have anything left, Instead of giving directly to beggars, people are encouraged to give to organizations that help them. After the week of adjusting to India, the group spent five weeks in Mussorie, a small town in the foothills of the Himalayas, where they concentrated on learning the Hindi language. It was just gorgeous, Erin said of the area. Besides studying the Hindi language, they also had two lectures per week on readings about India such as the Mughal history, historical India, Indian religions, environmental issues, anthropology, Gandhi, the Nationalists movement, and conducting research in India. The students had little free time. The academic work was intense, Erin said. But when we did have free time we liked to walk to the village internet caf_walk around exploring, or get something to eat. Food is really cheap in India, she explained. You can get a full dinner at a restaurant, including drinks, for 60 rupees, which is about $1.50. The group took two trips during their stay in Mussorie. Their first trip was to Nazdanya, a traditional Indian farm started by an environmentalist seeking to preserve Indian traditional farming practices and seed biodiversity. The second trip was to Yamunotri, the source of the Yamuna River, which is a holy spot for Hindus who believe rivers, and especially their sources, are holy spots. It was a seven-hour drive on bumpy windy roads deep into the Himalayas to reach the spot which is visited as a pilgrimage by devout Hindus. It was at the end of the Monsoon season and there were several landslides; one detained them for about half an hour while debris was removed from the road. After Mussorie, the group spent a month traveling around India without a home base, visiting many historic and religious sites. They visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar, by the border of Pakistan. The temple is considered the holiest temple of the Sikhism religion. It is all gold and in the middle of a reservoir with a walkway out to it. It was one everyones favorite places, Erin said. Another favorite spot of Erins was the Taj Mahal in Agra. It is one of the spots most visited by tourists. Shah Jahan built it as a tomb for the woman he loved. It just looks perfect, Erin commented. We were there at sunrise and it was just amazing. While in Agra they also visited two forts built by the Mughals, the Islamic Empire in power over India before the British took over. (Next weeks edition will include Erins accounts of her venture to Varanasi, a city on the banks of the Ganga River and other localities in Northern and Southwestern India.)

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