Student Recalls Life Changing Time Abroad in India

Photo courtesy of Michael Pacheco

Senior Michael Pacheco loves hiking, reading, singing and, most of all, traveling. He has already been to many countries, including Germany, Austria, Italy, Portugal and Canada. However, he had never been to any of the Asian countries until last year when he got the opportunity to participate in a semester study abroad program in India. This year Ramapo College once again offers its semester option, but has also added a shorter summer option entitled “Culture and Sustainability in India,” which will take place from July 8 to Aug. 19, 2017.

A global communication major with a business certificate, Pacheco was drawn to a study abroad experience in South Asia starting from his freshman year. For his general education first-semester history class, he studied about the sculpture of Vishnu, which sparked his interest in Hindu and South Asian culture. This interest was still on his mind when he heard about the program in India hosted by the Roukema Center in his junior year.

“I was in a cultivating ecological awareness class. One of the older students and a previous participant of the program came in and gave a presentation on the India program. It sounded interesting, and added to my curiosity which was present since my freshman year. I decided to learn more about the program,” said Pacheco.

The program is based at the Fireflies Intercultural Center, 30 kilometers from Bangalore, on a hill that slopes down to a lake. Fireflies is concerned with promoting earth spirituality, the resolution of ethnic violence and the deepening of democracy and civil society in India.

“We lived in a small section of what was left of the jungle. Staying at Fireflies was like being in a fairy tale. We were surrounded by native trees and even had a resident beehive. All of this showed us how we could live in nature in a non-destructive way,” said Pacheco.

Pacheco also found the teaching and learning methods to be quite different than what he was used to here at Ramapo. Each month was dedicated to one class and excursions were tagged with the course materials. Pacheco found this experiential learning method to be exciting and extremely important.

For his sustainable development class, Pacheco and the other students were taken to Auroville in Pondicherry.  According to their website, “Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities.”

“While in Auroville, we learned about alternative forms of government, concept of attempted utopian society about their local economy and how they were able to self-suffice,” said Pacheco.

For another class, the students were taken to Blue Waters, where they got to interact with and learn about the lifestyle of Adivasi, or tribal, peoples. They got to learn about how these people unwillingly had to leave their settlements in forests due to encroachment and the government.

For his final project, Pacheco worked on a paper titled “Urban Youth Identity through Cinema,” where he researched the kinds of movies people his age in India were watching and how media from different countries penetrated one another. He interviewed people from ages 23-27 and found out that they were watching American movies, while still watching a variety of native movies – ones that they could relate more closely to.

Since returning, Pacheco initiated a photo exhibit on his study abroad experience in India, which is now up for display in the Roukema Center.

“I was inspired to do the exhibit once I got back to show some of what I photographed. I took a lot of photos but didn’t know what to do with them. After a 15-minute conversation with Ben Levy [director of international education], we decided to do it,” said Pacheco.

Concluding his thoughts on his Indian experience, Pacheco said, “India was important to me on a personal level. I met a lot of people whom I will probably never meet again, but the impact that they have left on me will always remain.”

The deadline to apply for the study abroad program for this summer is April 14, 2017 and next spring is Oct. 2, 2017. For information about the application process or the program details, please visit the study abroad page online at Email for any questions, or stop by the Roukema Center for International Education in ASB-136.