HSU Students Experience Diversity in India

June 12, 2019 Grace Mitchell and Lucila Decia, Staff Writers

(INDIA)–Travel courses are a way for students to experience new places, but for Dr. Priscilla Selvaraj, a May term trip to India was going home. Selvaraj led six students from May 15-26 for a Psychology class titled “Discovering Self through Experiencing Diversity.”

The class visits the Jama Masjid of Delhi. Photo: Ender De Leon

As an associate professor of psychology and counseling, Dr. Selvaraj wanted her students to study the family structures of a different culture, but she also wanted to share her home country with her students.

“I always wanted to create a multicultural course, to let students out of the neighborhood and into another country or culture,” she said. “I wanted them to experience cultural learning in a place that is new and uncomfortable with a new language, different customs, traditions, and family values.”

The students studied how people cooked, how mothers and children interacted, and how love is expressed in India.

Intricate stone carvings on the cloister columns at Quwwat ul-Islam Mosque. Photo: Ender De Leon

“I love the family culture of India, which is very different from the standard central America family culture,” said Ender De Leon ‘20. “Family values, integrity, and love amongst family members keep this culture still going… People know who they are; they are connected to their extended families, their communities, and their roots.”

The students visited four cities in India: Chennai, Jaipur, Agra, and Delhi.

“Visiting India has been a long-time dream of mine,” said Emily Galvez ‘19. “Experiencing the differences in cultures, learning about the country’s rich history, and seeing some of the most beautiful places of worship and extraordinary architecture was truly life-changing…From seeing colorful glistening cities to walking through villages, no matter who you are or where you come from, India is sure to captivate you.”

For one assignment, Dr. Selvaraj had the students write a reflection considering how happy individuals were in impoverished conditions and how much Americans take for granted.

Jenny Foster experiences the ancient art of snake charming. Photo: Dr. Priscilla Selvaraj.

“We went on a tour of the slums in Chennai, and the individuals there lived in rooms the size of my bathroom–they were comprised of dirt with trash and unpleasant smells filling the streets outside their doors,” Jenny Shaw ‘20 said. “I was walking through the slums there was a family crowded together sitting on the steps to escape the sun…They looked poor, and they were surrounded with trash, yet they were laughing and smiling and seemed so thankful to be alive. Although they had so little, they were rich with life and love…A lot of the things we gripe about and let affect us are things those living in India never get the privilege to be upset about.”

Many of the students were affected by the level of poverty they saw among the Indian people. Shaw said at first, she questioned how God could allow such suffering.

“Then a friend of mine helped me understand that the truth is that it is not His will for us to suffer, and shared these verses with me that God commands of us: ‘speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute,’ ‘defend the rights of the poor and needy’ (Prov. 31:8-9), and to provide for the widow, orphan, and fatherless among us (Deut. ‪10:18-19),’” she said.

Students visit the Sikh Gurdwara in Delhi. Photo: Ender De Leon

De Leon said he learned much from Indian spiritual practices.

“Travel in India is adventure travel in every sense of the word,” he said. “The religious tradition in Indian teaches people to be content, to be grateful and to regularly thank and celebrate God for the gift of life and the beauty and abundance of nature.”

He especially appreciated the diversity of India.

“There is not a single Indian culture, but so many overlapping layers of cultures,” De Leon said.

In addition to learning, the students had a few funny experiences. At a Hindu temple in Chennai, a stranger placed flowers around Shaw’s neck.

“As I was standing there all of the sudden the flowers began tugging off my neck and I looked down to a baby calf eating them!” she said. “I had to tug-of-war with the calf to get my flowers out of the calf’s mouth. I ended up with a much smaller necklace of flowers after the calf ate a good portion of it.”

De Leon riding an elephant. Photo: Ender De Leon

De Leon had another animal memory.

“One of the funny parts I really enjoyed in India was riding an elephant among my other friend and seeing how they were afraid and screaming that they wanted to come down from the elephant.”

India is just one of the destinations of HSU travel courses. For more study abroad opportunities, click here.