Go to India, but not with SITA Past Review

By (Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures, Barnard College) - abroad from 08/26/2013 to 12/02/2013 with

South India Term Abroad - SITA

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
The truth is that I gained and learned SO much from India, Madurai, and indeed from SITA. It was one of the hardest experiences of my life for many reasons -- it was physically and emotionally draining. But the friends there I made are my friends for life, and I wouldn't trade them for anything. I also realize that the type of program I signed up for was really different from the type of program I would have thrived in. This is my fault, and not the fault of the program. So that's been a learning experience also.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 6 months+

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

I guess no one studies abroad for an academically rigorous experience, but I was very disappointed with the quality of the classes. They were very poor quality and though SITA advertises the possibility of independent studies, especially for year-long students, it's very hard to execute these in reality.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The semester that I was in Madurai was a particularly bad one for SITA. The director at that time was quite ill-equipped for the role that she was in, and she had no support, meaning that the students really suffered. I think that the administration of SITA has improved by now, but I would be very wary of taking part in this program because of their record of bad administration. The US side of things hasn't changed in the past two years, to my knowledge, and they were incredibly unsympathetic when I had a serious issue while in India and my parents tried to contact them. To make a long story short, I had a problem with a member of my host family sexually harassing me. When I told the administration about this, they told me that another student had the same issue before, and they placed me in the host family anyway because my host mom had promised I would never be left home alone with this family member. Not only was this untrue, but it's also not an excuse to place a student in a potentially dangerous situation. I was incredibly unhappy with the way that the administration handled the whole thing.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Most people who took part in SITA while I was there had really fantastic experiences in their host families. I had a lot of problems, but I think this is atypical. Don't expect A/C, western-style toilets, or other amenities you might be used to from the US, but you will get to experience typical family life in India, which is an incredibly rewarding experience!

* Food:

Madurai is the best place I have eaten. Period.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

I have some serious qualms with how the program is run. I feel that the administration was overprotective of us, to the degree that it damaged our ability to become integrated into the local culture -- they placed many restrictions on our movement. However, the affiliation with Lady Doak College, a women's college near the SITA center, is a very good thing and is how I met my best friend in Madurai. I really hope SITA continues to maintain these ties. Host family interactions also really helped with this.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

Madurai does not have great hospitals and my friends and I had some problems there. Make sure to google all of the medicines they give you. But the SITA faculty did everything they could to help us navigate the health care situation when we were sick. When one student on my program had a medical emergency while in India, the faculty handled it really well.

* Safety:

Madurai is an incredibly safe place -- you will barely even experience minor problems like street harassment. Also, if you take part in the program you will be coming home very early -- my curfew was 6:30 pm -- so you won't have to worry about the safety risks involved in walking alone at night.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? No


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

India is not expensive.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

The lack of emphasis on foreign language was my biggest complaint about the academics. I felt like I was actively discouraged from using Tamil, which was the reason I had decided to go to Madurai.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Beginner
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Beginner
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? None
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Tamil is a really, really hard language. If you want to do it seriously, you're going to have to work really hard. But the rewards of learning Indian languages, especially smaller and less studied ones, are AWESOME. Tamil has over 2,000 years of literary history, by far the best cinema in India (YES, take that Bollywood), and a thriving community of female, Muslim, and dalit poets and creative writers. So that's my first point: learning Tamil is worth it. Go for it. Advice for learning Tamil in Madurai: -Contact the CM Center in Madurai (cmcentre.org). I couldn't afford extra tutoring, but if you can, see if you can arrange an extra outside class with them. -Go to temples and talk to the women there (if you're a girl). Use the little Tamil you know, and they'll be charmed and happy that you're trying even if you can't say that much. -Download Tamil grammars off the internet -- lots of the old colonial ones, while definitely not user-friendly, are available for free. Do one lesson per day from the grammars and try to incorporate the words you've learned in conversation. Even if they are overly formal, people will appreciate your efforts. -Go to the movies! It's a really fun thing to do in Madurai. -If there is a small child in your host family, hang out with them. Also, listen carefully to how their mom/dad/siblings talk to them. The grammar will be simple and it'll be easier to follow than conversation with grownups.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Location
  • Food
  • Relationship with Lady Doak College
* What could be improved?
  • Administration
  • Academics
  • Travel restrictions
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I wish I knew that the American Institute of Indian Studies program in Madurai would have been a much better fit for me. I also wish I knew that sometimes personal ambition is not enough to achieve goals without institutional support. For the past two years, I've felt like the fact that I did not learn fluent Tamil, I came home from the program early, and I wasn't that happy with my independent study project was my fault. But I'm realizing that without institutional support, you can't always accomplish everything you'd hoped to.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Academic or Linguist
You went abroad with specific academic goals in mind; the program credentials and rigor of your coursework abroad were very important to you. You had a great time abroad, but never lost sight of your studies and (if applicable) were diligent with your foreign language study. Good for you!