October 4, 2013

Pilecki '14 Takes In Indian Culture, Language, Politics During Semester Abroad

Pilecki dressed as a Nizam (Princely Ruler) of Hyderabad.

When Simon Pilecki '14 was planning to study abroad in India, there were a few things he knew he wanted to do-study Islamic culture, examine religious integration in India's political system and take some courses in a Hindustani language. All of these things he accomplished, but there were a few surprises along the way.

"I never expected to take a dance class," he said.

Pilecki, a political science and international relations major, was awarded a Gilman Scholarship to study abroad for the spring 2013 semester. The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program, funded by the U.S. Department of State, offers grants for undergraduate students to pursue academic studies abroad with the intention of better preparing them to assume significant roles in an increasingly global economy and interdependent world.

His interest in India was initially sparked during the spring 2011 semester of his freshman year when he was enrolled in the travel course, "India: Religion, Culture, Justice," which allowed him to travel to Tamil Nadu for three weeks to study the country's religious pluralism, struggles for justice and cultural expression.

"I knew I wanted a better understanding of the culture and to really spend some time there," he said.

From January to May 2013, Pilecki studied at the University of Hyderabad in Hyderabad, the largest and capital city of Andhra Pradesh. The city was compelling to him due to its large Islamic and Hindu populations, as well as its location at the crossroads of north and south India, which provides for a unique culture not found anywhere else in the country.

Living in a dorm with other study-abroad students, Pilecki studied Socialist and Communist movements and parties, basic Hindi and Kuchipudi, a classical Indian dance that originated in the village of Kuchipudi in Andhra Pradesh. He also hosted a radio show at the university, familiar territory for Pilecki, who hosts his own show on Emmanuel's student-run station, ECRadio. As part of his Gilman requirements, Pilecki also developed a project for ECRadio, a two-part show about his trip, with one episode airing before he departed and the other after he returned in May.

Complementary to his coursework, Pilecki was able to take in some of India's most well-known religious and cultural attractions, including the Harmandir Sahib, the Charminar, Mecca Masjid, Chowmahalla Palace and various villages outside of Hyderabad.

In addition to his strengthened global perspective, Pilecki also returned with new friendships from around the world and has continued his cultural and political work back in the United States.

He spent the summer as a healthcare financing intern at the Massachusetts State House, supporting the legislative work of state representative Steve Walsh. Currently, he is interning with the American Islamic Congress's Project Nur, a student-led initiative advocating for social justice by empowering leaders to cultivate an environment of acceptance and mutual respect between Muslims and all communities.

slideshowSee more from Simon's trip

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