An Amazing, Perspective Shifting Experience January 17, 2016

By (Sociology, Philosophy, Bowdoin College) - abroad from 08/17/2015 to 11/29/2015 with

South India Term Abroad - SITA

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I learned a lot from my experience with SITA, not only about Southern India, but about my own perspective, about America, and about myself. There were definitely challenges, but these challenges were an important part of this learning experience, and I don't think I would want to avoid any of them. Going to India with SITA challenged me to question my assumptions about India and about the United States. Sometimes this was frustrating and disconcerting, but it was absolutely worth it. I am so happy that I chose to participate in SITA, and hope to return to Madurai soon.

Review Photos

South India Term Abroad - SITA Photo South India Term Abroad - SITA Photo South India Term Abroad - SITA Photo South India Term Abroad - SITA Photo

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 1 month - 6 months

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

The academic aspects of SITA were definitely one of the highlights of the program for me. Although the classes did not assign as much work outside of class as a typical Bowdoin course (in order to give students the opportunity to spend time exploring Madurai, with hist families, etc), I found them very helpful in terms of learning about South India, processing and understanding the experiences I was having, and thinking critically about my own perspectives and impressions. The last month of SITA is devoted to an independent study project rather than typical coursework, and this was undoubtedly one of the best parts not only of my study abroad experience, but of my college experience. The resident director and other SITA staff worked closely with us to ensure we had the resources and support to complete rigorous independent studies on topics of our choosing. I was very happy with the end result of my project (a 30+ page research paper), but even more so, I enjoyed the experience of interviewing people in Madurai and collecting data as an ethnographic researcher.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

I loved SITA's on-site administration. The current (2016) resident director, Ted, is absolutely amazing. He was very supportive of all of the students in my semester both academically and personally, and made sure that we had access to a great number of the resources Madurai has to offer, from visiting non-profit organizations to showing us the best restaurants. The other SITA staff were also very supportive, and became almost like a second host family for me. Madurai is constantly changing, and the program is in the process of adapting itself to these changes, and the staff are open to feedback and suggestions from students.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I lived with a host family very close to the SITA center, where our classes took place. It was nice to have the support of a host family, especially in a country so different from the United States as India, and so it was great to be able to ask them for suggestions of things to do, places to eat, etc. My family was one of the less involved host families, meaning that although they cooked my meals and provided me with everything I needed, they mostly left me to do my own activities. This was a positive and a negative, allowing me to be free to do what I wished, but depriving me of the closer bonds that some students in my semester experienced with their host families. However, living with a host family was an overall positive and definitely beneficial experience.

* Food:

Delicious! South Indian food is very different from the typically North Indian food served in most Indian restaurants in the US, and (I think) even more delicious! Madurai has a ton of great restaurants, and we had the opportunity to eat out for a lot of meals, especially lunches. An added benefit, you can get a delicious, all you can eat lunch for about 2 American dollars. Having meals cooked by a host family was another great food experience.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

Madurai is very different from an American city, and by definition, this makes it more difficult to integrate into the local culture there than in, say, most European cities. That being said, SITA did a good job of encouraging us to meet and get to know lots of people in Madurai, and enabled us to do this in ways that I couldn't have done on my own. SITA has a close relationship with Lady Doak College, a nearby women's college, as well as American College, which is nearby, and these relationships allowed us to get so know students our own age, which was really great. Several of our professors had spent time at these colleges, so they also provided a helpful connection. SITA also helped us get involved with several local non-profits, People's Watch and SUDAR, which we visited and had the opportunity to get involved with. Host families were also a great way to get to know people in Madruai, and most of the host families were more than happy to get to know and include all the students in many of their activities. Most people I met in Madurai were incredibly friendly, and very interested in getting to know American students and talk to us about America, India, Madurai, etc. The independent study was also helpful for me in getting to know people, because SITA requires that students conduct interviews as a part of their research, and is helpful in finding interview subjects. I learned a lot not only from official interviews, but from getting to know and talk to a variety of people n Madurai. As an American in Madurai, you will always stand out, but it was still possible to form relationships with lots of local people.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

Aside from a few stomach issues, I did not have any health problems in Madurai. When I did get sick to my stomach, SITA was very helpful and supportive, offering to take me to a doctor (which I decided wasn't necessary). The Resident Director even checked in on me at my host family's house.

* Safety:

Madurai is a very safe city. People who live there say that even though it is a city of over a million people, it maintains a village feel. Living with host families meant that we were not usually out later than 9 or 9:30 at night, so that added another element of safety. SITA also provides a large support network, meaning that if a student ever feels unsafe, they have plenty of people they can call and have access to immediately. As a woman, I felt just as safe if not safer walking around Madurai as I would in most large US cities.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

Finances

* 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)

Madurai is incredibly cheap by American standards. You can get a delicious meal for under $2 and a nice shirt or sari for under $10.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $15

Language

* 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

We were encouraged to try to speak Tamil as much as possible, but since SITA assumes that students arrive in Madurai with no experience of Tamil, it is hard to actively use Tamil, as we were beginners.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None
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 in Tamil
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? SITA is definitely not a language focused program, so if your main goal is to learn Tamil, I would recommend taking summer classes in Tamil (University of Wisconsin offers them) before you arrive. For less language focused students, I would recommend using your Tamil with hist families and SITA staff, as well as with other students.

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?
  • Independent Study
  • Relationships with local students, professors, SITA staff
  • Location
* What could be improved?
  • More opportunities to get involved with local non-profits
  • More housing options
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I wish I had pushed myself to explore Madurai earlier in the semester, and travelled more to surrounding areas. These things can feel difficult at the beginning of the semester, but trust me, it's worth it!

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 Nearly Native or Trail Blazer
Craving the most authentic experience possible, perhaps you lived with a host family or really got in good with the locals. You may have felt confined by your program requirements and group excursions. Instead, you'd have preferred to plan your own trips, even skipping class to conduct your own 'field work.'