The better part of April 2008 found Trina Isakson establishing connections with community leaders in and around Barhampur, India. Her goal: to establish positions that provide SFU students with unique learning opportunities and meet village interests. The first Co-op students will depart September 2008, and opportunities for additional students may become available in future semesters.
In addition to meeting students' learning objectives, the selected students will provide valuable community support. "A lot of work will focus on education; largely, teaching English. This will add educational capacity to local students, as post-secondary education is almost exclusively taught in English," explains Isakson. Students will have the opportunity to create class based and extracurricular activities in various subjects, using English as a medium. Isakson also adds that volunteers will have the opportunity to work with teachers and adult community members, who are influential in the lives of children, providing them with strategies for educating young people.
Having traveled extensively over the years, the BSc and BEd grad has a few words of encouragement for those who might be hesitant to undertake such an experience on their own. "I'm often surprised when people say, 'I couldn't do that.' I would encourage anyone to travel to another country, whether it's India, Vietnam, Scotland - you get to learn about yourself and your values." Isakson notes that she gained from her trip a better understanding of the political and cultural history of India.
Students taking on this initiative will be exposed to a dynamic and diverse culture. However, wherever she traveled, Isakson observed one common trend: "Everywhere I went was an intense experience for the senses. Tastes, smells, sights, sounds are all are so heightened. The food is so flavourful. As for the smells, I remember walking in a spice market in Delhi and just sneezing from all the different spices! And the colours in India, whether in the hills or on the plains, or even in the clothing of the women, are so vivid."
Isakson also addresses certain misgivings she has heard vocalized about living and traveling in India: "I have heard mixed rumours regarding females traveling in India and experiencing harassment. I encountered no problems amid the regions I traveled. I felt very comfortable traveling alone - the people I met through my work were so compassionate and so helpful." According to the Volunteer & Service Learning Coordinator, living inexpensively is also possible. "Food can be really cheap. The key is you can get an awesome bowl of, say, mattar paneer, for 50 cents, or you could get an awesome bowl of mattar paneer for 10 dollars."
Following Isakson's assignment in India, she is working with the local project supervisor to secure an apartment for students to rent in Ahmedgarh, a close by town offering medical clinics, internet and international telephones - the various things that students may need during their stay. According to Isakson, the first students to embark on this opportunity will be instrumental in establishing this residence for future students, by sourcing dishes and furnishings for the SFU living space.
The Volunteer & Service Learning coordinator recommends that students in Barhampur and Ahmedgarh not only to gain a mature global perspective, but also to take advantage of the nearby destinations of travel. Beyond her university assignment, Isakson spent time experiencing many unique delights, including the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the Rock Garden of Chandigarh, Taj Majah in Agra, the economic juxtaposition that is Delhi and the Himalyan foothills of Himachal Pradesh. See her photographic travel diary below.