A Letter Home written by students on the IHP Health and Community: Globalization, Culture, and Care Fall 2014 program:
Just so you know that we’re thinking of you, here’s a letter to keep you updated on our adventures in India so far! But, before you get started, try out this crossword puzzle (note: the answers are at the end of the letter).
Intro to the group:
First and foremost, we want to give you a little background on our group. We are 31 students (28 girls and 3 boys) from different U.S. universities: Brown University (2), Davidson College (2), Dickinson College (1), Duke University (3), Hamilton College (1), Harvard University (1), Johns Hopkins University (1), Kenyon College (1), Middlebury College (1), University of Delaware (1), University of Pennsylvania (8), University of Puget Sound (1), University of Richmond (2), University of Utah (1), Wake Forest University (3), Wesley College (1), and Yale University (1). We come from all across the country and all aroundthe world—from Oregon and New Jersey to Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Bangladesh—and are excited to be in such a fun, open-minded, and down-to-earth group.
In short, this is an experiential, comparative global health program consisting of four core classes: Public Health; Globalization and Health; Health, Culture, and Community; and Community Health Research Methods.In the past three weeks, our group has learned an incredible amount about Indianculture and health through lectures, guest speakers, site visits, and fieldwork. Broadly, we have focused on cultural norms, the caste system, maternal and child health, infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, sanitation, gender equality, and traditional medicine. Some of our highlights so far have been visiting a private hospital, a Delhi slum, and the toilet museum, which is run by a fascinating NGO trying to improve sanitation in the developing world. We are also putting our research skills to use in small case study groups focusing on: maternal and child health, food and nutrition, mental health, environment, traditional medicine, and infectious disease. We will explore and compare these themes throughout each of the countries we are visiting. While we are just beginning to scratch the surface of the many complex issues present in India, our time here has been full of encouraging challenges, active learning, and personal growth. We are all definitely getting a lot out of this experience!
We spent our first three nights in Delhi at a hotel, giving us space and time to get over jet lag, before being split into homestays for two weeks in groups of two to four. These have been amazing experiences where we have gotten to eat authentic Indian food, learn Hindi phrases, and get close to somelocal families.
Some of us lived next to bustling markets and others next to a park offering 5:30 AM yoga sessions (which some of us participated in!).Everyday, we commuted to class viarickshaw, metro, walking, or taxi (mostly a combination of the first three). Our homestay parents were incredibly diverse—some being doctors and CEOs while others had more humble means. They proved to be an invaluable source of knowledge and insight into all of the issues we were discussing in the classroom and seeing on the streets. For example, wehave learneda lot about the caste system in the classroom, but it was equally enriching to speak to our host-parents about their inter-caste marriage. Through our families, we experienced a more intimate view into Indian culture. Although we were strangers only a few weeks ago, our families demonstrated incredible trust by exposing their culture, homes, and lives to us. They have been nothing but loving and hospitable, and we will miss them terribly. Fortunately, they have promised to call, email, Facebook, and visit us. A few will even be mailing birthday cards!
We will now be going to the village of Baharaich and to learn about rural India. We will then return to Delhi for a few nights before flying off to South Africa!
Now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for: TUMMY TALKS! How have our gastrointestinal tracts and taste buds been holding up since arriving in India? You will be happy to know that only a few students have suffered the infamous “Delhi Belly.” Even more impressively, the group was very supportive and respectful of Delhi Belly’s victims. Our group prevailed and continued to try new foods and eat with our hands. Overall, Indian food has surprised us! The world knows India for its exotic spices, colorful curries, and fragrant teas, but we’ve experienced a different kind of cuisine. For the most part, we eat traditional Indian food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. These meals consist of rice, chapatti (a thin, circular bread similar to pita), dal (a lentil or bean soup), raw veggies (usually tomato, cucumber, and carrot), curd (light, plain yogurt), and some variation of fried or stewed mixed vegetables. We’ve only had chicken a couple of times at group meals, but some homestay families feed their students meat (chicken, mutton, or seafood) and paneer (cheese). In moments of high stress, students give in to the temptations of KFC, Pizza Hut, Dunkin Donuts, and Starbucks—all four of which are popular study spots and conveniently located near most homestay neighborhoods. Overall, everybody is happy, healthy, and enjoying India’s foreign flavors! Next up: BBQ in South Africa!
Between all of our classes and homework, we have had the opportunity to travel and sightsee. After class, many students have visited some of Delhi’s major historic monuments, like the Red Fort and Qutab Minar, and gone shopping at local markets like Delhi Haat and Lagpat Nagar.
On our first weekend, we travelled as a group to Agra to see the Taj Mahal (and take 400+ photos). The following weekend, we split into two main groups to visit Jaipur and Rishikesh (described below).
Twenty-one of us boarded a five-hour train to Jaipur, “the pink city.” Everyone woke up early on Saturday to ride elephants to Amer Fort, for many a dream come true. Many spent the day visiting beautiful palaces and eating delicious meat, something many students missed after a couple weeks of a vegetarian diet. After strolling around the bazars, buying clothes or tapestries, many headed home to relax. In the evening, a group of students headed to a theme park named Chokhi Dhani, where they danced, ate authentic Rajasthani food, got henna tattoos, and got on their first Indian ferris wheel. Overall, the group had an amazing time in this majestic and historic city!
Nine of us went to Rishikesh via train. It was a pretty unreal time and the city was totally meditation station, so it served as the perfect get away from noisy Delhi. Part of the Rishikesh crew spent the day hiking around the city, which is surrounded by the beautiful Ganges River. Another small crew spent the day hanging out with a Yogi doing yoga and getting full body massages. The third crew spent the day shopping before hiking to the old, abandoned Ashram where The Beatles once stayed and wrote The White Album. Many of the rooms in the Ashram had lyrics and photos of The Beatles painted on the wall. Overall, Rishikesh was a great get away weekend!
Hopefully this gives you a quick summary of what we’ve been up to so far. Obviously we’ve been learning a lot and having a great time! You can rest assured that we’re happy and healthy!
So greetings from India and we send you our love!