“The [Study in India Program] was a wonderful experience, to say the least! The friendships, the people, the places we visited, the culture, and the memories are something I will remember for the rest of my life!” – Student Testimonial (courtesy of OIN)
Written by: Jennifer Maybank
Photos: Professor Sukeshi Kamra
Since stepping into the role of Academic Director for the Ontario-India Program (OIN) last year, Carleton University professor and associate dean Sukeshi Kamra has worked to expand the scope and reach of the program.
OIN has traditionally featured partnerships with universities in both Maharashtra and Goa states. The program now includes 13 Indian universities with a recent expansion to Pondicherry and the National Capital Region (New Delhi).
Many of these changes have been inspired by feedback from students. As an example, Kamra notes that studying in Pondicherry, a former French colony, was suggested as a valuable experience for Ontarians interested in exploring the history and impact of French colonialism in another part of the world.
OIN offers four distinct programs including academic exchange, short term research, the Study India Program (summer), and a new addition: the Internship in India Program (IIP).
“We know that these days students in most disciplines need some experiential learning and traditional exchanges, as wonderful as that format is, do not always allow for this,” says Kamra.
Kamra has established internship opportunities with NGOs in Delhi and Mumbai focused on social change, social justice, and gender issues. While some organizations lean more toward legal advocacy, others focus on policy and public education efforts.
Kamra hopes that as the program grows, students will consider doing an academic exchange followed by an internship. This is a strategy some students have already taken advantage of, combining OIN programs to fit their interests and goals.
“You do not want to go to India, in my opinion, for just two months. By the time you immerse yourself, you’re ready to come back,” says Kamra.
As one of the oldest continuously inhabited regions on the planet, with over 20 officially recognized languages, and a multiplicity of religions and everyday practices, India offers a unique study abroad experience for students.
While Indian institutions offer the familiarity of English-language instruction and a similar university culture, “other than that it is entirely different. It does appeal to people who want a totally different cultural experience,” Kamra says.
“Imagine how many millennia of history [India has] and layers of occupation. It’s such a mixed society for that reason and it is a very complex place. In the comments students have written [about their experiences], that’s what they seem to find so amazing.”
Students aren’t navigating these complexities alone.
Participants quickly build friendships and support systems among their peers from both India and Ontario.
“They love the people [in India], love how engaging they are. You get many comments about how wonderful and warm the people are.”
As part of the Ontario Universities International (OUI) program, OIN students first meet at the provincial-wide Orientation in Toronto each spring and maintain contact through Facebook, often arranging meet-ups, trips, and housing together while abroad.
“Orientation is key,” Kamra says. “Students bonded with each other so much, and, of course, I bonded with them too.”
Kamra supports students by advising them on the partner school that is the best fit for their interests, providing information to help them adjust to life in India, and even visiting students while they are abroad.
However, the biggest piece of advice Professor Kamra gives to students considering studying in India is to “leave your preconceptions behind.”
“India is all about perspectives…Exploring new ways of thinking…Problematizing rather than simplifying and finding new ways to approach issues.”
The greatest lesson students can take away from their OIN experience is to value curiosity.
“Curiosity,” Kamra says “takes you outside yourself.”
For information on Ontario Universities International Exchange Programs, visit the Exchange website.
For information on Ontario Universities International summer programs, click here.