Students aim to challenge stereotypes on Indian Study Tour

14 January 2013

It's traditionally the time of year when Australia and India are locked in fierce competition at the stumps. But two University of Sydney students hope to broaden the two nations' partnership beyond a cricketing one as they embark on a comprehensive study tour of India.

Bachelor of Arts student, Nicola Bodill, and Bachelor of Science and Arts student, Myles Curtis, were selected from over 180 applicants nationwide to join the Australia India Institute's highly coveted Australia India Student Experience Study Tour. Only one other University student from New South Wales was successful in securing a place on the trip, with the selection process requiring candidates to write two essays on Australia and India's bilateral relations.

The pair will join a contingent of 20 Australian university students as they gain a more complete snapshot of modern Indian life on the ten-day Tour, which begins on 17 January 2013.

With funding from the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, the Tour includes visits to key cultural and historical sites in Delhi, Mumbai, and Jaipur, with many led by local Indian students.

Tour member Nicola Bodill, who is undertaking a Sanskrit major in the Department of Indian Sub-Continental Studies at the University of Sydney, is excited by the prospect of portraying a more realistic picture of Australians from the "skewed perspective" that cricket represents to Indians.

"Cricket is what really gives Australia an international profile in India, so we really want to expand the cultural understanding from such a narrow worldview," she says.

"It's also probably one of the whitest demographics in Australia, so Indians don't quite understand the level of cultural diversity already in our country. Seeing us as more of a diverse nation can also make us seem a bit more 'India-friendly', and enhance our relationship with each other."

Over the course of the tour, Bodill and Curtis will interact in forums with young Indian students at HR College Mumbai, the University of Delhi, and Jindal Global University on topics as diverse as uranium exchange, heritage tours, poverty, inequality, development, and the Indian business environment.

Travelling from the Dharavi slum outside of Mumbai - one of the world's largest with an estimated 1 million people - to the Jaipur Literature Festival, the Tour will also shed light on the complexity of India's rise as one of the world's fasted growing economies.

Director of the Australia India Institute, Professor Amitabh Mattoo, says the Australia India Student Experience is unique in presenting students with "cultural and educational exposure to the world's largest and most multicultural democracy".

"With globalisation shrinking boundaries, Australian undergraduates will learn what it means to be a global citizenin the 21st century through this stimulating tour of India."

Bodill says she is particularly looking forward to learning the origins and context of the Sanskrit language as a way to challenge misconceptions that all Westerners are unconcerned with Indian culture.

"People in the West are generally unaware of how rich Indian literature and culture is. For instance, the Mahabharata, India's greatest epic poem, is almost 2500 years old and about 1.8 million words long.

"And that's why I've been doing something like Sanskrit and studying an Indian subject in Australia; so I can forge ties with Indians overseas by showing that Western people too have a fascination with their culture as well as having Indians interested in our own."

While Bodill admits she's a little daunted by the culture shocks ahead, including the perilous necessity of crossing the road, she remains optimistic that her first visit to a developing nation will be a positive one.

"I've heard stories of people hiring rickshaws to cross from one side to the other!" she says.

"It can be a challenging and confronting experience to immerse yourself in a different culture but I'd say it's one that's very worthwhile and one which really needs to be done to enhance Australian/Indian relations."

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Contact: Emily Jones

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