Many students either don’t know about the Global Citizenship Program (GCP) or don’t think it is important in their educational curriculum at SU. But I beg to differ. I would not miss an opportunity to see any part of the world if I have a chance. I consider myself a global citizen, after having lived in Nigeria, Ethiopia, India, Canada and now the USA. But despite having lived in so many countries, or maybe because of it, I have a deep desire to see even more new places. The world is so big, and has such diverse cultures that you are bound to be wowed by something new each time to travel.
Last year I had the opportunity to lead a group of students and staff to a GCP trip to India. It was my first year at Shenandoah and my first independent experience as faculty leader to any country. Having always worked in a team with other faculty and staff, this was new territory for me. But I dove right into it.
The Pre-trip Planning: I had four months to prepare my group for a good experience in India. I tried to design the trip activities based around what might be a good learning experience for all members of the group and what kinds of image would I like them to bring back from India. In addition to the planning, I met with my group 4-5 times before embarking on the journey. My task was to prepare them for travel to this country that they may nothing about. Since I have taught a whole course on the Culture and History of India, narrowing it down to 4 short class sessions was quite the challenge. It is really hard to express to someone what India is like. India is a full assault on one’s all five senses – sound, sight, smell, taste and touch. No amount of pre-planning can prepare anyone for that kind of immersion. One only has to experience it. But I was very lucky. I had the best group to work with. All participants (three graduate students, four undergraduates, two staff, one president of the university and one board of trustee) eagerly jumped in for the preparation.
The trip went as planned and in some cases even better than planned. (Or it might be better to say that I accomplished everything I wanted to in the eight days we were in India). Any trip can have surprise changes (good or bad), but what matters is how you deal with those changes. Again, the fabulous group I had was up for anything and everything. We landed and departed from Mumbai with a short road trip to Surat in the state of Gujrat. Mumbai is the most populated city in India with about 12 million people and Surat is the textile and diamond capital of the world.
Some of our highlights of the trip were; a) an Aashram. Since India is the birth place of three major religions of the world, it was natural to visit a place of higher spiritual learning; b) Elephanta caves which have Hindu sculptures and about 800 years old; and Karla Caves which are Buddhist caves and over 2000 years old; c) Mumbai University, here we met some graduate students who gave us a good tour of the university.
To highlight some of India’s key industries in the city of Surat we visited a sugar factory, a textile mill and a diamond polishing industry (too bad we did not get a free sample here!!), and in Mumbai a cookie factory. While visiting all these places we manage to survive wading knee deep through a river to see the largest banyan tree of the world. And somehow in the middle of all these adventures we found time to shop and buy some saris from the great bazaars of Surat.
We shared food at mealtime like a family, ate juicy sugarcanes right out of the farm, tasted some hot fresh jaggery (unrefined sugar), drank fresh coconut water like an Indian and ate a variety of fruits we don’t have in the USA.
How can one pass such an adventurous opportunity? The group gelled beautifully and have become the GCP-India group forever. We never had a dull moment.
I would recommend all students, staff and faculty to apply for the GCP program. In fact, any faculty can also lead one of these trips, provided they know the country and language well. It was a little bit of work to begin with, but it is a very rewarding experience. It has helped me forge friendships I would never have ordinarily made.