The quote stated by one of our students is “Whatever you can say about India, the opposite is also true.” This has been proven to us each day as we encounter the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich—the warmest and most welcoming and those who have been stand-offish and treated us as tourists—the most rewarding experiences and the most challenging situations. This dichotomy has allowed each of us to explore within ourselves and question our values, our beliefs, our routines—and decide what is important to keep and what is superfluous in leading a fulfilling life. I have been extremely proud of the students and the discussions that have ensued in response to really understanding each others’ unique cultures, not just in a textbook manner, but asking the difficult questions, exploring the challenging topics, and making this a life-changing experience that can be carried back to the United States and not just be a part of a summer travel class. This has all occurred within the first week, I can only imagine what week 2 and 3 will bring.
Posting by Lisa Garlock
When discussing multiculturalism and diversity, the subjects of slavery and genocide obviously come up. Those deep, collective traumas don’t just disappear, and are actually perpetuated when ignored. We have been discussing Asian and African Americans and American Indians, cultures which illustrate so acutely, in different ways, how oppression carries down through generations, particularly when living in an environment where the dominant culture expects adherence to a very narrow range of behaviors, beliefs and appearances. India has experienced its own unique set of collective traumas: colonialism, civil war, partition. The vestiges of colonialism are everywhere. In restaurants, even though it’s family style, the waiters serve you; there is always someone there to open the door; and we are addressed, as “Mum,” by children and service workers. In the grocery store, young girls appear to carry our shopping basket, while a man at the check out unloads and then bags your groceries. Though India has abolished the caste system, an economic caste system remains as seen by the very privileged class in their flashy cars, frequenting posh places, and the people who are untouchable: scantily clad, emaciated men, sores and scars marking their bodies, begging for something to eat.