For Parents and Families
This is Dr. Pennington, the Maryville College co-instructor for the course. (Students have been forbidden to call me Dr. anything once we leave the country, but for formality’s sake I’ll introduce myself that way here.) I am very happy to have my wife, Dr. Amy Allocco, one of the most respected young scholars in her field and Elon University’s Excellence in Teaching Award recipient last year, as my co-instructor on this course. Together, we are very privileged to be taking your son, daughter, or loved one with us to India beginning tomorrow. In this short post I want to address two things: potential concerns you might have and the reasons I think you can feel lucky, as I do, that the individuals on this course have the opportunities we will have for the month of January.
There are many legitimate reasons family members might feel concerned. International travel by its very nature is daunting. These students will be confronting the unknown, both in another culture and in themselves, as they face circumstances that will challenge them in new ways for the first time. They will see poverty and inequality up close and in the lives of real people they will come to know. Some of them will get sick; most will feel homesickness, and all will at times be fatigued, weary of the company of their colleagues and us, and eager for something, anything familiar. In class I sometimes tell the story of my first-ever 24 hours in India when I was a student in 1993 to illustrate how jarring culture shock can be. I was traveling alone and had to journey 500 kilometers or so from the Delhi airport to my eventual destination in the lower Himalayas. From getting dumped at a bus-station at 3 AM where I was the laughingstock of a small crowd who sensed my confusion to misreading the offers of help by hospitable young men, I struggled to assimilate the very unfamiliar world I was encountering and had many moments of believing I had made a very, very bad decision.
After three months of language study while living in the home of a family and a month of independent travel on a severely restrictive student budget, I found my way to the city of Agra on my way to Delhi and my flight home. After a scheduled 8-hour bus ride that became a 20-hour odyssey, I crept up, dirty, exhausted, and very ready for a return to some of the comforts my first-world life had always provided me, to the check-in desk of a five-star hotel to spend the last of my remaining money. When I came out of the hot shower, my first in nearly four months, and switched on the hotel’s cable box, MTV appeared playing the video for the Talking Heads’ song, “Once in a Lifetime.” The sudden and unexpected familiarity of this artifact from my own culture was overwhelming, and I felt a huge wave of relief and then, after a moment, gratitude that I, a first-generation college student and son of a working-class family, had been given the chance to confront my own fears about the unknown, to explore a land I had dreamed about, and to make so many new friendships among people whose lives were very different from my own.
Students on this trip will have a much softer landing and a gentler introduction to India than I did, but our course is designed to expose them to real Indian lives and spaces. This is not tourism, but intensive and in-depth cross-cultural education. We are confident these students will have their own moments of real discovery—of themselves, of the world outside their experience, and of their own culture and society—that they might never have had without an opportunity like this one. It is because Elon University and Maryville College believe so strongly in the importance of international study and have many decades of experience working with students abroad that they design courses like this one.
A few final assurances: you have helped one of these young people get to this point, and I can assure you that the sacrifices, cost, and uncertainty will have been very well worth it. Secondly, your child’s safety and well-being will be our first priority over the next three-and-a-half weeks. And finally, we offer our best wishes for the New Year and promise your son or daughter will not forget the first month of 2013.