Global classroom goes local

It’s one thing to study about countries like India from a classroom thousands of kilometers away and it’s another thing entirely to experience their cultures firsthand. That’s why, every year, thousands of American students participate in hands-on study abroad programmes organised by the School for International Training (SIT).
Experiential education
Established in 1964, the international organisation is located in Brattleboro, Vermont, and has a branch campus in Washington, D.C. It offers field-based academic study abroad programmes to undergraduates and accredited master’s degree and certificate programmes to graduates and professionals. SIT students come from across the globe, and include recent college graduates as well as experienced and mid-career professionals who want to sharpen their skills.
The institute’s close to 80 study abroad initiatives for undergraduate students in more than 30 countries include specially-themed programmes focused on India. Each of these is crafted to provide students with unique perspectives on issues ranging from public health to sustainable development.
The School for International Training describes its programmes as “experiential education,” wherein students spend considerable time interacting with local experts, leaders and institutions related to the themes of their programmes, like those on natural resources and refugee issues.“SIT programmes are known for their support of independent field study,” says Brian Hammer, academic dean for Asia and the Pacific at SIT Study Abroad. “One of the key outcomes of participating in our programmes is in-depth knowledge of a topic of interest to each individual student.”
Such personalised areas of focus are always related to the larger themes of each study abroad programme, but the specific topic of study is chosen by the students. They complete their semesters overseas by going deep into their chosen topics via a final, four-week Independent Study Project which, Hammer says, strengthens their connections with the people and places of their host countries.
Student stories
Denise DeFelice is a Philadelphia native in her third year at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is studying health and societies with a concentration in public health. She learned about the School for International Training’s India programmes from her classmates in her major and decided to stay in New Delhi to study Public Health, Gender, and Community Action.
“I was excited to learn about public health in a global context, instead of from my classroom in the United States,” she says.
DeFelice was drawn to India primarily because of the country’s diversity. “I was looking forward to learning a new language, wearing different clothes and adapting to cultural norms that are so different from my own,” she says. “I also wanted to learn about a culture that has been around for much longer than any other I’ve been exposed to.”
“Living in Delhi, specifically, has changed the way I interact with people,” DeFelice continues. “I am more bold, more open and more patient than I’ve ever been.”
Elizabeth Curtis grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, and graduated from Williams College in 2017. She travelled to India in 2015 as part of a School for International Training programme in New Delhi, called Public Health, Policy Advocacy, and Community. She currently lives here as a recipient of the Fulbright-Nehru Student Research Fellowship.
Before travelling to India, Curtis had long known that she wanted to study abroad. When it was time to choose a programme, she felt that the School for International Training was a perfect fit. “With an emphasis on excursions, workshops with NGOs, meetings with local experts and community members, and a final one-month Independent Study Project for students to do fieldwork on the subjects they’re most passionate about, SIT was the programme that got me excited,” she says.
For her final Independent Study Project, Curtis researched community-based reproductive health programmes in rural Uttar Pradesh, focusing her efforts on government workers and institutions. She continues that work through her Fulbright fellowship.
Like all SIT Study Abroad participants, Curtis lived with host families while abroad. It’s an experience, Hammer says, that can have positive and significant long-term impacts on all study abroad students. Curtis stayed with two families during her semester in India, and describes her experience in glowing terms, recalling how she used to stay up late at night with her host siblings, asking questions and telling stories.
“These are people I still love and spend time with today. Also, they were my most direct form of cross-cultural learning,” she says.
“We made deep relationships and bonds that could literally never have happened had I not studied abroad here.”
After completing her fellowship, Curtis aspires to attend a nursing school and work as a midwife, beginning a career to promote sexual and reproductive health. “Studying in India has greatly impacted my understanding of what government programmes and policies could look like for community and reproductive health, as well as challenges they can face,” she says.
Road ahead
As students like Curtis and DeFelice continue to be drawn to India and be inspired by their experiences here, Hammer only sees the SIT Study Abroad programmes expanding. “India is a fascinating, dynamic and historically influential part of the world, and it will continue to grow in importance in global matters,” he says. “Many students see India as a deeply relevant place in which to develop new knowledge and deeper understanding of not only the country itself, but the future of global relations.”
The School for International Training is proud of its long history of Indian study abroad programmes, Hammer continues, “and we look forward to developing new educational opportunities for our students in the years to come.”
(SPAN/TWF)