Morales encounters history, culture of India through Boren Scholarship | Hastings College

Morales encounters history, culture of India through Boren Scholarship

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Hastings College junior Suzette Escamilla Morales of Hastings, Nebraska, was awarded a Boren Scholarship to study in India this academic year. Her career goals, desire to study languages and willingness to spend an extended period out of the country made her eligible for the David L. Boren Scholarship, which is sponsored by the National Security Education Program (NSEP). NSEP is a major federal initiative designed to build a broader and more qualified pool of U.S. citizens with foreign language and international skills. You can learn more about the Boren program at borenawards.org. This fall, Escamilla Morales is studying Hindi in Jaipur, India, while in the spring, she will take political science, economics and Hindi language courses in Hyderabad, India. Below is a piece she wrote describing her first few months in the country.


Being the world’s largest democracy with 1.2 billion people, the Republic of India is a country full of diversity in language, religion, food, architecture and customs.

India’s culture is among the world’s oldest with civilization, beginning about 4,500 years ago. It is home to more than 15 languages, such as Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil and Urdu. It is identified as the birthplace of Hinduism and Buddhism, the third and fourth largest religions. Having savored the Indian cuisine, I can testify that it is rich with curries, spices and thick condiments and spreads. With this rich history and culture, it is difficult to truly capture and experience all of India’s immense diversity.

Yet, being in India for about three months, I have begun to experience its grandiose culture and customs. The first semester of my Boren Award is only the study of the Hindi language in Jaipur. Classes at the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) include discussion forums on various relevant topics, reading of current events in Hindi, and even watching Bollywood films.

The language pledge, requiring us to only speak in Hindi, provides an avenue for me, and the other Borens, to truly surround ourselves in the language. The weekly speakers from across the

community allow us to learn about different occupations, including a reporter, college student and founder of a non-governmental organization. Our language partners help us practice the language and to be connected with the community.

Outside of class, my Boren peers and I spend time at coffee shops, getting to know the Jaipur chai and coffee scene. We bargain with shopkeepers at the different bazaars, using our Hindi skills to buy all sorts of crafts, kurtas and saris. Additionally, by volunteering at a local Catholic school, I am able to further practice my Hindi with the school’s girls while helping them with the English language.

My most recent cultural experience has been participating in the Garba dance, hosted by my dance teacher in Jaipur.

Garba is a form of dance, which originated in the state of Gujarat, performed around a centrally lit lamp or a picture or statue of Goddess Shakti. It is danced in a circle as a symbol of the Hindu view of time. Both men and women wear colorful costumes to this dance. The girls and women wear Chaniya choli, which includes an embroidered and colorful blouse (a choli), a flared, skirt-like bottom (a chaniya) and a long colorful scarf (a dupatta).

A day before the event, we, the Boren and AIIS girls, excitedly rented traditional Indian dresses and wore them to the Garba dance. When we arrived, local girls warmly welcomed us and graciously taught us what to do. We danced around in the traditional circle with two decorated sticks, getting creative with our dance steps. The dance celebration had awards for the night, and to our surprise, we won best group dance. It was such a wonderful experience, allowing me to participate in this rich and long-standing Hindu dance celebration.

Having traveled around the northern part of India, I’m slowly encountering the vast history and culture of India, but I know I’m barely touching the surface. Luckily, I continue my journey in Hyderabad, in the southern part of India, and get the opportunity to uncover more of this beautiful country.

Story by Suzette Escamilla Morales, a junior from Hastings, Nebraska majoring in political science and economics.