Saturday, October 21, 2017

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SDSU students with the Dalai Lama. SDSU students with the Dalai Lama.
 


Chance Of A Lifetime

This summer, SDSU students met the Dalai Lama as part of a faculty-led study abroad program in India.
By Mallory Black
 

Forty San Diego State University students have returned home after traveling across Northern India to meet His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama during a three-week study abroad program organized with SDSU Women’s Studies Department.

Huma Ahmed-Ghosh, department chair of women’s studies, led the group from June 18 to July 8, as part of the course, “Explore Gender and Sustainability,” which was created through the Faculty-Led Study Abroad Office

“Topics of gender and sustainability are important because issues of sustainability can impact women more than men,” Ahmed-Ghosh said. “In India, men tend to out-migrate from rural areas in search of jobs and women are left behind to take care of children and older family members. Women then become responsible for providing for the family.”

Under these circumstances, preservation of natural resources is the only sustenance rural families have, she added.

Students on the trip represented a variety of majors including nursing, women’s studies and social work. The Office of International Programs, the Office of Educational Opportunity Programs and Associated Students offered scholarships to many of the students to help subsidize their study abroad experience.

Traveling by bus and overnight trains, the group explored remote Indian villages in five states and cities, including New Delhi, Dharamsala, Agra and Jaipur. They visited non-governmental organizations such as Jagori Grameen, Barefoot College, and Naz India, which work on women’s health, sexuality and sustainability issues as well as HIV/AIDS in the region.

These experiences, Ahmed-Ghosh said, helped shatter some of the stereotypes students had about developing countries and women in different cultures.

“These organizations expose them to women who are empowered and who are empowering others,” Ahmed-Ghosh said. “Students don’t really see that level of feminism and activism here in the U.S., so it comes as a surprise to them as well as being a learning experience.”

A whirlwind trip

At the beginning of the trip, in the small town of McLeod Ganj north of Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama met with SDSU students, along with an intimate audience of about 100 people.

During the four-and-a-half hour dialogue, students had the opportunity to ask His Holiness questions in an informal question and answer session. Natasha Herrera, a senior majoring in social work at SDSU, raised her hand.

Her question? She wanted to know how to better deal with some of the problematic issues she sees in her field, like abuse, poverty and sadness.

“It was such a magnificent experience,” Herrera said. “He told me, ‘All of the sad things you will see is what will help keep you going. The fact that you are helping will make you want to help people even more.’”

Dayna Zarate, a public health major, said the Dalai Lama’s message of compassion seemed to resonate with every student on the trip.

“What he said made me realize I have this knowledge in me, and it reassured me I’m able to do things on my own,” Zarate said. “The trip definitely strengthened all of us and brought out parts of us that we didn’t know we had.”

Exploring the region

The itinerary also included trips to temples, mosques and religious institutions, as well as shopping for handicrafts in local markets and an overnight camping trip in the Himalayan Mountains.

In the end, Ahmed-Ghosh said that all students returned to the U.S. with a greater appreciation and understanding of the diversity of people and cultures — a major part of the transformative experience of studying abroad.

Despite the preparation, nothing could completely prepare the students for what they’d see and experience in India.

“I thought I was prepared to see all the poverty in India,” said senior Matt Reyes, a physical therapy major, “but it’s different, what you think is going to happen and what actually happens when you’re there.”