Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Wrapping Up !

The last week and a half has been a constant reminder of what has become the most exciting travel adventure of my life. In getting readjusted to the everyday grind of going to class and work here at Texas A&M UniversityKingsville, I cannot help but compare the various experiences here to those I will forever cherish from my first trip overseas and my first trip to India.

There are a few people who I would like to thank for making this whole experience truly memorable. I cannot express enough gratitude for the time and effort that Dr. Nirmal Goswami (TAMUK) and Dr. Kishore Gawande (the Bush School,Texas A&M-College Station), devoted towards making this class possible. Both prepared the students well to cope with the many interesting challenges faced by foreign visitors when shopping at the varied and colorful local markets in Delhi. In all seriousness, the two of you made a huge commitment and made the otherwise impossible possible—and for that I thank you sincerely. To those in the administration who were able to help provide direction or additional funding for the trip, your contributions are greatly appreciated. For those who gave generously from within I thank you as well. A special thanks to Dr. and Mrs.Unam Cho, Mr. and Mrs. Ron Hyde, the Woodmen of America, and the TAMUK Foundation for generously supporting our trip. Thanks also to Mr. Frank Hull and Ms. Debbie Quinones from TAMUK’s Office of International Programs.

In looking back at the various topic areas covered pertaining to “India’s Political Economy,” I realize how much was learned within a relatively short time. From an overview of Growth and Development of the Indian Economy to specifics about India’s various economic policies aimed at maintaining such substantial growth while addressing serious issues of disparities. There was also much discussion about economic development and the government’s delicate role. Indo-China and Indo-US relations are also very important considerations in developing future as well as existing policies. All these issues are very complex, but only a part of the puzzle which also includes the historical aspects of India’s diversity inclusive of its multitude of cultures.

The many analytical presentations we attended every morning at JNU were complemented by separate afternoon outreach activities and field trips. These trips were uniquely beneficial. Some of the places we visited were private Indian Think-Tanks; the Taj Mahal; a Micro Credit NGO known as FODRA; a visit with an economic advisor in the Ministry of Finance; a research institute/university known as The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI). A word of thanks is also due to JNU, our host university. From the first to the very last day- the day of our farewell dinner, people we met and who contributed so much to the success of our trip were a just outstanding, especially Dr. Alokesh Barua. I will miss the calm among the madness that is Delhi traffic. I will miss the hospitality of not just the staff of the Pamposh Guest House, but of everyone I encountered. Whether it was in an academic setting or a trip to a market, everyone seemed to offer a piece of their kindness and that I will never forget. Of course I cannot go without mentioning the cuisine. At times it seemed as if I would not be able to handle the spiciness of the food for health reasons, but in the end, it was just too difficult to stay away from the smorgasbord of unique dishes and I made do with my bottle of acid reducer tablets.

Overall, India was a unique experience and Dr. Goswami was absolutely accurate in his description. It is a place where everything you have heard about it is true and so too is the opposite. India is a developing country with a complexity of grand proportions and I believe it will be an even greater political and economic force in the future—perhaps a good reason to go back someday. This trip was so impactful on my being that I am finding it hard to walk on the right side—literally I keep finding myself walking on the left hand side and for some odd reason I hope that stays with me! - JRQ

When I first got to India I thought that perhaps two weeks would be too long to stay. On our last day there I felt like I had just arrived and had barely seen anything India had to offer. While I did get to see some amazing things, there is so much more to see. I really did enjoy myself and I do plan on going back. It seems strange to not see the group every day. For two weeks they became my family, not just the students from TAMUK, but from the Bush School as well.

I was afraid that I might have picked up some driving habits while in India, even today as I was driving home I thought this two lane street could easily hold four. While I really enjoy our traffic laws and the fact that everyone follows them, well at least for the most part, I do miss the chaos of the Delhi streets.

I really liked the Barista coffee shop we visited regularly in Delhi. I wish we had one here in Kingsville, but with Delhi prices! What I do not miss is the cold classrooms, I really like that we have central heat. I really enjoyed the conversations that we had with the Bush students and especially with the students and professors from JNU. It was quite stimulating to interact with such knowledgeable people.

