July 23, 2014
I grew up in a pretty traditional American suburb upbringing. I didn’t learn a different language, we traveled to Florida, Washington, D.C., Cedar Point, California and, of course, “Up North” on family vacations. Ethnic food meant tacos, lasagna, or, from my own German heritage, sauerkraut and springerle cookies. It was a different time then and the world seemed a lot bigger when I was a kid.
International trips were for the wealthy, restaurants served American cuisine and there was no such thing as learning about the world by surfing the Net. America may have been a melting pot, but my neighborhood and schools were still pretty homogeneous.
Things like the Olympics and movies offered opportunities to see different kinds of people, cultures, foods, languages and landscapes. It was a chance to experience places that seemed exotic and exciting, but only on a screen. As a kid, I never dreamed that I might someday visit places across the world. That seemed pure fantasy.
My first real exposure to anything about India was probably the movie “Gandhi.” I remember being incredibly inspired by the story and intrigued by the people and culture. It all seemed so very different than anything I had ever seen.
Later, movies like “Monsoon Wedding” and “Bride and Prejudice” completely charmed me. I was entranced with the explosions of color, flowers, traditional dress, tables of interesting food, accents, music and, of course, the dancing. I was an adult by this time and so I knew India wasn't all dancing and eating. I knew that there was extreme poverty and a wide gap between haves and havenots.
Yet, still, I dreamed of going to a traditional Indian wedding just to be a part of the celebration. I wanted to eat, sing, and dance.
Alyssa Cleland, a senior studying media and information, got to live my dream this summer. She was part of a group of students who traveled to India for a new Spartan study abroad program, “Beyond Bollywood: Taste of Indian Media.” While there, the students got to attend a wedding, complete with their own traditional dress. The students also got to learn a big Bollywood dance number to put into their own movie. Watch Alyssa’s STUDENT VIEW: Study Abroad—India Part I, to learn more about her time in India.
Amol Pavangadkar was the instructor for the course. He is a senior producer and outreach specialist with the Department of Media and Information in the College of Communications Arts and Sciences. In his wonderfully descriptive and fascinating FACULTY VOICE: Learning Through Lenses, he talks about how experiences like his in India turn the instructor into a student. Make sure to check it out—it’s really a lovely piece.
So, I still haven’t been to an Indian wedding, nor have I mastered Bollywood dances, but I was lucky enough to travel to Bangalore, India last year with the Spartans Will.360 crew. My 10-year-old self never would have dreamed that in a million years.
The colors were every bit as vibrant as I had imagined and the food spicy and delicious. Cows roamed the main streets, horns blared and I, with my blond hair, stood out in crowds. We saw stark differences in those with money, and those without. Yet even from those without, we found joy and happiness.
The children we met at a school melted my heart. They ran up and introduced themselves as if they were at a business conference. They clamored to hold my hand and peppered me with questions. And, when they loosened up, they laughed and posed for photos like the one above as if they had been modeling their whole lives.
Gandhi said, “A nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” Those girls had the biggest hearts and most beautiful souls and I feel fortunate to have met them.
I waited a long time to see other parts of the world. I’m glad Alyssa didn’t have to. Nothing thrills me more than talking with students about their study abroad trips. I am so proud to work at a university that is consistently one of the top schools in study abroad opportunities—more than 275 programs in more than 60 countries around the world.
It takes a lot of hard work and dedication from faculty, like Amol, and many, many other people at the university to run these programs that offer so much to students. Here at MSU, some of the most important learning doesn’t happen on campus. For Spartans, opportunities are everywhere.