Friday, February 1, 2008

A letter from Southern India

Kassia Karr is an independent studies major in the University Professors Program at Boston University, concentrating in South Asian languages and literatures, Women's Studies and Sociology. She is currently in India for two academic semesters with the University of Wisconsin - College Year in India Programme, Madurai.

"Greetings from the southern tip of India, where the monsoon rains have
started and 75 degree temperatures at night feel cold! I have had an
incredible time thus far, and wanted to write to you and update you on
my journey and my research here.To start, I have been thoroughly initiated into the womens' world here.
I'm living with another female student in a flat above a family filled
with daughters, and we're frequently invited to pujas, temples, and
other religious events, where we're stuffed with food and leave with
flowers in our hair. The countryside is beautiful and the people are
incredibly gracious and friendly. There are some cultural issues we
have to adjust to - particularly, getting used to having little to no
interaction with men, but at the same time receiving a lot of male
attention - but there have been no conflicts of any kind thus far.

For my tutorial portion of the program, I'm working at a womens' Non Governmental Organization (NGO) called Sudar that provides educational courses at little to no charge
for first-generation female college students. Most of the students are
from poor families and go to government schools, which subsidize their
costs. I'm specifically working in the basic computer class, where I
help assist and correct the girls as they practice learning MS Word,
Excel, etc., in my simplistic Tamil. I'm also writing a guidebook for
them to use in the course in the future, and at the end of the year I
will complete a research paper on the role of technology and education
in women's development.

For another, 'extra' tutorial, I'm taking cooking classes from a
Nattukottai Chettiar woman, and learning about the role of cooking and
keeping house in South Indian women's lives as a part of it. In
contrast with the NGO, it takes me out of the position of instructor
and puts me more into a cultural immersion into women's lives here.

Finally, for my field work project I decided to research 'Women and
Information Technology (IT) in South India.' This research is partially
based on development studies, and partially based on modern
sociological studies. I'm looking at the impact of the booming
IT/outsourcing industry in South India on a variety of women's lives -
particularly middle class women, and first-generation college students
becoming the first females in their family to work - and learning about
their struggles as working women, the duality of their identities in
the traditional society, their improved social status via their
salaries, and so on. The Indian IT industry has been pushing to recruit
more women than men, for a variety of reasons, so it's really an
interesting and rather timely social phenomenon to be researching and
discussing with people.

So that's India, thus far!

I happened to be looking at the Boston University (BU) College of Arts and Sciences website today, and noticed a link talking about the new UNITWIN program at BU - how fantastically
exciting! I'd be very interested to hear about the collaborations that
are taking place between the Women Studies Program and the Indian universities."