Students experience the rich culture of India through newly launched study abroad program

By Araceli Mingura
Staff Writer

Students at Franciscan University are heavily encouraged to study abroad, most notably through the Austria program. However, this past December, a few students spent two weeks learning and traveling in Kerala, India. 

Franciscan offers the India study abroad program for its engineering students, allowing them to immerse themselves in Indian culture.  

Tiffany Broury, professor of education and senior international officer, is the connector of the administration at Franciscan and its partners abroad. 

The December program was about two weeks long, and the three participating students took a three-credit course on Intro to Machine Learning.  

The students stayed at Rajagiri College, a Catholic college in Kerala, India, owned by the Congregation of Carmelites of Mary Immaculate.  

Alyssa Whitmore, a sophomore mechanical engineering student, was one of the three students who went to India through the program. 

“It was more of a cultural experience,” explained Whitmore. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and if it wasn’t for this program I wouldn’t have considered going to India any other time.”  

“I enjoyed the small experience. It was more personal,” added Whitmore. 

During their time in India, the students were exposed to the challenging academic environment of an Indian institution. Their days were filled with study, and they had homework to complete in the evenings. 

In addition to their academic immersion, they also got to experience the rich culture of Kerala and its surrounding areas through extensive travel to various historical places. 

Derek Doroski, professor of biology and engineering at Franciscan, was the chaperone of the students who attended the trip. He was accompanied by his wife and six-month-old baby.  

Doroski said that the students were deeply immersed in Indian culture and stayed in an area in which 20% of the population were Christian. 

Tony Prebilic, senior computer information science major, said that he wanted to go on the India study abroad program because it was “a great opportunity to go with a Catholic group.” Prebilic previously went to Austria in the spring of 2023. 

During one of the multiple excursions of the India program, Prebilic was picked as a volunteer for a performance. He laid on the ground while a martial arts professional jumped across him and many other volunteers.  

As part of the cultural experience, the students and chaperones also had the chance to eat authentic Indian food.  

“It’s true – it is spicy,” Prebilic said. “I loved it. I miss it now that I’m back.”  

Food is an integral part of the Indian culture, and the students were able to see the eating habits in the country.  

The students and chaperones were shocked by the travel system in India. Prebilic and Doroski both spoke of the chaos on the roads. 

However, they also said that since the roads are not developed, traveling can be laborious, as the average speed limit for everyone is about 30 mph.  

The Mass in the area of India they were at was in the local language and in the Syro-Malabar rite, so it was very different from what the students were used to.  

Doroski said that “all of the men sat on one side of the Church, and women sat on another side.”  

The students and chaperones also went to an elephant sanctuary, where they were able to ride an elephant.  

Doroski shared that while he was in India, many men and women were fascinated by his baby and wanted to hold her. Doroski said that “men were more likely to ask to hold his baby than women were.” 

“This was a culture shock, as casually asking to hold babies in America is not a cultural norm,” explained Doroski. 

Doroski further said that they went to a conference in India, and he noted that he was surprised at how westernized India was.  

Broury described India as “diverse in religions but cohesive.” She mentioned the beauty of knowing one’s faith and that of others, bringing about an intercultural dialogue. 

As one can see, studying in India brings unforgettable memories and a deep cultural immersion that is beneficial for all students.  

“There is hope to eventually do it over a full semester,” said Doroski. “It’s not happening this spring, but perhaps there will be an opportunity in the fall or the spring of next year to have a full semester in India. There might be even some students from there that come here.  

“It might be opened to other majors. They (Rajagiri) have a strong school of social work and school of business, so those are majors that would make a lot of sense,” continued Doroski. 

Broury said that the engineering department at Franciscan is committed to the India program, and it might benefit other majors as well.  

“India is a renowned hub for various fields, including social work, technology, sciences, business, and nursing. Therefore, Franciscan majors have the opportunity to acquire practical knowledge and encounter professionals in these domains,” said Broury. 

“There are possibilities to open up to other majors,” said Broury, suggesting that students could potentially get hands-on experience interacting with people since India is well known for its social work. 

The India study abroad program is a rich cultural experience that students should consider. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that Franciscan offers and students should take advantage of during their time here.