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Getting comfortable overseas:

Religious studies major Anneka Shannon writes about India study abroad trip

Studying abroad is more than venturing outside of your country. It’s also stepping outside your comfort zone.

It’s trying new foods, hearing different and unfamiliar languages all around you, and embracing cultural norms that might seem a little odd at first.

Eleven other students and I were selected through an application process for the privilege of participating in the in the first study abroad session hosted by the India Studies Program in the Department of Comparative Cultural Studies.

The opportunity was made possible thanks to a few very generous donors who know the value the kind of experiential learning travel offers. Almost all of the students on the trip received scholarships from the India Studies program, as well as financial assistance from the UH Office of Learning Abroad.

Prior to departing for India, we studied online for the first week of the winter term, December 20 – 26. The online coursework included lectures, readings and films that provided background for the trip by addressing Indian history, culture and society.

We then departed for India on December 27 and returned to Houston on January 14. We visited seven cities—Mumbai, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Agra, Khajuraho, Varanasi and Delhi — in the span of two weeks and three days. That’s around 2,400 miles!

During this trip, I was reminded of how necessary and helpful humor really is when traveling abroad. In otherwise awkward moments resulting from differences in language and culture, humor becomes a pleasant way to cope with some absurd situations and communication barriers. It was also fun to find out what kind of humor translates cross-culturally; often that of the human body’s clumsiness is popular

Amongst my favorite experiences was visiting the Caves of Elephanta, a network of caves with stone sculptures inside them. The caves are on an island and they house one of the most fantastic and largest images of Ardhanarishvara, which measures almost 17 feet high. Ardhanarishvara, the Hindu androgynous God, is split down the middle as half-female and half-male. My classmates and I also saw evening prayer at the shores of the Ganges River, which happens every night. I’ve never seen a larger religious gathering in my life.

While visiting these sites and many others, we addressed modernization in India and its broad and complex political and religious history. Travel gives students the chance and tools to reexamine the world abroad and at home. Traveling to India made me see that the world is a lot bigger than I ever imagined. The entire experience was unforgettable.

- By Anneka Shannon, CLASS student majoring in religious studies
with a minor in India studies