Elly Reed: How India Changed her Perspective on Life

Where are you from and what is your major?

Staunton, Virginia. I am a double major in Strategic Communications and Communication Design.

Why did you decide to apply for the Winter Term course in India?

To be honest, I originally applied for the New Zealand trip with one of my friends. However, we did not get in to the program due to our underclassman status. From that point on, we looked at the other trips offered and decided to apply for the India course. Because I didn’t foresee another opportunity to go to India in the future so I wanted to take the chance and I felt like I would get more experience going to a place like India rather than going somewhere tropical like a vacation destination.

Photo Credit: Elly Reed

Can you tell me about the course that your class focused on?

We studied religion, caste, and gender. It was really interesting because our main focus was religion in India and the importance of religion in India is indescribable. It is not just something they go to once a week - it is something they bring home with them, bring to work, and they go to temple multiple times a day. The other interesting aspect of religion in India is that India is one of the most diverse countries in terms of religion. We were able to not only go to Hindu temples, but also Sikh and Jain temples, mosques, cathedrals, and synagogues. Gender, like in America and other parts of the world, is adapting and equality movements are very prevalent in India. However, it was interesting to look at gender from the perspective of an Indian. Gender roles are prioritized differently than they are in America. It is hard to describe the differences that come with women and men in these countries. This concept is called cultural relativism. Speaking of, a good book to understand this more clearly is, “Through Western Eyes” by Robert Letham. Lastly, caste is nearly impossible to explain. I remember in my Winter Term prep class being frustrated when caste was not explained as clearly as gender and religious roles in India. However, going to India and seeing caste, I realized it was unexplainable.

Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore, India

Photo Credit: Elly Reed

Was the trip to India anything like you expected it to be?

No. It was nothing like I expected it to be. I didn’t know what to expect going into it because I knew so little about India in general. I didn’t know we would need to dress in traditional clothing, but I am glad we did because as a student and a guest in their country, it is important to follow in their tradition of modest dress. Also, India was one of the most beautiful places I have ever experienced filled with the kindest people I will probably ever encounter in my lifetime. And although I was nervous going into the course, I could not be more thankful for my time in that country and will never forget the amazing people that touched my life.

Photo Credit: Elly Reed

What lessons did you learn on this trip?

It changed my perspective and made me realize what else is out there in the world other than our own culture and beliefs. I never considered how similar, yet completely different another culture could be at the same time. I went into the course with a mindset that India should have certain social movements like the U.S., including anti-caste movements, gender equality movements, and even racial equality movements. While there are some movements in India, that is not the main concern of the people at all which is fascinating to me because that is such a main element of American life. It really comes back to cultural relativism because my professors explained these social aspects of Indian life. It made me stop and think who are we to say people should prioritize what we prioritize? It made me excited to do Semester at Sea in the fall because India was such a stranger to me that I felt I was able to become familiar with. I look forward to seeing what other countries are hidden gems like India.