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India Journal - June 4

By Meredith Jagger
Edited by Jason Arthur

Project Manager's note: About a month ago, Dr. Elizabeth Gailey sent an e-mail to our next gen website. In short, she was asking for help. She said she would be taking a group of students from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga to Southern India. She thought it would be great to have the students literally record their trip by creating radio "diaries." She said she had no radio experience and didn't even know what kind of equipment to buy. E-mails such as these are the stuff we live for, so I had one of our next gen technical advisers make some suggestions. In return, I asked Dr. Gailey to pick a student who could send back dispatches as her students embarked upon and then experienced traveling in Southern India (just like Michelle Betz, instructor at the University of Central Florida and Emily Schmall, a student at Bard College, did when they spent time, respectively, in Rwanda and Guatemala).
Below is the first dispatch as the group leaves for India on June 4.

During the symphony intermission I went outside to check my messages; I had one. It said, in brief, that I had been accepted to go on the trip to India. While I only vaguely remember the rest of the concert, Mahler's 9th, it was suddenly surreal to be sitting in a restored Beaux Arts theater listening to a professional ensemble play some of Western civilizations' greatest music while my mind wandered to a place of dust and spices that I had only read about in books and seen in movies.

I am a twenty-year-old senior creative writing major at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I have been selected, along with a11 of my peers, to participate in the seminal run of a summer course aptly titled, "UTC Journeys to Sacred India." The goal of this program is to allow students to experience a part of the world that is often overlooked. The project is the brainchild of Dr. William Harman, head of the UTC department of Philosophy and Religion, who specializes in south Indian religion, culture and language (Tamil). Along with Dr. Elizabeth Gailey, Professor of Communications, and several other specialists, we 12 students will participate in a five-week adventure.

As I have been preparing for this trip, acquaintances have asked what my summer plans are. I have been asked by others and am asking myself, "Why am I doing this?" The most common reaction I've come across from others is, "Wow, India is certainly not on my travel wish list! Don't drink the water and have fun." Many people mistakenly assume that this is a type of mission trip. Being sponsored by a secular institution, it certainly is not. I am far more interested in observing and listening to others speak of their culture, rather than attempting to impress any aspect of mine on them. (So is India another version of Mahler's 9th, in that I, initially at least, see myself as a spectator?) I am also, like several of the other students going, neither a religious studies nor a communications major.

I am merely a volunteer who signed up for an experiment. I applied for the program on a "serious whim," knowing the selection process would be competitive. Two factors seemed to prompt me to first apply for and then accept the opportunity to go on this trip: curiosity and thrift (since the program wouldn't cost me much more than the price of the airline ticket). I wasn't initially as concerned with the final destination, as much as with the process. My only agenda was, and is, to experience first hand something foreign and to learn as much as possible, while remaining safe and having a great time. And I know that India is not a place I would have ended up traveling to by myself -- France or Japan, maybe, but I wasn't very likely to venture into the vast Eurasian continent that lies between the two.

During May, I have been preparing myself for this rash adventure, knowing that there is only so much I can do. I have been vaccinated against and gotten medicine for a variety of medical dangers. I have stocked up on toilet paper and intellectually prepared myself to deal with some of the million plus people in India who apparently don't use or sell it. And, I have been reading up on aspects of the culture that interest me academically, in preparation for course related research that I will be conducting while there.

All of this preparation is for an experience that I know will teach me many things, from being able to survive without a toothbrush, campsuds and a change of clothes when necessary, to hopefully beginning to understand the humanity of a people who seem so different from me.

I am almost numb with excitement. I will board a plane in less than 24 hours. I can no longer stress about packing, nor can I begin to miss the people I haven't yet left. This trip is intimidating for so many reasons, which I hope will make it more exciting in the end.

At the end of this first of six or seven weekly entries, I would like to thank those who have made this trip possible, from logistical, bureaucratic and financial standpoints. I want to also thank my parents for being enthusiastic despite their concerns for my safety and their small doubts. Last summer it was Slovenia and Croatia, this year India, next year…the moon? (They say, "As long as she sends postcards, she must be fine.")

Meredith Jagger is a senior at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and will be sending us updates through out the summer.