They worked with underprivileged children in the town of Varanasi. They saw the Dalai Lama as he was preparing to speak to a group of Buddhist monks. They took an eight-mile hike up a mountain to the second most visited in shrine in India, only to be caught in a hail storm on the way down. And, of course, they visited the Taj Mahal and other popular sites in India.
It was all part of a summer trip to India by 10 Caldwell Fellows, program director Janice Odom and NC State professor Jonathan Kramer. The group spent 23 days in India, with a focus on studying the religions of India. Some individuals did additional traveling in the region.
“The level of challenge (physically and emotionally) with this trip was probably the highest of any trip I have led,” Odom said by email. “Our eyes were opened to such rich history, cultural complexity and different life circumstance. It was humbling.”
Bassil El-Zaatari, one of the Caldwell Fellows, said India “opened my eyes through its beautiful culture to what it means to really live in a pluralistic society and understanding of different religions.”
El-Zaatari said the greatest highlight of the trip was seeing the Dalai Lama and the thousands of people who were chanting as they waited to hear the Dalai Lama speak.
“I consider him a world symbol of peace, understanding, human rights, interfaith and compassion,” El-Zaatari said in an email. “He is, in my eyes, one of the living examples of what it means to be a servant in one’s society.”
El-Zaatari was surprised by the poverty they encountered, from children using the streets as bathrooms to tiny, tin cubicles that served as people’s homes.
“It gave me a whole new viewpoint on life and put the reality of how lucky I am to be living such a life in perspective,” El-Zaatari said.
Ben Quigley was pleased at how well he and the other Caldwell Fellows adapted to the difficult conditions in India, be it temperatures that reached 118 degrees or bus rides that were 10 hours behind schedule.
“We all have different reasons for valuing the kinds of things we learn through cultural immersion,” Quiqley said in an email. “For me personally, it helps strengthen my ability to communicate. Learning about these different cultures and the role of religion in the lives of Indians will impact my life because I intend to go into medicine and public health.
“Education and communication are crucial in the practice of medicine and the development of public health infrastructures. Understanding cultural backgrounds is also important in medicine from a holistic perspective because treatment must be culturally relevant to be accepted by patients.”
Odom says the students handled all the physical and emotional challenges they encountered.
“Experiential learning is the richest educational palate that exists,” she says. “It is a blissful thing to have the opportunity to work with such highly motivated students who take on such challenges with such open minds and hearts.”
The Caldwell Fellows program is an intensive leadership-development scholarship program that was created by the Alumni Association to honor the legacy of Chancellor John T. Caldwell.