Incredible India. This is both a statement and an explanation for all things that one might encounter while visiting the beautiful state of Kerala, India. Kerala is full of life, simplicity, contradictions, complexity, and yet somehow, it all works. It all makes sense.
India is a wholly new experience for most westerners. Going to Europe is like visiting a cousin while going to India is like visiting a stranger. Exploration of unfamiliar experiences begins with the first day on the road while driving on the opposite side of the road during heavy traffic. It can be a scary experience on that first day. I say to my students, “Relax; our drivers know what they are doing.” As the days pass, they learn that there is an order to all the disordered driving. The lines on the road are for fun because no one keeps the line and automobile horns, a never-ending symphony. When the vehicles come too close to each other, I remind them there is a space only Indian drivers can see. They all giggle.
The smell of spices, women in sarees, men in dhoti, crowded pathways, animals, and humans are crossing the highways, spicy food. All these experiences are unfamiliar. At the end of the day, this incredible India invites you to create poems, engage questions, open hearts wide, and be at peace.
The goal of the Bellarmine India trip is to encounter new religions and cultures not usually encountered in America. Trip participants have ten days to explore Hindu, Islam, and Eastern Christian religions, health, education, culture, beauty (Kerala is lovely), and shopping. In the past ten years, friars have taken more than two hundred students and staff to India for life-changing experiences. Dr. Susan Donovan, President of Bellarmine University, wrote to Fr. John Pozhathuparambil, “I am impressed with the program you provide to our students and partnerships that you have made.”
Bellarmine was impressed enough for the annual trip to become part of it’s IDC 400 level course, which Fr. John teaches, making the class a truly unique and immersive experience.
Each day in India is a new day exploring the unknown, the experiences life-transforming. For some, this transformation happens from sharing cultures and shared experiences that transcend culture while finding new friends at Union Christian College. For others, this occurs when experiencing Assisi Snehalaya, a home for those with AIDS, or while visiting Indian churches, mosques, and temples.
Each evening the group gathers to evaluate the day, with each student taking turns to discuss the day’s events. The sharing time makes me proud, witnessing what the students learn from the trip and how it changes their lives and views. People ask me, “What is the best part of the trip for you?” I say this is it. When lives and opinions change because of the India trip, that is the moment for me.
At the end of the trip, it is difficult to leave. One student writes, “I’m finally home, but I’ve left a piece of my heart in India. Thank you, Friar John, for this amazing opportunity and for all the kindness that you’ve shown me over the past 12 days. I’ve walked away from this experience with an understanding of a different culture, a newfound sense of who I am, and a beautiful
group of friends.”
In March, Fr. John and the friars will host a reunion of people who have participated in the India trip. It will be a beautiful occasion for former India trip participants to meet and share experiences, wear Indian clothing, enjoy Indian music, dance, and taste delicious Indian food. As always, this is open to everyone; all are welcome!