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It's fine to read about other places in the world, but sometimes you just have to go there and see it. Feel it. Taste it and touch it.
This past j-term, that's exactly what students did in "Emerging India: From Gandhi to Globalization," which is just one of the many international study opportunities at UW-Superior. These and other programs promote global awareness, an important part of UW-Superior's educational approach.
Along with economics faculty member Jerry Hembd, six students spent 28 days traveling, studying and experiencing India, a nation of 1.2 billion people, 780 languages and a bundle of contradictions.
They stayed in New Delhi, a bustling, overflowing city of 20 million. They stayed in an ashram, a spiritual and community retreat center, that was founded by Mahatma Gandhi. They visited the Taj Mahal and met with farmers and workers who had an almost spiritual connection to their land. And they stayed in a mountain village in the Kerala region, where a major issue was keeping wild boars from attacking crops.
Class member Chloe Tirebuck says she was surprised at seeing how many people lived in abject poverty yet also had access to the latest technology.
"Driving past the slums every one of those shacks had a satellite dish so they could get TV but none had a bathroom," she says. "Everyone there had cell phones but so many people didn't have clean water or food."
Hembd said the contradictions inherent in development was a main theme of the class. "On the one hand you see the big cities and the rapid growth, but what comes with that is the erosion of village life and some of the principles that India and many countries hold near and dear.
"We're looking at development, which is generally considered a positive thing, but then also seeing the negative impacts and how they might be avoided with an alternative approach."
Staying at Gandhi's ashram in Sevagram in north central India was a highlight. "A lot of the students had not seen the movie 'Gandhi'," Hembd says. "So we had it projected up on a wall outside the ashram and a bunch of other Indians came and watched it with us. It was pretty powerful to watch that and be there."
The last two weeks of their trip was spent in the Kerala region in southwest India, which has always been ahead of the rest of India on the leading development indicators like infant mortality, literacy and life expectancy.
It's a region with its own contrasts. It has had a democratically elected Communist government since the 1950s. Hembd says the government has worked to bridge some of the divides of class, caste, race and religion that plague India. Despite its socialist approach, it's also a region where you'll see numerous cars and expensive homes as well as silver, gold and gem shops.
Their trip closed with a family stay in Kerala, where the custom of hospitality is taken to the maximum degree. In the home where Hembd, his wife and Tirebuck stayed, their hosts insisted on feeding them to their satisfaction before they took a bite of food.
"We tried hard to get them to eat with us. After the first day the father did sit with us, but the women never did," Hembd says.
They also got served chai, India's customary milky, sweet spiced tea, in a shop whose owner pours the beverage in a stream held high over his head. "They call it the One Meter Chai," Hembd laughs.
One of the travelers was student Calvin Wing, who also works at Superior's Red Mug Coffee. "We told Calvin he needs to bring the One Meter Chai to the Red Mug," he said.
Tirebuck, a Duluth native who's majoring in art therapy, says India was a place she had always wanted to go. "I had done a previous study abroad and liked going with a school group because there were a lot of planned activities that you can't get as just a normal tourist." And she says her views on development have changed -- it's not only about technology.
"Development should be about doing what is right for people, providing houses, food, clean water, and good jobs to people. Not until everyone has that can we ever truly say we are developed," she said.
Students are now working on a one-credit portion of the class, where they're writing a larger paper analyzing and reflecting on their experiences. These will be presented to campus community in April.
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