Four UBC Okanagan students will soon travel more than 10,000 kilometres for a reading week experience they won’t soon forget.
Allison Brown, Sarah Charron, Haley Seven Deers and Nicole Tomasic will join 11 UBC Vancouver students alongside Dr. Anne Murphy for the UBC-Punjabi University Patiala Joint Undergraduate Research Forum – a study abroad program organized by UBC Vancouver’s Go Global office.
The program gives students the opportunity to explore the meaning and practice of heritage in the Indian State of Punjab, while collaborating and co-creating original research with students from Punjabi University Patiala (PUP).
The theme of the trip “How do we know and experience the past? Heritage, Memory and the Punjabi Landscape,” challenges students to think critically about how they understand the past, and who controls that narrative.
“What we wanted to do was to give students from a variety of disciplines an opportunity to think about the past and the many ways it’s imagined,” says Dr. Anne Murphy, Associate Professor in Asian Studies at UBC’s Vancouver campus, and Co-Director of the Centre for India and South Asia Research.
“In many ways we’re addressing something that’s so common that perhaps it seems obvious. But the way we understand ourselves as people relies on our narratives about the past.”
Murphy uses Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign as an example of how the way people remember the past can influence modern-day politics. “The whole narrative relies on a set of assumptions about America being great in the past, not being great now and what it will be in the future. How we understand the past is in everything: we see it in politics, planning, really all aspects of our lives.”
Over the course of the week in India, students will attend lectures, visit historical sites, and engage in heritage-related activities with local artists and heritage specialists. “It’s not just us going on a tour or vacation and looking at sites. We’re going to go and look at sites, but we’re going to do so critically and we’re going to do so in conversation with other students,” says Murphy.
The group began preparations for the trip in December by completing a set of readings to give them critical perspectives on ideas about heritage, representation, and memory. Students will be split up into smaller groups to study different sub-themes including “History – The Grand Narrative of a Place,” “Sites, Interactions, and Spaces,” and “Informal, Local Heritage,” all of which were chosen by students.
“I’m really excited to build programs for students to go to South Asia. I’m not of South Asian heritage, so I came to this field solely because I did a study abroad program to Nepal in my junior year,” says Murphy. “It changed my life completely, I’m a different person than I would have been if I had not gone on that program. I really found myself there – so I believe in the transformative nature of study abroad if it’s done with integrity and depth.”
Allison Brown, a fourth-year political science and gender and women’s studies student, says when she found out about the opportunity, she knew it’d be a good fit. “My passion for travelling and international epistemologies was a big factor in me applying,” she says. “Getting to do research among really accomplished profs and some intriguing colleagues is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and getting to do that in a country I’ve never been before – it’s amazing, it’s hard to put into words.”
This will also be the first trip to India for Nicole Tomasic, a fourth-year student in philosophy, political science and economics. “I am so excited about the trip,” she says. “I’ve been to a handful of countries travelling but never to a South Asian country, and India is known for its extreme diversity. There are so many languages and religions, different areas geographically, and it’s a thriving democracy despite huge rifts in the population. I haven’t travelled to a country with such socioeconomic and gender disparities before so I’m interested in learning about all the ways it’s different,” she adds.
Tomasic credits UBC for creating study abroad programs that are attainable for all students, noting she wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to participate in this kind of experiential learning. “This trip is generously funded and I wouldn’t be able to do this alone at this time. I’m a typical student with student loan debt and more to come so I’m really, really grateful.”
Students will be sharing their research findings through final presentations near the end of their stay, and through a final individual report. They are also invited to take part in a research presentation at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC Vancouver, as a part of its ongoing “Visual and Material Culture Seminar Series.” Murphy says she has confidence in the group and that she really hopes students find satisfaction in the experience.
“What I hope is that this will be meaningful for them and that they can relate it to their studies. If we can even touch on that ‘A-ha’ moment for the students where they see how this relates to what they’re learning in class, whether it be in politics, history, literature, psychology, anthropology – that they see those threads come together in this experience – then I’m super happy.”