Now that I have been taking classes at the University of Hyderabad (or Hyderabad Central University, as it is called here) for about three months now, I have started to reflect a bit more on my academic experience. As I wrote at the beginning of the semester, the University of Hyderabad is a predominantly graduate-level university about 20 minutes outside the center of Hyderabad. Although the university has a small student body of about 5,000 students, the campus is vast, full of greenery, and serves as a nice sanctuary within the bustling city. Much of the campus still lies untouched, so despite the long, hot walks to South Campus every afternoon, it is nice to be in an environment with lakes, trees, and wildlife like peacocks and water buffalo.
I am taking four classes this semester, two that are direct-enrollment with Indian students and two that are only for international students and are held in the Study in India Program building all the way in South Campus (which is quite far from the rest of the academic buildings). My two SIP courses, Basic Hindi and Indo-US Policies, are structured much more like classes at home and cater more to our home school programs and majors. These classes are great because our professors give us tons of opportunities to do things outside of the classroom and experience different aspects of Indian culture. Our Hindi professor, Bhavani, who is also a home stay mom for some girls in my program, holds cooking classes in her home for us. And our Indo-US Policies professor, Ramesh Babu, took us on a trip to Osmania University in another part of Hyderabad, had us over to his sister’s house for dinner, and invited our whole class to his cousin’s wedding. Even though we are just their students, they really embody the Indian culture of welcoming guests and want us to see India in the best way possible.
For the most part, my classes in India are very similar to my classes at Richmond, but there are definitely some differences as well. My workload so far pales in comparison to my usual workload in Richmond, not because the class content is less challenging, but because the grading system here is much different. At home, professors generally decide the number and nature of assignments in each class. Here, however, there is a university-wide policy for assignments and grading. Professors must assign three “internal” assignments, counting only the best two, and one final. This means that you can skip one of the internal assignments because only your best two are counted. Other than these two assignments, no other work is really required, except studying for the final. This system makes it really easy to fall behind with readings because there isn’t much incentive to do them, especially if the class is lecture-style and you aren’t expected to contribute in discussions. What’s worse (or better, depending on your perspective) is that you only need 75% attendance to pass, so generally speaking, it is much easier to get by with much less effort than at Richmond.
I really notice this in my Indian Philosophy class, which has about 15 students, five of which are SIP students like me. We are learning about three schools of Indian philosophy, including Yoga, but the professor is very new to teaching and, according to my Indian classmates, studied art in graduate school – not philosophy. Because of this, her lectures are usually pretty confusing, not only to the international students, but to the Indians too. And to add to that, the Indian style of teaching tends to emphasize repetition, so many of our lectures are about very similar things for days at a time. After the first few weeks, many of the Indian students even stopped coming to class. For the international students, this class gets pretty frustrating, and we usually just read outside material on Indian philosophy to complete our assignments.
On the other hand, my Technology and Politics professor is very interesting to listen to and engages the students a lot in class. We talk about a wide range of topics – from philosophy to new technological advances with regards to caste and gender issues – and the students get really excited to contribute in class. The structure is mostly discussion-based, and our professor engages the class by assigning presenters and discussions on each reading assignment. If you don’t speak up during the discussion, she will inevitably call you out and ask if you have anything to add. She can be pretty intimidating, but her way of challenging students seems to work well. For our second internal assignment, we have to research a topic of our choice and present on it, but instead of presenting what we have learned about the topic, we present our research proposal to the class. The class and the professor critique our research and then we have to write a formal research report by the end of the semester. I have never had to do this type of project before, so I’m not sure if this is a difference between U.S. and Indian schools, or if it is because this is a masters-level course and I have only had undergraduate classes so far. Regardless, I am glad that I took this class because I feel like I am learning about Indian culture, not just through the course content but also by hanging out with my classmates.
Overall, I am really enjoying my classes in India and they are adding a lot to my experience. Not only do I enjoy learning about ancient Indian philosophy, India’s foreign policy, and caste and poverty issues, but I also think that observing my professors and classmates is a valuable way to learn about Indian culture.