It’s not every day a United States ambassador praises a university’s study-abroad program, but that is what happened last month at a gathering at the U.S. embassy in New Delhi.
Ambassador Richard R. Verma said the University of Virginia’s new semester-long study-abroad program in India is a model for the types of engagement his office is encouraging with its Passport to India program, which is aimed at increasing Americans’ engagement with India.
“We have a limited number of U.S. government-funded exchange programs bringing Americans to India, such as the Fulbright students, scholars and English teaching assistants,” Verma said.
“I am excited to learn about the University of Virginia’s new spring semester study-abroad program with Jamia Millia University. Under the tutelage of UVA Professor Geeta Patel, six American students are taking courses during the week at the school alongside Indian students – including on Saturdays! – and interning with local organizations.
“This is exactly the type of audience that we are trying to reach with our Passport to India initiative,” he said.
UVA in India launched this spring and is open to students at UVA and as well as those from other institutions. The first cohort includes five students from UVA and one from Barnard College.
The students have been extremely busy since they touched down in the world’s largest democracy, taking five required courses, interning at non-profits and seeing as much of the country as possible.
When she is not in her course on Bollywood or studying Hindi, UVA third-year student Amanda Finn has been sightseeing. “When we took a weekend trip to Jodhpur in Rajasthan, we did a camel tour through the desert,” she wrote from New Delhi. “We were picked up from our hostel in an open-air Jeep and driven to the middle of nowhere. We got to choose our camel and then got on the camels and started going! The experience was amazing and I would definitely recommend trying it out.”
Her family is planning to visit her this semester. “I can't wait to show them around,” she wrote. “I'm going to try and give them the ‘real’ India tour.”
Jamia Millia students said they are also gaining a lot from the new program, and Patel, an associate professor in the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures who is also spending the semester in India, said almost everyone raves about how interactive the experience is.
Aysha Ali said she loves the Bollywood course. “You get to interact with people who are not only from different courses, but also different countries,” she wrote. “Discussions helped me a lot, as sometimes you miss out major points in reading, but as we discuss it we can exchange those points and our opinions about it.”
Patel said spending a full semester in India is incredibly enriching. “The semester is allowing students to learn about India much more thoroughly, to integrate into the country in a more compassionate and complex fashion.
“They can work through questions and difficulties slowly, and learn in a more nuanced way. The questions they ask are about daily life, which they live themselves – they are actually living in India, rather than just visiting it for a while.”
The students live in apartments near the university and take public transportation or taxis to campus. Teaching assistant Johnny Vater said he is impressed with how quickly the students have adjusted to traveling around New Delhi.
“After I showed the students how to hail an auto rickshaw and use the metro, they immediately set off to explore sites like Jama Masjid and Lodi Gardens on their own,” he said. “Every week they plan something new. Before the end of the program, I bet, they can show me around New Delhi.”
The program will be offered again next spring.