Bienen School of Music
Majors: Music Performance/Composition, International Business, Religious Studies (Dual Degree Program)
Housing came in two forms – a dorm and a homestay. In the dorm, you’ll be set up in a double unless you specifically request otherwise. I opted for a single and found that I was able to freely practice guitar in my room; I was worried I wouldn’t have such freedom in the homestays, which is why I stuck with the dorm experience. That said, the homestay students raved about their experiences – the food, the families, and the accommodation itself. Homestay families vary in their rules, but most of them are very flexible and you as a student will still retain a great deal of independence. The homestays are also outside of campus, which means that you will be using public transit more often. Either choice is good, but I would lean towards suggesting a homestay.
My courses were used to fulfill the requirements of my major. Classes in India are quite different. The main rigor of the course lies less in the material and more in understanding the class dynamics. Expectations of professors varied wildly – some demanding attendance to all classes and others that hardly cared at all.
The highlight of my coursework was crafting an independent study with the chair of the economics department who happened to be a sitar master. I learned the elements of performance and wrote a paper outlining the religious origins of Indian classical music.
I was lucky to have met many local friends living at the university, and I spent a good deal of my free time hanging out with them – chatting over chai, going to movies, attending jam sessions, eating at the local shops. I found that the easiest way to meet people was to go out to the canteens and meet people. The Indian youth are generally very eager to meet foreigners, and it’s very easy to make friends with the locals so long as you put yourself out there. I also had the opportunity to travel all over the country with friends from the program. This proved to be one of the highlights of my experience as I felt myself absorbing a more comprehensive view of the Indian panorama. From the Ganges in Varanasi to the backwaters of Kerala, there’s a lot of ground to cover on the subcontinent.
Indian life is very slow, and the dynamics of the culture will violently seize control from the control freak. Things are unpredictable, and I developed a great deal of calm and patience. One of the difficulties in coming back is that the demands placed on us as students assume predictability and continuity – and when plans are upset, so do people become. On the one hand, I feel so much better equipped to handle changes in circumstances but simultaneously recognize that our Western culture fosters a desire for us to resort to strict rules and formulas. Renegotiating a balance and learning to manage a familiar culture with a new outlook is a task that defines my reverse culture-shock.
India feels like a different planet, and the people who live there will challenge you in ways that you wouldn’t expect. I know this is especially true for women: being in a country that has such a conspicuous inequality between the sexes becomes a disturbing reality. People will seem strange to you because their ways of talking are different, their religions are different, their outlooks on life are different. It’s through that contrast that one struggles and grows. India is also a sensory overload. It’s loud, the traffic is horrifying, the cultures are varied as the smells, and the problems are overwhelming. How does a country with 1.2 billion people educate its population? How will the people solve the gaping rift between the rich and poor? A 5-month stint in India sets the mind in motion to chew on these big problems.