Visit with local college students

Trip Start Jul 03, 2008
Trip End Dec 07, 2008

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Flag of India  , Kerala,
Monday, July 14, 2008

    Monday July 14th, 2008

    A day of trepidation indeed.  We were scheduled to appear in front of a local group of undergraduate students and chat with them for a bit, an activity that we were all very nervous for. The class we visited was a class in Communicative English at CMS College, a University in Kottayam associated with Mahatma Ghandi University.  The college itself is a British installation, and is nearly 200 years old.  The major was something new to us also, apparently designed to give Indian students the tools necessary to compete in global market dominated by English.  We started off by introducing ourselves, and them we broke off into small groups just to chat.  My first group was a group of all males, ranging from 19 to 24, with varying degrees of shyness and bluntness.  The initial few minutes were a bit forced; it was the conversational equivalent of a grimace as both sides tested the waters.  Being politically minded (and they asked what my major was) we delved into the pending US-India nuclear deal, but the conversation soon shifted into my choice of dress; thus begins my love-hate relationship with the dhoti.  
The Dhoti is a garment worn in everyday life by millions of Indian males, essentially being a 5-foot length of cloth wrapped around the waist.  Think of a sarong and/or images of Ghandi wearing the cloth wrap.  That's the one.  Anyway, I had considered wearing one that I have to this university date, but I had the day mixed up and the laundry cycles of the universe weren't in my favor, thus I wore shorts.  Tasteful shorts, but still the Indian students inquired why I would wear such a thing.  I explained my situation, and added that I would feel a little disingenuous wearing the local dress when I'm clearly a tourist.  Apparently even this didn't matter, they said it would show respect and honor.

    The other topic that generated quite a bit of buzz was feminism.  Michelle, our resident gregarious Texan, is minoring in Women's Empowerment, and saw the chance to talk to the youth as an opportunity to get firsthand feedback on the sexism in India.  As you can imagine, introducing such a topic was met with mixed emotions; as anticipated, many of the men reacted less than favorably.  Comments such as, "You've only been in India a week, how can she comment on our culture?!" and "Our women have plenty of opportunity to advance" abounded.  After some time the groups rotated and I had a group of mostly girls.  I decided to forgo the usual pleasantries and cut to the chase: I wanted to know their opinion of this feminist fervor that was causing such a ruckus.  This was the slightly surprising part.  One particularly vocal girl agreed with the Indian men, claiming it was the woman's place in society to be second to men.  Others were inspired by Michelle, it was a mixed bag.  Overall it was an awesome experience being able to see college life of Indian students and the challenges of their daily lives.
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