Studying foreign cultures in Kansas

By Anton Trafimovich

After working in the office of International Programs at K-State for 12 years, anthropology professor Barry Michie headed a project to create a South Asian Studies program.

Barry Michie started his international experience in 1963, when he went to Greece for his junior year at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore. International programs were already common for American universities at that time.

“The idea was to give students some international exposure, international experience,” Barry said.

While Barry Michie was studying in Oregon, Aruna Nayyar was studying at Smith College in Massachusetts. When President Kennedy initiated the Peace Corps, an American volunteer program, in 1961, both Barry and Aruna became involved. Barry joined after graduating from Lewis and Clark and went to India in January 1966. He was posted in the town of Malpura in Rajastan state. Aruna Nayyar returned from the U.S. and was hired by the Peace Corps in India. The two met and were married in 1968.

While Aruna was used to an international environment, Barry said living abroad changed his attitude toward many things. Experiencing another culture gave him a a way of looking at things that he wouldn’t necessarily have had if he had stayed within his own culture.

“Basically you find yourself in a new reality,” Barry said. “It makes you stop and question all sorts of assumption that you didn’t even know that you had.”

Since he married an Indian, learned Hindi and visited many countries in the region, South Asia has become a second home for Barry. Barry applied for a grant from the Department of Education to involve professional programs at K-State, and he and his wife have worked in that area since 1976. He said the point of the program is to allow students to get exposure to the region through taking courses related to South Asia, working, researching or taking internship in the region.

Barry Michie believes the region is worth studying closely because India is a major competitor and a major partner of the U.S.

“There are Indian companies coming here and investing here in Kansas,” he said.

According to Michie, the South Asia program reaches out to different majors. There are courses in Hindi, history, anthropology, social sciences and humanities, agriculture, engineering and business that contain South Asian perspective. Some of them, like Hindi, have $500 scholarships.

Agriculture and food processing in India

As a part of the South Asian studies Sajid Alavi, associate professor of grain science and industry, designed a study abroad class titled “Agriculture and Food Processing in North India”. During a two-week summer trip in 2010, 10 students in grain science, food science and agricultural economics, and three instructors visited farms and other agricultural and food processing facilities in northern India.

Alavi said it’s vital for students who go to work in industry to be globally aware, and such trips are valuable for gaining international experience.

“If they go out and experience those places first hand, it makes them better employees when they work for any multinational company,” he said.

This project is just one part of the South Asian content in Alavi’s classes. He teaches a food processing class every year and includes various international examples.

Also, in a couple of years a new course on agriculture and food processing in the developing countries with substantial South Asian content should be started.

“In order to understand and interact effectively, college is the time to really get your foot in the door and get some understanding about it,” he said.

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