This past April, Elsa Coughlin ‘19 and I received a travel grant for our Spring 2018 semester abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand. With two weeks of break allotted to us in April, we were able to go to Northern India, completing a trek in the Western Himalayas, experiencing the city of Delhi, and engaging in person with content previously studied in Dr. Basu’s “Icons of Islamic Architecture” course.
For me, this trip was a dynamic blend of my major and my Asian studies minor, and the experience complemented and deepened my understanding of the cultural diversity within Southeast Asia. After taking the previously mentioned course with Dr. Basu, I became more interested in the influence of culture on architecture, as well as it’s reflection of institutional values. I had applied to go to India Fall 2017 but the program had been canceled, but I still intended on studying in a place somewhere in Asia and Thailand ended up being my alternative.
Chiang Mai and Delhi being very different places changed my perspective and understanding of sociological theories in different cultural contexts, and architecture as a means of marrying these two concepts into a visual representation of a unique culture. While on campus in Dr. Basu’s art history course, Elsa and I learned about the cultural influences and development of architecture across Southeast Asia. Then, while in Thailand I also took an Art and Culture course that visited several locations around Chiang Mai that presented different architectural ideas. While in Delhi, Elsa and I experienced several historical and sites like the Qutb Minar, the Red Fort, and The Taj Mahal. Seeing locations in person that I had studied over power point was absolutely thrilling, and to know them more in depth because of our visit was worthwhile.
The trek portion of the trip was also of great interest to me, as one of my favorite pastimes is outdoor recreation, hiking more specifically. Our trek was to the Har Ki Dun valley, and this valley has one of the few still unclimbed peaks in the area, as it is believed in Hindu culture that the peak is where the Gods come down to earth. Through the trek portion of the trip, I comprehended Indian culture more personally, as most of my fellow trekkers were from India and we engaged in conversation, sharing stories and completing a beautiful trek to the Har Ki Dun valley. Additionally, the trek portion also increased my passion for advocacy of wild spaces and their protection, and I was very proud of Elsa Coughlin for receiving the Green Getter Award at the end of the trip.
From this experience, I have incorporated much of my experiences and growth into creative writing pieces, mostly short prose, and I have been able to provide new perspectives to my class discussions and firsthand accounts of different ways of life outside of Canton.