Pune Program Featured

Read about the Pune program featured in The Core and The University of Chicago magazine.

Cultural Survival

Story and photo by Elizabeth Station (featured in The Core: College Magazine of The University of Chicago)

If you can eat a delicate masala dosa with your right hand and the steaming-hot potato filling doesn’t land in your lap, you’re golden. Over lunch with three students in the College’s South Asian Civilization program last fall, the Core got schooled about cultural difference in Pune, India.

Crossing to safety. “A street in India doesn’t look anything like a street in the US,” says Heather Lyon, ’14. “There are traffic lights, but you often have to cross where there isn’t one. … So you wait for a gap, and step out. The traffic kind of flows around you, but it’s a very jarring experience because it feels like everyone is going to hit you.” Her advice: “Follow locals when they cross the street. Make eye contact with drivers. Don’t risk anything. If need be, stand in the middle of the street for a while. That’s OK.”

Barefoot is best. Anna Karadzhova, ’13, likes the local custom of removing shoes before class, “or sometimes when you walk into a store or go into a place of worship. You feel very connected. It’s more familiar.”

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Follow the music

Story by Elizabeth Station (featured in The University of Chicago Magazine). Photo courtesy of Kaley Mason, as printed in The University of Chicago Magazine.

A daily ritual reminds undergraduates in the Civilization Abroad program that they are in India, not Chicago: before class, they slip off their shoes and leave them outside the seminar-room door. It’s November, but warm sun filters through gauzy orange curtains, and air-conditioning cools the floor beneath their feet.

Cheerful in a red tunic, Kaley Mason, an assistant professor of ethnomusicology, unloads books, a laptop, and a projector from his messenger bag. He has traveled from Chicago to the western city of Pune to teach Art Worlds: Sound, Images, Text—one of three required courses in the quarter-long South Asian Civilization program. Today’s class focuses on how India’s disparate regions became a nation, a historical process that Mason wants students to understand through the arts. “Let’s start with a musical example,” he says, playing an audio file of a man singing ardently in Bengali. “Does anyone know that song?”

A woman responds, “It’s the Indian national anthem.” Exactly, says Mason: it’s the first recorded version, made in 1911 by composer and poet Rabindranath Tagore nearly 40 years before India won independence.

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