IHP Health and Community: Globalization, Culture, and Care (Spring 1)

India 2013 Letter Home

Dear IHP Families,

India has been a whirlwind. This country is full of diversity, beauty, and color. Most of us would agree that it is too hard to sum up our experiences in Chennai in one coherent letter, so we’ve created a series of snapshots to help you envision some of our adventures.

Food
Spices, curries, dosas, idlis - Indian people love their food. We arrived in India excited to try everything and completely immerse ourselves in the culture. In our homestay our Ammas (moms) fed us like kings and queens and made sure our bellies were always full. Though some of our stomachs couldn’t handle it, there’s no denying that Southern Indians make the best vegetarian food in the world. Rice is the staple food of Southern India and it was part of almost every meal here. We also had many different kinds of chutneys, dosas, sambars, and dahls. We will definitely be bringing back tons of recipes and a big appetite for Indian food.
- Elisa Atamian

Shopping
Shopping in Chennai was an awesome, if at times an overwhelming, experience. There was so much to choose from: saris, churidars, scarves, bangles, necklaces, earrings, and much more. Much of what we bought helped us dress more conservatively and therefore blend more comfortably into our daily lives in Chennai. The largest shopping area was T. Nagar, which offered a wide range of materials including a street where girls got Mehndi (commonly referred to as henna in the US) and which is often applied in India before a wedding. Prepared flowers were particularly popular to buy off the street for very reasonable prices. Shopping was also common during our breaks from class on the street outside of our classroom, particularly during Valentine’s Day when we all had a secret valentine for whom we bought snacks and gifts.
- Maura McGuire

Site Visits
We spent hours driving in three traveler buses all over the city. Two fascinating site visits were The Siddha Research Institute where we learned the history and practices of Siddha, and the Eco Kitchen, is run by YRG Care, an AIDS research and treatment center. The Eco Kitchen has the capacity to cook food for up to 30,000 people at any given time using steam generated from organic waste and hot water from solar panels. One of our favorite sites was Dr. Mohan’s Center for Diabetes, the first clinic in the world to completely specialize in diabetes research and care. We were given special passes to participate in a global conference that focused on physical activity in India. We surely felt like public health leaders and stakeholders. What we learned in class became a reality throughout each site visit.
- Sedra Davis

Case Studies
During our time in India, every student undertook a particular health focus as part of our Research Methods class that proved to be one of the most academically valuable experiences of the program thus far: the case study.

After being divided into groups of 4-5 according to research interest (topics include maternal and child health, non-communicable diseases, communicable diseases, mental health, food and nutrition, traditional medicine, and environmental health), we spent time during the beginning of our stay in India fleshing out our research goals and questions and developing a research plan. We also honed our research focus and decided on a specific aspect of our topic to pursue throughout our study, which will take place in each of the countries we visit throughout the duration of the program. For example, the non-communicable diseases group is studying cardiovascular disease and how local exercise practices affect this.

Many guest lecturers whose work pertains to one or more of the case study categories came in to talk to the entire group, which was a fascinating way not only to get information about our own specific research topic, but also to learn about other important health-related issues going on in India. The site visits we took were also incredibly valuable ways to catch glimpses into India’s complex and diverse healthcare system, as well as to obtain significant information pertaining to our case studies.

The most enriching aspect of the case study process in India, however, was our independent site visits to conduct both expert and community interviews about our topics. With the help of our India country coordinator, Latha, each case study group was assigned an organization in Chennai where they could meet with local experts about their topics and ask specific questions in a small-group setting; some of these organizations we had already visited, and others were new to us. Regardless, this aspect of the case study was a great method to get information about our topics and to establish a relationship with local people who are involved with it. For our study of cardiovascular disease, we visited the obesity and weight loss center at Dr. Mohan’s Diabetes Clinic, where we met both with the director of clinical research and a personal trainer. It was very interesting to be able to interact with these people in a small-group setting where we could ask tailored questions pertaining to our research and engage in a conversation about our topic instead of having a structured lecture. Additionally, these interviews provided a valuable opportunity to independently navigate Chennai, and it was amazing to see how our research questions came to life through our independent interviews.

All of our work culminated in a half-hour report, which each group presented to the entire class on our last day of classes in Chennai. Overall, case studies were an invaluable experience in India, and we all look forward to pursuing our topics more in depth as our journey around the world continues.
- Daniel Underberg

Pondicherry
Our IHP family took a weekend trip away from the hustle and bustle of Chennai to visit the French settled area called Pondicherry. After a five-hour bus ride through rural villages and farms, and after a quick visit to the Auroville Ashram, we made it to Pondicherry and were free to enjoy the weekend. Pondicherry brought with it the European influence that we had all been craving. We saw large groups of American and European tourists for the first time in a long time. Most of us visited the Puducherry market near the beach that sold every Indian good you could imagine. The following day we took a small motorboat to a secluded beach to get our fix of Indian sun and vitamin D.  Feeling relaxed and refreshed, we headed back to our Ammas and Appas for our last week in Chennai.
- Holly Clarke

Trichy
Our IHP family spent a long weekend in Trichy, a smaller city located south of Chennai. We traveled there by overnight train and spent our days wandering the city, visiting temples, and meeting local village workers. Most notably, we had the amazing opportunity to meet and greet with other college students in Trichy. They opened our hearts and our minds to their fascinating culture in ways we otherwise would not have envisioned, and those instant connections have helped shape our impressions of India. A number of us also woke up early one morning to watch the sunrise over Trichy from the Rock Fort Temple, not only causing us to see a beautiful view, but also helping us to experience the spirituality that encompasses and defines India. We ended our visit with a group talent show, further proving our little family as gifted and accomplished.
 - Malu Malhotra

Homestay
The homestay experience has been the most impactful part of our stay here in Chennai. Being warmly welcomed into the home of our host families allowed for our complete immersion into Southern Indian culture. Living with them not only gave us the opportunity to learn about the typical daily practices in the home of locals, but also gained exposure to their perspectives on the current government, health, and traditions of India. Now that it is our time to depart not only are we taking the knowledge and experience that we’ve gained, but we are also leaving with brand new families.
- Reggie Warren

Vacation
After spending four weeks in Chennai, thirty-three IHP students went off for vacation throughout various regions in India. One week was not enough for many of us to fully explore this incredibly diverse country. Some of us ventured off to the Himalayas, some explored both the North and the South – taking in the majestic view of the Taj Mahal as well as the natural, breathtaking landscape of Munnar’s tea plantations. Vacation was a time for many of us to finish our exploration and discovery of all things old and new in India as well as a winding down for our next leg of the journey in Argentina!
- Veronica Lai

India has opened our minds and our hearts. We’ve been tested, challenged, and questioned, but we’ve also found significant comfort, triumph, and joy. As we move on to Argentina, we will carry what we’ve learned from this beautiful place with us. We’ll miss the madness, the hustle and bustle of this city, and most of all the beautiful people. We move on with a greater sense of family, vibrancy, awareness, and confidence. Here’s to new adventures; India, we will miss you.

With love and solidarity,
IHP Health and Community Track 1, Spring 2013

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Credits: 16

Duration: Spring, 16 weeks

Program Sites:
United States, India, South Africa, Brazil

Prerequisites: None. Coursework in public health, anthropology, biology, or related field recommended.

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