SU Undergrad takes Advantage of Study Abroad in India

-Mary O'Brien

I can't believe it was a year ago that I arrived in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. Going to India was a life changing experience that I am continually thankful for. Freshman year a representative from South India Term Abroad (SITA) came to my anthropology class to hand out flyers. I turned to my friend in class and declared, "I am going to India!" Three years later, I was accepted to the program and ready for my adventure.

My favorite part of the time I spent in Madurai, the city in which the program was based, was my host family. I experienced living in an Indian home. My father and mother were in their early 40’s and I had a younger sister and brother. Being part of a family really made me feel like I was part of the community and that I was an insider of the culture as opposed to a tourist visiting the city.Photo credit - Mary OBrien

SITA is a wonderful program with tons of amazing opportunities. As part of the program we were required to conduct an ethnography of our choosing. I worked with children in a local slum, Karumbalai. I had the wonderful opportunity to teach these children photography and allow them to express their opinions about the social and environmental conditions they live in. This project even inspired me in my future career of working with at risk youth. The last day I was at the slum I held a gallery show for the children; at the show they gave me gifts and notes to thank me for the time I spent there.

One little girl who I had grown very close to came up to me and kept repeating something in Tamil (the local language) that I couldn't understand. One of the program directors translated for me that she was saying "Please never forget us." It was one of the most touching moments I experienced while in India.

Even today as I began to write this I thought "I can't believe I went to India! I spent four whole months there." India is an amazing country, the sights, smells, culture - everything amazed me. I had such a good time on the trip and it really changed the way I look at my American life. I would recommend anyone who wants to experience the culture in depth to go on this program, it is an amazing opportunity and the staff works very hard to have their students adapt to life in India as a local. Someday soon, I hope to return to the program as a program assistant, a position specifically for alums. Until then, I constantly look at my photographs and souvenirs waiting for the day I return.

Mary O’Brien is senior Art & Design major. She is currently working on her senior thesis which draws on her experiences in India.

Anupama Irri and Pranathi Adhikari perform at the 2013 Asian Elephant Extravaganza at the Rosamond Gifford ZooKristie Beaulieu gives a little girl a henna design at the 2013 Asian Elephant Extravaganza