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A life-changing experience

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LOVING INDIA: Elizabeth Marie Chatelain with her friends on the U. C College campus in Aluva. —
LOVING INDIA: Elizabeth Marie Chatelain with her friends on the U. C College campus in Aluva. —

G. Krishnakumar

Elizabeth Marie Chatelain from the U.S. says her trip to Kerala has changed her view of the world

KOCHI: Elizabeth Marie Chatelain left her hometown at North Dakota in the United States for Kerala as part of a conscious effort to experience the world outside.

She was interested in the State’s political and economic structure, which according to the youngster “seems an anomaly to a citizen of a western country where Communism and socialism are demonised.”

Efforts to understand her own culture better by learning more about a different culture and society inspired Ms. Elizabeth to associate with the Union Christian (U.C.) College, Aluva.

Ten months after she landed on the campus as part of a cultural exchange programme, the youngster is feeling an eternal bond with the people and places around her.

Terming her experience at the college “life-changing,” Ms. Elizabeth says that she got an opportunity to live in a culture and society that is completely different from her own.

“While I come from a densely populated city, the area surrounding it is very agrarian. The viewpoints of most of the people there are conservative, both on moral and economic issues. The friendships I have formed with the students and staff members here will surely have an impact on me the rest of my life. Meaningful conversations about society, culture, politics, and everyday life have transformed my perceptions of the world and its citizens,” she says.

Actively involved in social justice programmes concerning peace in Iraq and issues of poverty back home, Ms. Elizabeth is part of the community outreach programme organised by the U.C. College. A student with a strong social commitment, she loves to serve the society by taking up teaching.

“I am involved in a community outreach programme at the college that provides tuition to students from nearby colonies. It has been one of the most meaningful experiences during my time here. These children have so much potential; they simply lack the resources and the social capital to compete at the same level as their middle-class counterparts. These children have absolutely no inhibitions; they are very eager to learn English words, and to teach me a few phrases in Malayalam,” she says.

Explaining that there is a glorification of medicine and engineering courses in Kerala, and a devaluation of the liberal arts education that produces holistically developed students, Ms. Elizabeth says that there is still an emphasis on rote learning and examinations rather than critical thinking and research even within the liberal arts.

“Students are not asked to think beyond their own limited perspectives. The recent controversies over the seventh standard text book, which is progressive in both content and format, exemplify the resistance to such analytical educational approaches,” she says. A graduate in Film and Media Studies from Middlebury College in Vermont, United States, Ms. Elizabeth wants to take up film production as a career. Ms. Elizabeth is not sure whether she will come to Kerala in the future, but she has already established strong relationships with the people here.

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