5 questions for Susan Ostermann about ND's first study abroad in India

Author: Christine Cox

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Global affairs professor and Liu Institute fellow Susan Ostermann will lead Notre Dame’s first-ever summer abroad program in India from July 25 to August 15.

The program in Mumbai includes a three-credit course (ASIA 24100) in conjunction with St. Xavier’s College that will focus on India’s history, politics, and culture. Students will also visit a Bollywood studio and the Bombay Stock Exchange.

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In this Q&A, Professor Ostermann explains more about this exciting opportunity.

What should students expect from this experience?

Expect to have your assumptions challenged! While many associate India with poverty and much poverty still exists there, it is also an incredibly dynamic country that boasts one of the fastest growing economies in the world. India is also incredibly diverse in terms of religion, culture, political beliefs, etc., and possesses a rich history of music, arts, and culture. Mumbai is a crucible for these dynamics. 

Students will learn about India in the classroom, including courses on history, economics, literature, and politics, and then immediately take their newfound knowledge out into the city streets. This will allow them to question received knowledge and also make it come alive.

Do students need prior knowledge about India to be eligible?

Students do not need to know about India to be eligible for this course, though prior coursework will certainly enrich their experiences. This course is designed for those who want to engage more deeply with India than would be possible in a traditional classroom environment.

The description says the program will introduce “ongoing debates about disciplines vs. area studies.” What does this mean? 

There are many ways to study the world and many lenses through which to do so. For many years now there has been a debate in academia about whether it is better to think broadly about generalities related to particular disciplines—like political science or sociology—or to engage deeply with regions while thinking across disciplinary boundaries. 

For instance a political scientist might ask, Can political institutions change education outcomes? And a sociologist might ask, Is social change more or less likely in diverse societies? 

Meanwhile, an area studies scholar might wonder about how political institutions might interact with diverse societies, like those present in India, to change education outcomes. 

While this course will certainly not settle this debate, it will encourage students to think about the degree to which area-specific knowledge actually can bring us closer to answering disciplinary questions.

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What do you research and how is it connected to India?

I think and study broadly about norms and rules, how they form, and how they change.  India is a fantastic place to think about the interplay between social and legal norms, since there is still active contestation between the two.

Some of my past projects have dealt with intercaste marriage, skin color discrimination in politics, compliance with environmental regulations, state capacity in India, the Indian Election Commission, and compliance with child labor law along the India-Nepal border.

Why is it important for Notre Dame to have a summer program in India?

India is the world’s largest democracy. It also has one of the world’s most interesting economies and a large youth population, making it an important country to know and understand in the 21st century. Notre Dame students have been coming to India for years to do research and engage in service, but few have had the opportunity to learn about the place formally. 

At the same time, on-campus course offerings don’t allow students to see, hear, smell, and taste what they’re learning about in real time, making the subject matter somewhat remote. Notre Dame’s summer program in India will give students the opportunity to fully engage with India.

For more information about the India Summer program, please visit https://studyabroad.nd.edu/programs/india-summer/