The thing that I will probably miss the most is the hospitality of the people. Everywhere we went, the hotel, the school, the temples, literally everyone we met, all were welcoming and helpful. I think that that says a lot about a place, whatever the conditions, if the people are good then it is a good place to be.

One thing I can live without and have had no trouble getting readjusted too is the lack of noise and smog. I like my peace and quiet and my clean air.

During our coursework I have learned a lot about the economics and politics of India. The most interesting part ended up being what I thought would be the most boring, the micro-financing. I thought that this would have nothing to do with what I am interested in, but I was wrong, especially after seeing the results first hand, I think that micro financing is a good idea and can work in many situations.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip and the class; I would recommend it to many people, but not all. While I loved India, it is not for everyone, but if you are up for an adventure, it is well worth it. - KK

Throughout my life I have been very privileged to experience different cultures, whether my experiences have been through cuisine, the arts, or learning about their history. But, of all my experiences, none can compare with my adventure in India.

This winter break I was able to experience a once in a life time opportunity, a trip to India. I have wanted to experience India since I was young. My father has always been fascinated by the Indian culture and ability to maintain tradition. When the opportunity for this trip was brought to my attention I could not resist.

India was everything and more than I could have ever imagined. There were three amazing attributes that stood out in my journey: the people; the architecture and the ability to accomplish so much on such a large scale.

The attitude of the Indian people is amazing. They all seem to posses the great virtue of patience. In India, I instantly noticed that although honking seems to be a pass time sport, the drivers of these vehicles seemed reasonably calm in the middle of madness. Everyone seemed to move with such purpose yet none at all. It was very odd to notice all of the Indian oxymorons. I continue to marvel at the sheer brilliance of their architecture, both historical and new. My favorite visits include the Bangla Sahib Sikh Temple and the Lotus Temple of the Bahai faith, both in Delhi. The other awesome visits were to the massive Agra Fort, and of course, the Taj Mahal. These buildings not only had ingenious architectural designs, but the religious aspects were the highlight of these buildings. The dedication and pride the community has in these landmarks is extraordinary.

The most amazing aspect of India was that with all the chaos, the poverty, the construction and the other random events, this country functions in its own distinct way. India is not only growing in population but also economically. I will always remember my experience and adventure in India. I was able to share these memories with great friends, old and new, and I would love to go back to India to share what I have experienced with my family. I will always remember India and hope that I will be able to appreciate what I have and learn to be patient with life like the people of India, because all great things will happen in time. - AS

Though I have now been back at home and in school for over a week, I am still finding new things to tell my family and friends about my time in India. It is amazing that I learned so much about the culture and politics of India in a mere two weeks. I think I might have learned more in the two weeks we spent in New Delhi than I did on my last study abroad trip to the University of Oxford. Though the time I spent in Oxford was longer, I found the English way of life extremely similar to life here in the U.S. India, on the other hand, provided me with two full weeks of surprises, excitement and challenges. Perhaps the fundamental difference in my experiences is due to the fact that the United Kingdom, like the United States, is a wealthy developed nation while India is a vast developing country.

My two study abroad experiences have been greatly different. In the United Kingdom, I was surrounded by all the things I deemed necessary in life. Everyone seemed rather alike each other, the division between the rich and the poor not really visible. India seemed an altogether peculiar country where each person on the street seemed to be different in someway. Sometimes it was a different religion, language, or family history. At other times it was a difference in economic class. It was strange to see that right outside the homes of affluent families, the homeless gathered to rest. This trip made me realize all the things people can take for granted highly industrialized societies, such as abundant drinking water, paved roads, strict controls on pollution, bathroom facilities and uninterrupted electricity. I recognize now that these are luxuries we have grown so accustomed to that we fail to remember there are millions of people in this world who do without them.

I think there is hope for developing countries in light of the changes brought about by globalization. With the current increases in instantaneous communications, economic liberalization, and the spread of democracy, I expect more actors to be playing more important roles in the international arena. Though it may be an idealistic view, I think the trend towards greater interconnectedness will also begin to close the gap between the standards of living in first and third world countries. With the increasing growth in international trade and transnational companies, less-developed states will become more incorporated into the world system and the demand for better infrastructures and the resources to build them will be more available. Looking back on the experience I had both inside and outside the classroom in New Delhi, I think such a future is a real possibility for India. - SMA

As J.R. and I drove out of the George H. Bush Intercontinental Airport parking lot the night we got back from our 28.5-hour trip from India with a 4.5-hour drive remaining before we saw our homes, I stated, “It’s like nothing’s changed but everything is different; not because anything here is different, but because I’ve changed.”

