International Education Winter 2014

Padnos scholar finds content in India

by Michele Coffill

Abigail DeHart remembered breathing a sigh of relief when she told her Classics professor she wanted to study abroad in India, rather than a traditional European country, and he was immediately supportive.

DeHart is living in Varanasi, India, for the 2013-2014 academic year and studying with 15 other American students through a University of Wisconsin-Madison program. "I thought he would suggest somewhere a bit more relatable to Greek or Roman history," she said.

Varanasi, one of the oldest and holiest cities in the world, has a rich history of its own. Its also on the Ganges River, making it a cultural center. DeHart said the city's diverse population (1.02 million) gives her a good understanding of Indian traditions.

DeHart earned a Padnos Scholarship, which funds yearlong study abroad programs. She said if she hadn't earned the competitive scholarship, she would have pursued a semester program. "I am an experiential learner and need real-life examples to make things come alive for me, and I could only get so much from reading books and virtually traveling on Google Maps," DeHart said.

She said the more books about India she read, the more complex the country seemed. "Traditions have not dramatically changed like other ancient civilizations," she said. "There is a strong continuity with the past, which makes for a remarkable place to learn history. No book or documentary can capture the dynamics of this place."

While cows in the road once caused a traffic jam and made DeHart late for class, she has grown accustomed to life in India. DeHart is learning to speak Hindi, and she hand-washes her clothes and shops from street vendors for groceries.

"I've found myself more reliant on the kindness of people because there is no iPhone to help me navigate streets or find specific shops," she said.

Along with her classes, DeHart is working on an independent research project centered on the equality and economics of education in India. She said she is amazed at how comfortable she feels living in India.

"I think this shows how important it is to be involved in things you are passionate about," she said. "I think people can be content nearly anywhere if they are engaged in something meaningful."

Study abroad program ranks fifth in nation

Grand Valley ranks fifth in the nation for the number of students who participate in study abroad programs, according to the Institute of International Education.

During the 2011-2012 reporting year, 825 Grand Valley students studied abroad. Among master's degree institutions, Grand Valley had been as high as No. 8 in recent years.

Mark Schaub, chief international officer for Grand Valley, said the increase is due to several factors such as more academic departments supporting international education, scholarships for participants and study abroad alumni and faculty advisors talking to students about the benefits of study abroad.