While throngs of co-eds from college campuses across the country flock to Daytona, Clearwater, and South Padre Island to darken their tans and unleash their youthful exuberance, a group of seven students from The Ohio State University at Marion are on a journey of learning and exploration to mystical India.
The journey began winter quarter with a required class on Indian history and culture taught by Ohio State Marion Professor Emeritus, Vladimir Steffel. The course was only part of preparing the seven local students for a spring break journey to the other side of the world. Class members learned of the cultural differences between small town America and the Far East, then came the planning, packing, and physical preparation.
Amanda Willis, a senior social work major taking the class, said the culture class was just the beginning of her preparation.
“For right now, the biggest thing has just been getting all of the health issues sorted, immunizations, medications, just to make sure you don’t get sick while we are there because that wouldn’t be fun. That’s just been the most stressful part,” said Willis.
Although senior Sarah McNamee, was excited about the adventure she was about to embark upon, the international relations and diplomacy major was also weighing the gravity of keeping up with her academics while on an excursion around the world.
McNamee’s main concern, “getting finals week done, and we will be missing the first week of class,” she explained. “I’m a little nervous about coming back and having to hit the books right away.”
For Ellen Graham, a junior majoring in early childhood education, the trip will be her first travel abroad.
“I’m not really nervous about going,” said Graham. “It’s the getting prepared that’s tough. I’ve got a running list of everything that I need to do. I have to finish this quarter first.”
The group is gone 13 days with 11 in India. “It is a 14 hour flight,” said Graham, “I’ve only flown to California.”
Outside of the mental preparation and exploration she did in her history of India course, junior Shonda Ritterspach, a middle childhood education major, admits she hasn’t had time to prepare as much as she would like.
“I’ve been busy with my classes. Just getting myself ready for the culture shock that I may encounter, the squat toilets and seeing how women are treated differently there than they are in America,” Ritterspach explained.
Graham, McNamee, Ritterspach, and Willis, all hail from the small Ohio town of Upper Sandusky. Traveling from one of the smallest county populations in the state to the second most populous country in the world, the students realize having a regional campus of The Ohio State University in their backyard and direct access to Ohio State faculty afforded them this unique experience.
“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime and the regional campuses I think can actually provide greater access to instructors, explained McNamee, but we have the same advantages (as those) going to a bigger campus, just closer to home.”
Associate Dean and Professor of Mathematics, Bishun Pandey, originally from India will lead the tour. History Professor Emeritus, Vladimir Steffel and Psychology Professor Emeritus, Daniel Christie will also travel with the seven students helping guide them through their international adventure.
Having well versed well traveled faculty like Pandey, Steffel, and Christie preparing them for and accompanying them on the trip has been “outstanding,” said McNamee.
“They all come from different backgrounds and they all have something to say. They’ve all given us a different and unique perspective to add to our own ideas of what India was (is) so it’s been kind of interesting to put together their ideas and form this vision that none of us expected,” she shared.
“I’m really excited, said Willis, “It’s always fun to travel, seeing another part of the world that’s different than your immediate area. I have traveled to Europe before which was fun, but this will be interesting because it’s another world. I really have my heart set on riding an elephant. I want to make a wish in the Ganges River and just get some henna done on my hand.”
Barbie White, a senior psychology major from Marion said she is most looking forward seeing people that might dress and act differently than her.
White feels she will gain real world knowledge in the truest sense of the word during her trip and that has her excited.
“I think I’m most interested in going to Vrindavan, (India) because I want to see some of the widowed women that I wrote about in my paper.”
“They call it (Vrindavan) the ‘City of Widows.’ I’m taking psychology of women right now and after I researched a lot about them it kind of overlapped with class so I got to think about class and use a different perspective. I want to see what I wrote about, to see if what I wrote is accurate,” explained White.
McNamee said that she’d like to go to Benares for the same reason.
“I wrote about that (Benares) for my paper. It is the Hindu religious capital so it’s supposed to be the birthplace of time and I’m excited to see it,” said McNamee.
Graham hopes her undergraduate degree in education, future graduate degree aspirations, and study abroad experience provide for a well rounded experience she can share with future students she hopes to inspire and guide.
“Like Sarah said, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. In terms of even being a teacher or a counselor,” said Graham, “I feel like any travel out of the country is beneficial because you learn about other cultures and you have to be prepared to work in diverse classrooms and I think that’s important.”
“I want to broaden my horizons,” she added. “I’m always looking for opportunities to be adventurous and learn more about other cultures and the experience alone is something that I will remember for my entire life.
Dan Christie feels trips to India and other international ports of call do nothing but remove skepticism and fear from students as they enter the world.
“I notice when students travel,” said Christie, “the more they travel, the more comfortable they are exploring new horizons and I think that that’s a good thing because when opportunity arises or they see one (an opportunity) they go after it because they’re not afraid, and it’s a good way to learn.”
“They are all going to be ‘sight-thinkers’ instead of sightseers,” he added. “In a way, each of us is investigating. I like hearing about interesting cultures because we aren’t going to know quite what we are looking at till we get underneath the culture a bit, and we have a wonderful guide for that purpose,” Christie said in reference Pandey their native born Indian tour guide.
“So I think that everyone will come away with broadened horizons,” he explained.
Graham summed up the thoughts of the departing group in 4 words…“It’s a spiritual pilgrimage.”