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India Winterim is back for its 5th year

BY MAX FREUND | OCTOBER 20, 2010 7:20 AM

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So far, 76 UI students have signed up to save a forest, dance the Bharta Natyam, and design lesson plans — among other unique activities during their winter breaks.

The Indian Winterim program, entering its fifth year, is adding these three programs — sustainability, dance, and education, to the 11 others offered during a three-week educational trip to India.

“We are experimenting with solar cookers and solar lanterns, pushing for solar energy so they do not cut down the forests,” said UI geography Professor and program creator Raj Rajagopal, explaining the work that students will do with local villagers during the sustainability course.

UI junior Caitlin McGowan will work with mentally and physically challenged children.

“I know I am going to be thrown into a culture I do not know very much about, learning a lot very fast,” she said. “But I think it’s a good idea to jump in head first and learn hands-on.”

Rajagopal is also excited about the education course to be led by UI educational psychology Clinical Associate Professor Mitchell Kelly, who Rajagopal said is “the best teacher from the University of Iowa,” given his popularity with students.

“I would rather be effective than popular, but I guess given the choice, I would rather be popular than despised,” Kelly wrote in an e-mail. “I am going to India to learn as much as I am going to teach.”

The idea for the program came from an unfortunate visit to Rajagopal’s native country.

Rajagopal returned to India five years ago to visit his sister on her death bed.

“She scolded me for hanging around the hospital and not being productive,” he said.

So Rajagopal left the hospital and spent much of his visit helping victims of a recent tsunami, especially women who were receiving small loans to start businesses. He saw an opportunity for education.

“I learned leaps and bounds in that visit from talking to all of those people about what they do to help tsunami victims,” Rajagopal said. “So I asked if I could bring some UI students and study some of these women to see if they have made changes in their lives.”

And over the past five years, many students have felt that change.

“We take a lot of things for granted over here,” said UI senior Mallory Moller, who went on the trip last year. “Some of the things we saw — our poor here would be rich over there — it was definitely eye-opening.”

The three-semester-hour-credit trip costs students an average of $2,200, not including airfare, and covers all of the education costs, lodging, and some meals, said Janis Perkins, the director of Study Abroad. The office will continue to take applications until Nov. 1.

The program has attracted more students each year, starting with 17 in 2006 and reaching 105 last year, and officials said they are confident this year’s total will be the largest.

“It is a really good opportunity to feel like you made a difference,” Perkins said. “Students have an opportunity to learn a great deal about some of the things that are lacking in India.”

However, while the trip is meant to be enjoyable, Rajagopal stressed the students are still expected to work hard.

“We are not going totally for vacation; this is hard work,” he said. “For 14 days, you are going to work like a mad dog.”


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