The Nilgiri Field Learning Centre 2017 started with a delightful surprise put forth by the Cornellians when they introduced themselves by writing their names in Tamil. It set a motivating tone for a new adventure as both Keystone and Cornell students are learning languages that embody tradition, culture and so many rich contexts.
The Crossing Boundary Exercises (CBE) sets the tone for the day as we start each day with these exercises which are about language, experiences and conversations. The students start to share about their favourite things, enacting a play about a familiar common situation from their childhood, learning vocabulary and the contexts around them. An interesting experience was to hear the Cornell students sing a nursery rhyme that they had all learnt at school even though each of them come from different parts of America – they all seem to know this one song “Heads, shoulders knees and toes”. The Keystone students stood around silently watching this and when we looked for an equivalent one in Tamil nobody seemed to know one. Jeyanthi, an alumni of NFLC, who works at Radio Kotagiri was called in to sing the song she knew and again it seemed no body had heard this either. Despite being such a small geographical area, the diversity of curriculum and approach to education seems so varied in India.
In a subsequent CBE when we started to talk about relationships in India and America there were equal amount of surprises on both sides. “How can you marry your own uncles?”, “When a woman marries a woman whose house do they go to” – disbelief, confusion gave way to laughter after some time and that helped to bridge the gap that seemed to exist between the world of Cornell and Nilgiris.
The first week was filled with orientation sessions including a detailed campus tour which helped them to map the entire campus in groups using body parts for measurements. Pratim took the students around Kotagiri town – a heritage walk covering Thangamalai, spotting a Gaur, visiting Sullivan’s bungalow, a walk through the happy valley spring and finally reaching the Kotagiri market where we had a cup of tea with soft spongy bread buns. Before heading back to campus, we had a quick glimpse at the Green shop. An afternoon walk through Longwood Shola with Shiny and Aradukuttan was informative, fun and adventurous.