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Visiting India, Graduate Students Consider Development’s Impact

Friday, February 5, 2016

Taking a first-hand look at the social and cultural impact of global development, 12 St. John’s graduate students joined their professor for a winter intersession in India, touring villages, attending a symposium at a local college, and visiting ancient historic sites.

The students made the trip as part of the Master of Science Degree Program in International Communication at St. John’s. They attended a two-day symposium on sustainable development at St. Xavier’s College in Goa, on India’s west coast. They spent an additional week and a half witnessing the impact of development at locations throughout the country.

The students were accompanied by Basilio Monteiro, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Mass Communication and Director of the master’s in International Communication. The program, offered through the University’s College of Professional Studies, prepares graduate students for success in companies and nonprofit organizations increasingly engaged in issues related to global sustainability.

 “Experiential learning lasts a lifetime,” said Monteiro, who grew up in Goa. The visit, he added, was a “collaborative project” between St. John’s and St. Xavier’s College. Listening to presentations by local activists and attending workshops together, the students benefited from increased “possibilities for dialogue on sustainable development.”

In addition to the symposium, St. John’s students visited local communities that grapple with increased development—including traditional villages. For example, students met with environmental advocates trying to preserve a coconut grove on Divar. Guided by author and photographer Pantaleo Fernandes, they also trekked into the Goan mountains to meet residents of Kuskem, a rural village.

“Their farms and artisanship play a crucial role in their everyday lives,” said Oscar Diaz ’19GCPS. “So we need to ask, how can they best conserve their traditions while facing a changing global society?” 

“It was an amazing experience,” said Molly Christman ’16GCPS. “People there live directly off the land—terrace farming is what they do. They showed us traditional dances and invited us into their shelters for meals. We sat on the floor and ate off of banana leaves with our hands. The food was made with ingredients they grow themselves, and it was very good.”

Students spent the rest of their trip touring India’s “Golden Triangle,” a tourist district encompassing New Delhi, Agra, and Rajasthan. They visited the Taj Mahal, participated in a “dolphin watch” in the Arabian Sea, and, while in Goa, strolled through a beach inhabited mainly by Yoga enthusiasts from the West.

Ultimately, the contrast between wealth and extreme poverty was the most interesting aspect of the trip, said Christman. “We saw it right in front of us, the very poor and the well-off, coexisting in the same areas,” she said. “It really makes you think about what life is like in so much of our world.”

Read the students’ India blogs.