Study in India Program Sends New Yorkers to New Delhi | St. Lawrence University

Study in India Program Sends New Yorkers to New Delhi

By Emma Cummings-Krueger '16

I’d never felt comfortable with confrontation. I apologized when bumped by another person in the crowd, and I picked the pepperoni off my pizza rather than request another slice. I hated the idea of causing a scene, especially if it meant acting rude in public.

So, at our weekend-long orientation for the India semester program, we were trained to be assertive and loud, I cowered in my seat. I hated the idea of shouting at a stranger, publicly shaming them for their behavior. “It’s what the locals would do,” we were told.

Our orientation pressed on. For three days at the end of the Spring 2014 semester, we were thrown in the deep end of Indian culture—what to wear, how to eat and avoid illness, when to stand up for ourselves if our safety was threatened—all from our headquarters in Dean-Eaton Lounge. Still, the prospect of enforcing these Indian social norms hung in my pre-departure consciousness.

The India semester is unique among St. Lawrence study abroad programs. Established in 1989, it was originally a consortium program between the NY6 schools, drawing students from each institution. As years passed the group narrowed to only St. Lawrence University, Hamilton, and Hobart and William Smith colleges. Today, these three institutions operate as the New York State Independent College Consortium for Study in India (NYSICCSI).

The program is based out of Jaipur, but utilizes nearly 20 destinations in northern India including hill stations in the Himalayas, tourist traps like the Taj Mahal, the sandy deserts of Rajasthan, and urban capitals like New Delhi. The program offers a full course load of four classes, one of which is an independent fieldwork study planned by each student respectively.

The group lives in 4 major cities on this “backpacking” formatted semester, spending several weeks in each location. In Delhi, Varanasi, and Bodh Gaya, participants live in local guesthouses and hotels. An NYSICCSI professor from St. Lawrence, Hamilton, or HWS travels with the group and teaches classes on-site at each location.

Settling for the longest duration in western Jaipur, students are placed with homestay families and attend a local Hindi school. “You even make close friends with your homestay siblings; I’m still in contact with my host family,” said April VanOrman ’16 from Gouverneur, New York.

Fast forward to the Fall of 2014. We are in New Delhi, and a man is following us on the public street, shouting at our backs. I am with three girls, two from William Smith and another from St. Lawrence. In an uncharacteristic move, I whirl around and bellow into the man’s face: “Stop following us!”

He retreats, confirming our basic understanding of Indian behavioral norms (notably in this instance: loud and stern). As he steps backward, a passing local woman offers us a thumbs-up.

I physically shook after my first-ever public confrontation, but not because I was nervous. Instead, I felt empowered to enforce the behavior of others in a place where I hardly knew how to act myself. I felt well trained and well prepared to act in this way that warranted a thumbs-up from Indian women.          

Perhaps equally as rewarding as this personal growth was the growth of my relationships while abroad in India. The connections built between students on the program are so distinct from those we build on campus each day. I don’t know that I can fully convey to anyone else the extensive process of studying the Hindi alphabet in a hotel lobby. “We rely so heavily on each other” April said, “we share new experiences but also every aspect of our lives.”

The relationships forged between students from each school were especially notable for me. “I loved growing so close to the SLU and Hamilton students,” said Roz Gray-Bauer ’16 from William Smith College, “I now have some best friends who live a hundred miles north in Canton.”

I’ve heard many people admit that they travelled to India with some intention of “finding themselves.” Truthfully, I really didn’t. I was unsure of what to look for in India, I just wanted to see something new. But, as with virtually every off-campus experience, I did find something: whether it was necessarily finding myself, or simply just louder voice. Since returning home from India a year ago, I have not once picked the pepperoni off my pizza; now, I march to the counter and ask for a plain cheese slice.

To read more from students of the India semester program, visit the NYSICCSI blog. For more information, or to apply to the program, contact the Center for International and Intercultural Studies at ciis@stlawu.edu