Six WUSTL undergraduate students spent the past summer in the village of Andhra Pradesh, India, teaching English to high school students and conducting research projects.
The trip, led by Glenn Stone, Ph.D., professor of anthropology and of environmental studies, both in Arts & Sciences, was the first for a WUSTL group. Stone has spent years in the region, studying biotechnology and the practices of cotton farmers there. But the recent addition of a new school in Andhra Pradesh prompted him to consider sharing his experience with a larger group of students.
“It was an amazing trip,” Stone said. “The students had a wonderful time. They were able to increase the native students’ understanding of the English language, as well as advance their own research by doing projects with the students. They learned a lot about India and about village life in a developing area.”
Eight students, including a recent WUSTL graduate and Stone’s son, a high- school junior, spent six weeks in the town of 2,000 people, living in the school in which they taught.
The Indian school system is slightly different from the United States’. Students attend junior school through 10th grade and then a junior college for the 11th and 12th grades. The WUSTL students were teaching at the new junior college, which had just opened when the students arrived.
Junior Bobbie Bigby described the experience as “life-changing.”
“The focus of my study involved investigating some of the more subtle ways that the caste hierarchy affects decision making and controls interactions among cotton farmers from a wide array of different caste and tribal backgrounds,” she said. “My research illustrated to me not only the immense impact that caste has on limiting social relations between people in this specific rural village, but it further taught me to question my own Western-biased understandings of ‘knowledge’ by attempting to use indigenous conceptions of ‘knowledge’ as the lens for my study.”
She also taught English to a group of 13 students through an American culture studies course she designed with the intent of having students think critically about American and Indian culture.
Members of the WUSTL team worked with Indian students on a variety of projects, including video blogging, environmental studies and creative writing. Senior Sathavaram Venudhar Reddy, who is of Indian descent, taught a course on the Indian diaspora, teaching students about what life is like for expatriate Indians.
Stone said the summer was a complete success.
“I’m quite happy with the way it turned out,” he said. “I’m planning another trip for next summer, and I’m hoping we can raise enough money to provide scholarships to WUSTL students to help make this a permanent study-abroad destination.”