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Meet Our Resident Director: India

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Last Updated on April 9, 2015 by

Sumana, with AIFS students

“Namaste! That’s hello in Hindi; but I also speak English, Telugu and Urdu. I’m excited to introduce you to the incredible diversity you’ll find here in Hyderabad.”


Meet Sumana Kasturi, our Resident Director in Hyderabad. Born in Illinois, Sumana moved back to India with her family when she was very young. Her father was a professor at the University of Hyderabad so she lived on campus for 10 years and can assist students with just about anything. Sumana has Master’s degrees from both Penn State and the University of Hyderabad so she especially understands the challenges students face while abroad. With the start of the fall semester I asked Sumana a few questions.

What do you most enjoy about the new semester? I love meeting a new group of enthusiastic students!  Their excitement (and innocence) is so refreshing.  I enjoy introducing them to their first taste of local culture and food.  I also look forward to getting to know each student – what they’re thinking, where they’re coming from (both geographically and otherwise), and what they’re planning to do.  Apart from official paperwork (which I really hate), everything else about a new semester is a lot of fun.

What is your favorite excursion to take students on? I have a few that I really like.

1. There’s a weaving workshop that we visit where women are taught weaving techniques that traditionally only men did and that are now dying out.  The lady who runs the workshop is both reviving the craft and providing a livelihood to women.  The weaving techniques require great skill and patience.  The students are fascinated both by the intricate workmanship and the glimpse into lives otherwise invisible in our urban lives.

2. Shopping for bangles and fabric in the bazaars of Hyderabad.

3. Taking students to the Unesco Heritage sites of Ajanta and Ellora which are Buddhist and Hindu rock temples carved into the hillside hundreds of years ago.

What do students have the most trouble adjusting to? After the initial excitement wears off, some students are overwhelmed by the sensory overload – the people, the sights, the smells, everything! One semester, all of the students kept saying to whoever was next to them –“I’m actually in India!”  It took them over a month to get over this simple fact! Another thing that is hard for students to adjust to is that things they take for granted at home (e.g. electricity, hot water, wi-fi) are in fact privileges here.

What are students most excited about when they arrive? I think it’s different things for different people.  Most often it’s the anticipation of travel and new experiences. Sometimes they’re excited to learn a new language, experience a different culture, or just happy to be so far away from home.

Why would you recommend Hyderabad for a student looking into going abroad? Historically, Hyderabad was the capital city of one of the richest Islamic kingdoms in the world and the old quarter of Hyderabad is a thriving part of the modern city. In contemporary India, Hyderabad is a growing metro area and an important IT hub. Studying abroad in Hyderabad means experiencing the old and the new in India, as well as a multiplicity of cultures, languages and religions that is quite unique to this city.

Hyderabad is also centrally located in the Indian subcontinent, so it’s the perfect place to travel from.  Most big sites and cities are just an hour or two by plane or an overnight train ride away!

We get a lot of students who are studying languages, Middle Eastern Cultures, as well as students with majors like Religion, Business, Conflict Resolution, and Peace Studies. Hyderabad’s mixed culture (Hinduism and Islam) provides a safe way for students to experience these cultures in a supportive and safe environment.

The Hyderabad program is a great way to experience India for the first time.  The program provides lots of support with regard to academics, legalities, etc. while also offering flexibility to travel, interact with Indian students, and experience lots of things unique to India.  AIFS staff help students negotiate everything from bargaining for an autorikshaw ride, to dealing with a personal or medical condition.  Different students require different kinds of support and we try to provide as much support as possible.

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