Archives for category: International travel

Rebecca Vest:

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Becky, Arun, Lauren, on Mike send their greetings to all

Becky, Arun, Lauren, and Mike send their greetings to all

A perfect time and place for this

A perfect time and place for this

Counting the hair-pin turns is the way that you can measure how high up you’re venturing into the mountains of Kerala, the Western Ghats, as we drove from  Trivandrum to Kallar and then beyond. After each turn we all started to move a little farther away from the windows as we exposed the majestic beauty of the tall mountain we were scaling. Bellies full of Vada (gram flour doughnuts), a savory snack and Chai tea (tea with milk). It was an amazing afternoon, we finally made it to the top where we were all just in awe, quickly followed by all of us settling and quieting down. The air was a change from the heat we’d all been experiencing to a slight cool breeze. The cool air, rolling hills, and sky brought a feeling of calm to everyone there. The trip had been very fast-paced, filled with so many different sites, adventures, sounds, people, music, food, and our group that valiantly persevered through the indulgence of India and Indians. The side trip up to Ponmudi brought tranquility, reflection, and a sense of being ‘on top’ of India that was literally and figuratively a pinnacle of our trip.

Teige Christiano:

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CCSU changed my world. I would have never thought myself ever being able to explore the world the way I have. This university gave me the opportunity to learn Teigein an entirely new way. The two short weeks I spent in Kerala had me thinking it was my home away from home. In each hotel or home stay we stayed at had its own charm and differences. Especially when it came to the bathroom, ice cold bucket rinses made me ever so grateful for the hot showers I have at home. I learn how other people live at home through this. Every meal felt like an adventure. I ate rice and various fish curries with only my right hand, teaching my taste buds to tolerate the spices in Kerala’s food. I learned to expand my pallet and to try new foods. Everything down to even getting accustomed to the impressively different mannerisms and behaviors the people of Kerala have was a hidden opportunity to learn new methods of communicating with people. During my time in Kerala I was able to ride an elephant, body surf in the Arabian Sea, be in a vallam on the Vellayani Lake, spend New Year’s Eve with friends that now feel like family, learn about the development of India and its challenges, and experience life through a different pair of lenses. I would not exchange this experience for anything, so thank you CCSU, Arun, and Dr. Kideckel.

Lauren Anderson:

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Last day. The day began with group presentations. Our discussions were so interesting and the information so important that it was near impossible to put a time limit on them. One universal finding, however, was that India with all of its beauty and charm, and with all of its own personal issues, is not as different from our own home as one might think. We have seen a great many things that will change us forever. We will, whether we realize it or not, reevaluate our entire lives from the experiences and observations we have had here. We have seen an entire other world, been overwhelmed by its splendor, and captivated and entertained by its inhabitants. I would venture to say that every one of us has changed as a result of this trip, the experiences, observations, discussions, and interactions.

Once we were able to pull ourselves away from our discussions, we finished up some last minute gift shopping, sunbathing, massages, eating, and enjoying it all. It was interesting to see how toward the end of the trip everyone seemed more comfortable. The girls gave no care to the gawking males on the beach, the shoppers navigated and negotiated like seasoned vets, and we had each picked out exactly what it was we needed to eat for our last meal in India. Even up until the last minute the trip was a learning experience. Most interesting to me was that the few shopkeepers we frequented had opened up to us as well. We had gotten used to each other. It is so easy to open up to something or someone if you give the chance and learn before you assume. While there will always be variations in mindset and routine across any culture, there will always be something to find comfort and similarity in.

We have been traveling now for about 16 hours. Everyone is exhausted, excited, sad, and hesitant to jump back into reality. What was comfort at home will be another culture shock as we adjust back into our lives. But I can say with great confidence that we will be returning home a great deal more knowledge, new friends, and perhaps even new ideals.

What a long strange trip it’s been.

Thank you to Dr. Kideckel and all who made it possible for us to be here.

This is the classic Kerala ritual meal. The best Sadyas's have more than one payasam (pudding). Yummy!

This is the classic Kerala ritual meal. The best Sadyas’s have more than one payasam (pudding). Yummy!

David Kideckel: I am professor of Anthropology and Director of International Studies at Central Connecticut State University, and the organizer of the CCSUinKerala trip and blog. Though most of my research has been in Eastern Europe, I fell in love with India long before I first visited in 2004. Since 2005-2006 I have been engaged in research in Kerala state on political agitations and most recently on women’s self-help groups, the so-called Kudumbashree. My feelings about India are remarkably contradictory. The intensity and passion of people here never fail to amaze, but so too does some of the poverty and degradation. I wanted to bring my students to Kerala so that they might see for themselves the contradictions of this amazing place and learn how people are able to challenge their cultural conditions through commitment, organization, and study. I also want to thank my wife, Raluca Nahorniac, for her constant help and support both with this blog and with the trip generally.

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So, we are getting ready to depart for India on a two and one half week study tour of Kerala with a focus on “development” broadly writ. The description of the program can be found here:  <http://www.ccsu.edu/page.cfm?p=13886>.

In the days to follow the diverse members of our group will have opportunities to share their thoughts, concerns, frustrations, and joys with the experience of India and Kerala. I am confident that all will have an extraordinary time. They are very lucky to be going to India and Kerala with the program planned for them. We will see the state and its people first in the surface dimensions of most who visit. In that way, India and Kerala will certainly appear odd and strange, if not outrageous. Our group will be daunted by the traffic on MG Road in Trivandrum. With Congress and the UDF in power we will likely happen on  political agitations of various kinds…sit-downs, and marches, and hunger strikes of anti-god-men. Other qualities of India and Kerala are also likely to challenge people’s understanding of diverse cultures and their worth.

But at the same time I entertain a strong hope that the group will appreciate Kerala and Malayalis in and on their own terms, though that is always an uncertainty. The idea of anthropology is certainly a wonderful one; that people can understand other cultures with a fine and deep appreciation and can place the difficult and odd things of other ways of life in a context that enables some kind inter-cultural appreciation. Still, there is always the possibility that some may react otherwise. Though unlikely, they can always respond like an unnamed American politician who, when asked what he felt about other ways of life said something to the effect that he “had only been outside the USA twice, didn’t like it, and found other people strange and unreasonable.”

I doubt that will happen, but one never knows. So, with that said, it is on to Kerala and the wonderful, sensual, challenging questions and thoughts to follow.