I spent almost two and a half months in the state of Uttarakhand in North India during Fall 2010 directing the ‘Environment and Development in the Indian Himalayas’ study-abroad program. The program was sponsored by the South Asia Center of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington.
At the Program Director I had supervised 12 University of Washington undergraduate students during our quarter-long stay in India along with my program coordinator Mr. Keith Goyden. We started our orientation program in New Delhi, and then traveled to rural Uttarakhand to spend the rest of our time there. We were hosted by the Central Himalayan Institute for Rural Action Group (CHIRAG) – a non-profit organization that works on grassroots development projects in the Nainital district of Uttarakhand.
I taught two courses – ‘Political Economy of Development in India’ and ‘Women, Work, and Development.’ Both my courses introduced students to social theories as well as ethnographic case studies, and encouraged the students to draw direct connections between what they were reading in class and what they were learning from directly communicating with communities members and CHIRAG employees (who also came from local villages). The students were also required to participate in hand-on projects in the local villages, under the guidance of Mr. Goyden and our host NGO – CHIRAG.
Apart from our structured programs we also got involved with the local communities in various plays. Our students spent a few weekends working with local villagers in rebuilding some of the walls that had collapsed during monsoon just a month before our arrival. Most of our students also took time out of their busy schedules to interact with students in local primary schools, and teach them some English.
We ended our program with a trip to the famous Jim Corbett National Park where we spent a couple of days enjoying safari rides on jeeps and on elephants, and generally having a good time with each other. One of our students even saw a tiger!