May 14, 2012
Highlights Abound as India Studies Program Concludes First Year
posted under NEWS STORY
|Kali Fairchild (in orange) and other fall ISPers react to the fireworks during Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights.|
|ISP student Jake Maude poses with the local cigarette-walla.|
COIMBATORE, India – BestSemester’s India Studies Program recently completed its inaugural year. Twenty-three students—12 students last fall and 11 this spring—from Council for Christian Colleges & Universities campuses experienced the richness and challenge of immersion in Indian culture.
Through a partnership with CCCU international affiliate Bishop Appasamy College of Arts & Science, located in Coimbatore in southern India, students spent weekdays in classes with BACAS faculty and ISP guest lecturers as well as experiencing internships and service placements, exploring Coimbatore, and participating in BACAS campus life. Each semester also included 4-5 regional trips in the southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala as well as a longer end-of-semester trip to North India, expanding students’ exposure to India’s varied cultures.
Learning through relationships
The many highlights of the fall semester for Kali Fairchild, an economic development major who graduated this month from Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa., included the weekend she spent with her host family and her Friday Indian cooking classes with BACAS professor Fabin Charles Nathan.
“Through our many hours we spent with Charles in the kitchen, he showed us patience, the joy in cooking, kindness, and humor,” said Fairchild. “Charles had a huge impact on my time in India and served as someone I could talk to about the experiences we were having. He taught me that two people of completely different cultures can relate [to] and learn from each other despite their differences.”
Jacob Maude, whose spring semester at ISP completed his undergraduate degree from Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, was struck by how Indians value relationships. “Indians have truly understood that relationships are the most important part of life and take priority over dreams and ambitions, which is an idea that I want to integrate into my daily life,” he said.
Related to the Indian people’s high value on relationships is the generous hospitality they bestowed on ISP students. “The way the Indian people lived and treated the ISP students completely transformed my understanding of hospitality. Through that new understanding, I learned more of God’s love,” said Celiz Aguilar, a junior intercultural studies major at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif.
Her Indian friends, neighbors, and BACAS faculty gave as God loves, holding back nothing. “I believe that it is all a tangible manifestation of God’s unyielding, dedicated, and fervent love for people regardless of what they have to offer back,” she added. “I’m unsure how to give and be hospitable in my home context, but I’m beginning to truly realize it is not about giving to those who are sincerely thankful. The sacrifice may go unnoticed, but the giving should still come regardless.”
Exposure to many religions
During the semester, ISP students were exposed to India’s pluralistic religious culture through friendships with followers of religions other than Christianity, through a day spent with a Tibetan Buddhist monk at his monastery, and through visits to some of India’s holy Hindu sites as well as to a famous Muslim temple in Hyderabad, India’s oldest synagogue in Kochi (Cochin), and a famous ashram in Kerala.
For Jamie Rubadue, a May 2012 communication studies graduate from Eastern University, one of the highlights of her spring ISP semester was “gaining a new perspective on open dialogue in regard to faith and religion. From physically experiencing hubs of religious activity to spending time with people of a multitude of faith backgrounds, I was able to learn a new way of communicating faith: that is, a conversation without competition.”
Fairchild, too, noted that she struggled during the semester with how to react to the diversity of religions present in India. “I found learning about Hinduism, Sikhism, etc., very fascinating but struggled when I became very close with people practicing these religions,” she said.
“I was faced with many hard questions when thinking about them and whether or not they would go to heaven. I struggled with how to ‘evangelize’ someone whose religion is also their history, culture, etc. Kirk, Kandyce, and Jon [ISP director and program assistants] helped us work through these issues.”
Good foundation, tweaking where needed
While ISP staff will continue evaluating the program and making adjustments to enhance students’ learning experience, Kirk McClelland, ISP director, said, “I’m excited about every element and what we’ve accomplished with the foundations we’ve made. I’m pleased after [this first] year.”
Yet, he also notes that he is excited to build on the lessons learned, particularly regarding academics and internships. “Our partners at BACAS are equally excited and wanting to make this the best program it can be and are really just enthusiastic about improving things, so I’m looking forward to working with them again.”
“Overall, the program really delivers on giving students an experiential understanding of India in all its complexities,” McClelland said. “Students come away with a deepened understanding of what it means to follow God in their own context.”
His hope is not that all ISP students will return to India but that they will go into whatever profession they are called to and live out the values of God’s kingdom there, doing this better for having been exposed to Christians in India who are living faithfully in a pluralistic society.
Rubadue offered evidence that McClelland’s hope will be realized when she noted that ISP experiences have left her taking on a deeper conviction for her community. “After my experiences in India, meeting so many people who are working to empower their communities, the desire to use the education that I have been blessed with has intensified to a more specific degree. Whether I work internationally or locally, I find myself having more energy than I can contain [for serving] with the gifts I have been given.”
For more stories from the first year of BestSemester’s India Studies Program, visit the ISP blog “Riding in Rickshaws.”
About BestSemester: The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities offers 12 off-campus study programs, collectively branded BestSemester®, which expand learning opportunities for students from CCCU campuses and are designated as culture-shaping or culture-crossing programs. Culture-shaping BestSemester programs are: American Studies Program (Washington, D.C.); Contemporary Music Center (Nashville); Los Angeles Film Studies Center (Los Angeles); and Washington Journalism Center (Washington, D.C.). Culture-crossing BestSemester programs are: Australia Studies Centre; China Studies Program; India Studies Program; Latin American Studies Program; Middle East Studies Program; Programmes in Oxford; and Uganda Studies Program. Visit www.bestsemester.com for program details.
About CCCU: The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 185 intentionally Christ-centered institutions around the world. The 116 member campuses in North America are all fully-accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences. In addition, 69 affiliate campuses from 25 countries are part of the CCCU. The Council’s mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help our institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. Visit www.cccu.org.