Exchange students like food, plurality of religions

For many students from abroad who make the city their home for a specific period of time as part of exchange programmes and fellowships, the ‘Madurai experience’ is an interesting and intriguing one.

“It was difficult at first. The chaos, noise, animals on the streets and dust are overwhelming. But as days pass by, we discover that there is an organisation to it all,” says Elon Glickman, an exchange student who is part of the South India Term Abroad (SITA) Programme.

The language is something that could prove to be a hindrance for the foreign students in getting to know the city.

Students visiting Madurai for the SITA Programme, however, are required to take a course in functional Tamil, which comes in handy for them.

Bianca Chuks, a first-year student of economics from Nigeria at Lady Doak College, says her classmates and friends have been helping her learn Tamil. “I’ve been trying to pick up the language from their conversations and they teach me simple words that I will need to use to make my way around the city,” she adds.

The city has appealed to the foreign students in different ways.

“While it is renowned for the Meenakshi temple among other attractions, various expressions of different religions here are appealing,” says Kimberly, a student of the University of Pennsylvania who is a part of the SITA Programme.

Stephanie Mora Hernandez, Director of the International Study Centre at Lady Doak College, who has been in the city for the last two months, says she enjoys ‘parotta’ and dosas.

The cuisine that the city has to offer – idly and sambar, biriyani and dosa and coconut chutney, which are the favourites for a majority of them – the exchange students claim, will be missed when they have to go back.

“We’ve realised that food and hospitality go hand in hand. People here don’t think twice before offering us food and we can’t wait to eat something different every day,” smiles Jacob Ready, who also says biriyani has become his favourite.

When asked about the weather, most students heave a sigh of relief.

“We were warned and heard much about how hot it would be but it hasn’t been as bad as we expected” says Elon Glickman.

Over the course of their stay, the city has come to mean many things to different students.

However when asked to name something about the city that has bowled them over, the answer is almost instantaneous.

‘Jigarthandaa, of course!,’ chorus a group.

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