Travel courses are a way for students to experience new places, but for Dr. Priscilla Selvaraj, a May term trip to India was going home. Selvaraj led six students from May 15-26 for a psychology class titled “Discovering Self through Experiencing Diversity.”

As an associate professor of psychology and counseling, Selvaraj wanted her students to study the family structures of a different culture, but she also wanted to share her home country with her students.

“I wanted them to experience cultural learning in a place that is new and uncomfortable with a new language, different customs, traditions, and family values,” she said.

Jenny Foster learns snake charming on a trip to India, while Ender De Leon learns to ride an elephant. A traditional Indian dance is shown at top. Photos courtesy Hardin-Simmons University.   

For one assignment, Selvaraj had the students write a reflection considering how happy individuals were in impoverished conditions and how much Americans take for granted.

“We went on a tour of the slums in Chennai, and the individuals there lived in rooms the size of my bathroom–they were comprised of dirt with trash and unpleasant smells filling the streets outside their doors,” Jenny Shaw, Class of 2020, said. “I was walking through the slums and there was a family crowded together…They looked poor, and they were surrounded with trash, yet they were laughing and smiling and seemed so thankful to be alive. Although they had so little, they were rich with life and love.”

Many of the students were affected by the level of poverty they saw among the Indian people. Shaw said at first she questioned how God could allow such suffering.

“Then a friend of mine helped me understand that the truth is that it is not His will for us to suffer, and shared these verses with me that God commands of us: ‘speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute,’ ‘defend the rights of the poor and needy’ (Prov. 31:8-9), and to provide for the widow, orphan, and fatherless among us (Deut. 10:18-19),’” she said. ‬

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