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Updated 3:00 PM August 7, 2008




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Students travel to India, blend lessons of daily life

About 8,400 miles, a few continents and several seas separate U-M's Ann Arbor campus and the urban streets of Mysore, India. But in the Zen-like tradition, students are on the path to learning distance merely is a state of mind.

During the next four weeks, 15 students will find ways to build bridges between the intellectual pursuits of an academic life and the mystic forces that for millennia shaped everyday life in India. The students — who come from a range of academic disciplines — are staying in Mysore, which has a population of 800,000 and is known for its many historic palaces and Mysore University.

"You can think of India as a Third World country, or a developing country, but the reality is that it's a culture that's very different than ours," says Stephen Rush, professor of music at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Rush and Carol Richardson, professor of music education, are the faculty members who organized the trip and accompany the students in India.

Mysore, located in the western India state of Karnataka, presents a starkly different setting from walking through the Diag and Ann Arbor streets. Yet there are some distinctively 21st-century features: The city has emerged as the second-largest software exporter in western India and boasts a nearly 80-percent literacy rate.

During their stay students have a rigorous daily schedule. They begin each day with an early morning yoga lesson and then travel to neighborhoods in Mysore, where each student is taught by a guru. The visit is at the guru's house, which is the center of learning for many families.

The experience, Rush says, is a way for students to learn how in other cultures education is integrated into daily life, unlike the methods of traditional western educational systems.

"They come back with such different perspectives of their lives," he says. "Seeds planted sprout at different times. But many, if not most, come back and rethink the meaning and purpose of their lives."

When students return from their lesson with a guru, they are taught Indian songs and dances as a way to further immerse them in the culture and traditions of India.

On Fridays and Saturdays, students work alongside physicians at the local community center and help provide care to villagers living on the outskirts of Mysore.

"We aim to have a balance between yoga and social action," says Rush, a composer and jazz musician. "People have asked, 'What's the value of the trip?' I tell them, 'I've seen profound personal changes in the students, and they simply come back better people.'"

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