Incredible India course offers Mont Alto students travel, cultural understanding

November 18, 2014

Observe Indian architecture and culture while traveling throughout Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and New Delhi, gain an understanding of the work of those who serve the poorest of the poor in one of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity and discover the sustainable elements being used to transform the Sadhana Forest. These are only a few highlights of what students will experience when they enroll in Incredible India.

Incredible India is available to students from any Penn State campus, studying any major. Offered in fall 2015, ASIA 197 is a course about India’s cultural and economic diversity that includes a 13-day trip to India and gives students the opportunity to study an approved topic of their own interest as it relates to their major, discipline or degree. To complete course requirements, each student will develop a report and present it to the Mont Alto campus community and earn four credits — two for the course, two for the trip. Early applications of interest are due by Dec. 12. Students should email Penn State Mont Alto mathematics instructor Deborah Mirdamadi at stating their contact information, major, adviser, and why they want to study and travel to India. Tentative dates of the trip are Dec. 26, 2015, to Jan. 8, 2016.

The value of this experience cannot be measured only in course credits, according to India native Somjit Barat, associate professor of marketing at Penn State Mont Alto. He is helping to coordinate the trip. “It will be a tremendous experience for people who have never been to another country,” he said. “It will be an eye-opening experience and when they return, they will have a better understanding of the world, of diversity. And, when it comes to diversity, nothing can compare to the Indian subcontinent,” he said. “That’s the whole beauty of this trip.”

Besides benefitting individuals, the course also meets Penn State program goals and strategic initiatives. The University’s General Education Program Goal is to “enable students to gain understanding of international interdependence and cultural diversity and develop consideration for values, lifestyles and traditions that may differ from their own.”

Penn State Mont Alto Chancellor Francis K. Achampong hopes trips like these will become a regular occurrence at the Mont Alto campus. “One of our strategic objectives at Penn State Mont Alto is to ensure that our curriculum prepares our graduates to thrive in a culturally diverse global environment, and this course does just that.”

The course and trip are the brainchild of Mirdamadi who also teaches cultural diversity and has a special interest in teaching Middle Eastern culture. Her desire is to expose students to other cultures.

“You don’t have to know every foreign culture, foreign language or foreign country,” she said. “What is important to understand is how things may be seen differently from the view of another culture. That’s what we want to emphasize through these types of trips,” she said.

In preparation to teach the course and lead the trip, Mirdamadi has previously scouted various points of interest throughout India, places to stay and modes of transportation. While the trip agenda won’t be finalized until the interests of those enrolled are determined, the group will visit the major cities of Kolkata and New Delhi with stops at the Taj Mahal and the Akshardham Temple, the National Gandhi Museum, a location of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity as well as the village of Auroville in the Sadhana Forest.

A representative from Auroville, Jamey Ellis, plans to visit the Penn State Mont Alto campus on Jan. 28, 2015, to talk about a current sustainable project of the Sadhana Forest. More information will be forthcoming.

The cost of the trip is $3,500 and includes airfare with up to a possible $1,000 per student grant being made available through the Commonwealth Campuses Student International Travel Grants funded jointly by the Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses and the University Office of Global Programs. Penn State Mont Alto will match dollar-for-dollar grant awards to Mont Alto students participating in this study-abroad experience.

Barat recognizes that students may have concerns about the cost of the trip but emphasizes that he, Mirdamadi, and forest technology instructor Beth Brantley, who is also coordinating the trip, are making arrangements at the best possible price.

“We are trying to give students multiple experiences from all different perspectives, and we are leveraging the expertise of people who have been there,” he said.

So, for students who want some kind of an international experience, Incredible India might be the ticket. “I think it is a wonderful, once in a life-time opportunity,” said Barat.

Students can learn more about Incredible India here and by contacting Mirdamadi at, Barat at or Brantley at

Last Updated November 19, 2014