Journey to India

Cross-cultural learning at its very best

Pictured here are OWU students, faculty, and staff members who participated in a five-day program in India focused on “Living the Gandhian Philosophy.” (Photo by Rock and Melissa Lollar Jones)

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Just two years after Ohio Wesleyan was selected—one of only 10 colleges and universities in the U.S.—to participate in the International Academic Partners Program (IAPP) in India, a team of seven OWU students spent spring break 2012, in India for a five-day program entitled “Living the Gandhian Philosophy.”

Accompanied by OWU President Rock Jones, Melissa Lollar Jones, Vice President for Student Affairs Craig Ullom, and Assistant Professor of Theatre and Dance Marin Leggat, the students, Shannon Dean ’15, Brenda Gable ’14, Anna Jones ’15, Alecia Mitchell ’13, Emily Porter ’12, Molly Rice ’13, and Kelsey Ullom ’14 were eager to meet their peers at Lady Shri Ram (LSR) College for Women, one of India’s top-notch liberal arts colleges in New Delhi, and the program presenters. These seven students represented seven different OWU academic majors. In preparation for their journey, the students participated in video conferences with their LSR friends, viewed films about Gandhi, and read books on Gandhian philosophy and non-violent protest. And then it was off to experience the sights, sounds, smells, and diverse cultures and lifestyles of India. It was through interesting and vividly written team blog posts, videos, and photographs that many of the group’s experiences were conveyed to the OWU community during this trip.

Complementing classroom work at LSR and discussions about Gandhi were visits to Delhi where Gandhi had observed various faith traditions, and the location at which he was assassinated in 1948. “Gandhi Today: Perspectives and Possibilities” was taught by a team of LSR faculty representing journalism, sociology, political science, psychology, economics, conflict transformation and peacemaking, and history.

“In addition to scholarly lectures and discussions and group presentations by students, the teaching and learning modalities included reading two books, Gandhi’s autobiography and Hind Swaraj, eight readings, viewing two films, and participating in site visits with expert guides,” says Craig Ullom. Leggat, who had visited India several times before, discovered even more about Gandhi as a result of the OWU trip.

“Gandhi’s life was an example of strength coming from living by the principles of truth, or Satya,” she notes. “Those principles included forgiveness and love, even of one’s enemies. For only through forgiveness are we truly free to govern ourselves, a principle that Gandhi called Swaraj or self rule. When we harbor resentments, we are continually in a position of reacting and thus, continue to be ruled by another person or institution. For Gandhi, that institution was British colonialism.” Leggat also was especially touched to see the masses of people in India’s large cities and villages.

“I’ve heard that one in ten people living on earth today is an Indian under the age of 25,” she says. “In rural areas, women are seldom seen in public. The work of Lady Shri Ram College is critical to India. Educating a generation of bright, articulate female leaders is the first step to improving the lives of women everywhere in India.” And as Leggat observes, poverty and illiteracy are the plight of most of India’s population and are among the country’s greatest challenges.

As members of the OWU and LSR teams participated in service projects with slum children living near the college, there was the shared goal of making life a little more joyful for them, if only for an hour or two.  (LSR students spend an hour each weekday, tutoring these children and guiding them through other activities).

“I loved doing community service work with the local children,” says Mitchell. “Although we could not communicate with the children because of the language barrier, it didn’t matter; we still made origami art and played and connected with them.”

An additional joint service project for the OWU and LSR students involved a trip to MUSKAAN, a facility in which more than 100 intellectually-disabled adults find support and learning opportunities each day.

“Doing all of these activities in partnership with LSR students further deepened the learning, widened our perspectives, and created an exceptional cross-cultural community of learners,” says Ullom, who believes this approach to teaching and learning is a model for future programs that prepare OWU students as global servant leaders—and encourages them to gain a deeper understanding of people from other cultures and countries.

OWU student Anna Jones ’15 is shown here working on an art project with impoverished children living close to Lady Shri Ram College. (Photo by Rock and Melissa Lollar Jones)

“The most surprising thing that I learned on this trip was how quickly people can develop meaningful friendships,” says Anna Jones, who says she knew they would be collaborating with Lady Shri Ram College for Women, and that those students would probably be good hosts. “However, I was not expecting to become such good friends with so many of the girls, to the extent that after being home for three days, I already had four different Skype sessions to talk to them!” For Kelsey Ullom, the trip to India confirmed her decision to pursue an international studies major.

“I’ve dreamed of working abroad, especially in the service learning and community development sphere. Our lessons of Gandhi, as well as of community service in India, verified for me that I am on the right academic path.” Both students returned to OWU with a deeper understanding of the meaning of global learning—its complexities and rewards.

“”I will always remember the extremes of India,” says Jones. “We saw extreme poverty and disparity next to wealth and prosperity. There was trash everywhere, yet we saw people come out of their homes made of tarps and sweep the dirt in front of their entrances, trying to keep them clean. The point is, there are many sides of India; some of them are hard to look at and others are easier. In order to appreciate India, one must appreciate, respect, and see the beauty in all of those different sides.” Ullom points to the common ground we all share with our global partners.

“We bonded with the LSR students so easily,” she says. “Their guidance and friendliness throughout the week was the best part of the experience for me. They are really just like us and I hope to keep in touch with them forever, and possibly show them OWU one day!”

Additional highlights of the OWU group’s time in India included visits to the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort and Shri Krishna Temple, the non-denominational Lotus Temple (as Kelsey Ullom notes, “lotuses are known for growing in murky water, symbolizing their ability to bring beauty and life to an otherwise bleak environment”), meetings with OWU alumni living in India and parents of current students, and on their final day, a dance presentation by the students of both schools, directed by OWU’s Marin Leggat.

“”Our hosts at Lady Shri Ram College were delightful,” says Leggat.  “Administrators, faculty, and students were so quick to help us and to smile and laugh with us and to teach us about their culture. I look forward to ongoing collaborations with these amazing women.”

“Our time in India reinforced for me the tremendous value of experiencing other cultures firsthand as an important part of the process of educating students for leadership in a global society,” says Rock Jones. There is, he says, no substitute for experiencing the life and work of individuals in a culture that is rich and diverse and in so many ways, quite different from our culture. “Ideally, every student would have the opportunity to experience life in a developing country as part of the undergraduate experience at Ohio Wesleyan.” Likewise, says Jones, faculty and administrators can benefit greatly from interacting with colleagues in institutions that share a similar mission, but undertake that mission in a very different context. That interaction with the LSR community may be ongoing, as an agreement is reached on an initial memorandum of understanding that may bring OWU and LSR closer together in the future.

“Lady Shri Ram College is an outstanding liberal arts institution with a very clear mission to educate women who will have a transformational impact on India,” says Jones. LSR is, he believes, an ideal partner for Ohio Wesleyan, with our shared emphasis on the liberal arts, rigorous academic programs, global engagement, preparation for leadership in every sector of society, service to the world, and interest in issues related to peace.

“I am eager to engage our faculty in imagining opportunities to partner with LSR as well as to develop other ways to engage with India as part of our work in the IAPP program in India.”


 

Scenes from “Living the Gandhian Philosophy

(Photos by Deepak Dutta, Rock Jones, Melissa Lollar Jones, Kelsey Ullom ’14, and Craig Ullom)

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