Now, a week-and-a-half later, I ponder on what I meant by that comment.

At the time, I was looking at the wide, well-lit streets with brightly painted lines and dashes, clearly visible reflective road signs, traffic lights, and obedient drivers. The steering wheels were on the left side of the cars and we were driving on the right side of the 4-lane highway, traveling at 65 miles (105 kilometers) per hour – a speed that we never came near to approaching in India!!

I was breathing the fresh Texas air and looking up at the stars, which, in India, I had only really seen for a couple of nights after a rainstorm. The rest of the time the heavens were obscured by smog.

At the Minneapolis/Saint Paul International Airport, after going through immigrations and customs, I had enjoyed a real hamburger, made of real beef (not mutton or some vegetarian substitute), with real, crispy bacon, fresh, juicy tomatoes and lettuce, ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise – absolutely no curry, insane hot sauce, or other stomach-balance-defying spiciness! I’d asked for water as my beverage – TAP water!!

So I suppose the first change wrought in me by my trip to and experiences in India was a renewed, perhaps intensified appreciation for my US comforts. I’ve traveled to Central America and Europe before, experiencing the same type of sensations upon my return each time, but it was more poignant this time – either because the contrast between my life here and my observations of life in India was more marked or maybe just because this is my most recent international travel experience and therefore it is the most fresh in my mind.

But I’ve changed in other ways, too. My ideas about the world have been challenged as I’ve learned about the largest democracy in existence with one of the fastest growing economies today and the difficulties of governing and providing for 1.1 billion people.

I feel that nothing could have adequately prepared me for my trip to India. Dr. Goswami tried to do so by describing it to us and telling us about the history, politics, and economics and having us read and watch videos and movies about India before our trip. But I think the most valuable advice he gave us was to be prepared for anything and everything. He said to take everything we’d heard, read, and imagined about India and believe it to be true. And then he told us to take the exact opposite and believe that to be true, too. He told us to be ready to see the good, the bad, the ugly, the better, the worst, and the uglier. And he told us to be ready to have fun and enjoy ourselves. It’s like he was a prophet – it all came true!

All in all, as I write this and as I think about my half-hour conversation with a reporter for the Corpus Christi Caller Times earlier today, I realize that I am still overwhelmed by my experience in India. I don’t know how to describe it, really.

I was extremely impressed with and enriched by the lectures we were granted by Jawaharlal Nehru University faculty and other military, civic, and political leaders of India. Conversing with the JNU students was a real treat and I look forward to greeting some of them via email sometime soon. I thoroughly enjoyed our visits to many places of worship, ancient historical sites, farms, and modern progressive environmental and charitable institutions. Shopping and dining were always adventures.

I hope I can sort through all my notes and make enough sense of them to develop a useful topic for further investigation, analysis, and application. Actually, I must – I have to write a paper about my India adventure! I came into this course expecting to find parallels between India’s political and economic relationship with the United States and the same relationship between the US and El Salvador. Now, I think this approach may not be as helpful as would be exploring the potential expansion of the political and economic relationship between El Salvador and India. Perhaps in this way, I can best help the country of my birth…

I have been changed by Dr. Goswami’s (TAMU-Kingsville) and Dr. Gawande’s (TAMU-College Station) unbounded enthusiasm and humor, Herculean efforts, expert guidance, and genuine care, Dr. Mumpower’s (TAMU-College Station) and Dr. Dorch’s (TAMU-College Station) delightful company and excellent insights, and even Dr. Hartwig’s (TAMU-Kingsville) friendship and the enlightening lecture he offered on his proposed reforms for the United Nations Security Council. I feel blessed to know them and learn from them, and I feel immensely grateful to them.

And I would be remiss to neglect mentioning the buoying camaraderie developed during my two-and-a-half weeks bunking with J.R. and the thrill it was to befriend and work with Sarah, Ashley, and Katharine, as well as all the Bush School students. I am a better person because of them and I feel motivated to be a better student. - HB

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