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CCAC Honors students experience transformative learning and adventure on study tour in India

CCAC Honors Students at Taj MahalPITTSBURGH—A group of 12 CCAC Honors students embarked on the adventure of a lifetime when they journeyed to India earlier this month for an 11-day international study tour. It was the third time the CCAC Honors program has traveled to India; the first trip took place in January 2016.

To prepare for the experience, the students took three Honors courses: a political science course comparing the politics and cultures of the U.S. and India, a service-learning course focused on community service projects for two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in India, and an art appreciation course conducted during the trip. Accompanied by four Honors faculty members, the students visited many cultural and historical sites in the “Golden Triangle” cities of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra in the northwest part of India. In Agra, they visited the exquisite Taj Mahal, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

“The students were really excited and were in awe at the vastness and beauty of the monument,” said Srujana Kanjula, CCAC professor of Political Science and Sociology at North Campus, who organized the trip and served as translator. She described the study tour as “transformative,” in part because the students saw so many people living in poverty who are still happy and living in harmony with one another. Another impressive cultural and historical site they visited was Amber Fort, where the travelers rode on elephants to reach the massive hilltop palace.

As exciting as the sightseeing was, the highlight for many of the students was visiting the NGOs where they performed community service. In Delhi, they visited Swami Sivananda Memorial Institute (SSMI), which is devoted to empowering poor women and children to break the cycle of poverty. The students spent an entire day helping at the NGO, which provides hot food to about 20,000 impoverished children every day. While there, they visited a roadside eye clinic that provides free services to the poor where the students interacted with the health coordinator and members of the community.

The group also visited the world headquarters of Jaipur Foot, an NGO that has rehabilitated more than 1.78 million disabled individuals. There, they saw how artificial limbs are made and provided at no cost, thereby enabling amputees to walk again. In addition, at Gurudwara, a Sikh temple that feeds thousands of disadvantaged people daily, the students volunteered in the community kitchen.

In the reflective essays they wrote upon returning to the United States, all of the students expressed a new appreciation for everything they have as well as a greater understanding and empathy for people of other cultures and socioeconomic status.

“The vast differences between the United States and India left me in culture shock almost the entire time we were there,” wrote Melanie Kostopolos. “The experiences I gained in India have left me deeply humbled, and I am forever changed.”

“The Honors India 2020 trip will be with me for the rest of my life,” wrote Alasia McCoy. “It has taught me how to approach cultural differences and how to appreciate other cultures even more fully. It has given me a key to unlocking the past and a hunger for life and opened up worlds I never knew existed! I could never repay CCAC or the Honors Program for sending us to India.”

To learn more about CCAC’s Honors program, visit ccac.edu/honors.

Photo: CCAC Honors students and faculty members pause for a photo in front of the Taj Mahal while on a study tour of India.