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India: a new appreciation for the world

Sophia Harris / THE GATEPOST

By Adam Levine

Editorial Staff

By Sophia Harris

Editorial Staff

This past winter break, we were part of a small group of Framingham State students who embarked on a journey that would change our lives forever.

Twelve students and two trip leaders took three airplanes over two days and multiple taxis to the oasis of Kalimpong, India.

We spent just under three weeks in India as part of J-Term, which is an opportunity for students to go on a shortened version of study abroad.

The experience is service-based and culturally immersive, though there is no academic credit.

We traveled to various parts of India, including Kalimpong and Darjeeling in West Bengal, and the tourist cities of Agra and New Delhi. With each new location came a different experience that shaped how we would view India forever.

Lisa Eck, founder and co-leader of the India J-term trip and chair of the English Department, said what makes India a special place to go is the diversity within the nation.

“The level of regional differences, multiple religions, a plethora of languages, and diversity is so vivid that you can't come back without a new appreciation for diversity,” she said.

Eck added India “gives you homework for life - you will always be thinking about the puzzles you saw, but also the things you admired, and by thinking comparatively.”

Rachel Lucking, co-leader of the trip and assistant dean for campus engagement, said she hopes the students who participated in the India J-Term gained “a deeper understanding of India and its people and coming back and having a global perspective that can be applied to all that you do - always carrying it with you.”

We were immersed in India's culture and magnanimity, which changed how we perceived individualism and developed a new appreciation for the American standard of living.

Sam Houle, a senior history major, said he valued the communal way of living in India, not only through shared spaces and commodities but also through shared time.

He said when reflecting on the trip, “Individualism isn't something that I should intentionally try to adapt to.”

In India, families cook meals together, help raise young children, and participate in communal living.

Lucking said India brings into focus what it means to care for one another.

“What I experienced was that the spirit of cooperation and community is very different,” she said.

Lucking added, “The first time I went I couldn't get over how when the kids would go out walking with our students, it was just understood that they would look out for each other and look out for the students and look out for the younger kids who were straggling along with them.”

She said, “It's not the definition of community that we would necessarily think of, but it's the sense of care and cooperation” at a level not seen in the United States.

Sofia Wilson, a sophomore double major in English and political science, said she valued the closeness among people in India.

She said the closeness extends past physical proximity, which can be expected in such a crowded country.

“Not just physically, but emotionally, your neighbor is your family,” she said.

Wilson added that it “truly takes a village.”

Eck emphasized it’s the people that make India so special.

“Places are not geographic locations - places are the people,” she said.

Jamie Mills, a senior business management major, said she valued the human relationships that she made in India. “The connections that I have made are something I will never forget.”

She added there was a language barrier when she tried communicating with a 6-year-old monk during service work at the Sakya Monastery in Kalimpong. Families will send children as young as 4 years old to begin training to become monks.

“He just wanted love, but he didn't know how to communicate that,” she said.

Mills added finding ways of communication that were not through language, like playing tag or soccer with the young monks, is what changed her view of the language barrier and how communication happens in many different manifestations.

During their time at the monastery, students led the young monks in games and art activities. We spent two days playing team-building games and also led the monks in a painting activity one afternoon.

Oliva Copeland, a junior English major, said the India J-Term changed her perspective on American abundance and helped her develop an appreciation for conservation.

Copeland said, “I think a lot of people on the trip would agree with me that a huge thing that we learned, and that we incorporated into our lives while we were there was waste, especially food and water waste.”

She added, “It's so silly to be coming back here and notice all of the water and the food that we waste every single day - it's absurd.”

Copeland said this appreciation for food and water that she experienced in India makes her value the abundance back home.

“It’s definitely something that I've been incorporating into my life here. I'm just less wasteful. So that's a huge self-improvement,” she said.

Copeland said the biggest takeaway from the trip was the generosity she experienced during the homestays in Kalimpong.

“During the homestays, I went to the temple and Ama [Grandmother] let me borrow her kurta [a dress] when we went. That gesture alone was so touching because even my closest friends don't even think to do that,” Copeland said.

“The fact that she was so willing and happy to give up something so beautiful when she has so little, and it wasn't even a question to her, was so touching,” she added.

Copeland said Ama offered to give her the kurta after wearing it to the temple because she said, “You look so beautiful in it that it shouldn't be with anybody but you.”

Nikisha Chettri, a 19-year-old student who hosted FSU students during the homestays, said, “I personally love to welcome FSU students. When they come, they bring colors to our life. We love to spend time with them, to know their life, and to share our lives too.”

Chettri too said her favorite part of the visits were the homestays.

“The homestay days were my best part, because having food together, doing household chores, and living like sisters was the best,” she said.

Everyone we encountered in India had so much love for their country and culture. It was so refreshing to see the world through a new lens.

Rajiv Lochan and Anu Radha Singh hosted the students in Kalimpong on their 13-acre farm and integrated us into village life among the Himalayan mountains.

Lochan was our guide throughout the entire trip and cared for the group as if we were part of his family.

He said he hopes we learned there is more than one way to live your life.

Lochan said most people in America live their lives in isolation, whereas in India, there is more of a communal way of living.

“We share our space, we share our love, we share our belongings and everything with you guys,” he said.

Lochan added the sense of space and isolation that is familiar to North Americans needs to be reconsidered.

“That's one thing that I wanted you guys to note and I want you to understand what generosity is and how people in India have this saying, ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ which translates to ‘a guest is akin to God,’” he said.

Lochan added, “My life is all about giving and when I give I feel most happy - that's my religion.”

He said he hopes the students who participated in the trip realize there is more to life than the value we place on materialistic items.

We students agreed India gifted us with a new sense of awareness of the world we live in.

The selflessness that Rajiv and Anu showed FSU students will never be forgotten.

And we students all send a big thank you to Lisa, Rachel, Rajiv, and Anu for this life-changing experience as well as a long-lasting love and appreciation for India.


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