Category Archives: Talia Ivry

Talia Ivry

taliaivry2Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin

Tell us about your favorite book: I have many favorite books, but one I am reading right now that I’m really enjoying is a collection of myths and legends by Jake Jackson. This book is very interesting since it includes all sorts of stories and fables from a variety of different cultures and regions from around the world. I love learning about human belief systems, so it’s always fascinating to read ‘origin stories’ for different peoples, and see the commonalities between them. I’ve especially loved reading the Creation Myths from West Africa, in which animals talk and act like humans, and which always imparts a moral lesson by the end of the story.

Give one random fact about you: I cry every single time I listen to Float On by Modest Mouse.

In class, what kind of character are you?: I participate a lot in class if I think what we’re talking about is interesting, so in my English and History classes I never shut up. In my math classes though, it’s harder for me to connect with the material since I often feel like it’s dry and impersonal, and I don’t talk as much.

If you were a fruit, what would it be?: I would be a mango because I don’t have a very thick skin, I’m sweet if you catch me at the right time and I love tropical climates.

What do you think will be surprising about India?: I think I’ll be surprised at what feels comfortable to me in terms of living situations and food and what will feel new and a little scary. It’ll also be new to me to be in a place in which the women cover up their hair with headscarves, but I’m not sure what it will feel like for me to do that. I also think the Indian food we’ll eat in India will be very different than what typical “American Indian” cuisine is like.

In what ways do you feel that India will be challenging for you?: I think it will be challenging to come into contact with instances of extreme poverty. For me, being fortunate enough to live in the US in a city where homelessness is not as evident or widespread as in bigger urban areas, I am not sure how my perceptions of my own living situations or those of my Western peers will shift after seeing and interacting with people living in poverty. Additionally, I know that in some more conservative areas of India I will have to wear a headscarf and cover up my body and this is something I have virtually never had to do. Having lived all of my life in a fairly open and “Western” society (conservative in different ways) in which I have been lucky enough to not worry so much about how society forces me to dress. This is not to say that I haven’t had to deal with societal expectations of what a teenaged girl should wear and act like, but I feel that in India I’ll come across this in a different and challenging way.

How do you hope to be changed by this trip to India?: I hope to push myself way out of my comfort zone by being so far away from my family and community at home, and through that I think I’ll gain a deeper sense of independence and strength within myself. I also want to learn from the other cultures I am exposed to both in India and among my peers on the trip, and I hope this will open my mind and heart to the diversity of the world. One thing my mentor, Lauren Lauter, said that really resonated with me is that before she went to India on her abroad program during college, she knew intellectually that people everywhere are just that, people, but that through her stay in India she really understood it in her heart, and now feels a certain global kinship that makes her unafraid to travel anywhere or meet anybody. That kind of global curiosity, open-mindedness, and courage is what I hope to gain through my trip to India. I can’t wait.

Feeling Blessed in Madurai

Today I feel blessed. Not in that joking, Instagram hashtag, emoji praise-hands way, but truly, deeply blessed. We arrived in Madurai by sleeper bus, which meant we were all sleep-deprived and cranky, but already I feel more at home here. Madurai is much smaller than Bangalore, and to me it feels more familiar, slightly more rural and open, and without as much noise like the city. The SITA center, which is our home base in Madurai, is such a welcoming and home-y space. It’s always filled with home-cooked food for us, a welcome change from the hotel food we’ve been eating. Also, it feels like we’ve become more cohesive as a group, and we’re growing closer each day.

We visited the Meenakshi Amman Temple today, sacred to the Hindu goddess Meenakshi, and as it happened, today was an auspicious day. The planet Jupiter is passing into a new zodiac zone, which only happens once in twelve years, so the temple was filled with worshippers. The women wore vivid and elegant saris, and colored their foreheads with bright red and yellow powder (turmeric apparently) and tied yellow cord around their necks as a renewal of their wedding vows. Dr. Vee, a retired religious studies and art history professor who accompanied us, told us that Meenakshi is the mot powerful and sacred wife, so brides often visit her temples and pray to her. We were asked to remove our shoes, and as I walked among the rows of candles and incense smoking, I felt awed and a little dazed. Yet at the same time, my friend Ayan was barred from going in the temple at all. Ayan is Muslim and wears a headscarf, and the attendants told her she must remove it as it would be offensive to some of the Hindu worshippers. This might have been understandable if only Hindus were allowed in, but the temple allowed Christians and “non Hindus,” as it blatantly stated, and we think this was an instance of Islamophobia on the part of the attendant, not an actual rule of the temple. Nonetheless, I felt shaken and a little guilty for enjoying myself at the temple, and this incident really opened my eyes to the growing Islamophobia around the world, which I hadn’t seen in a context outside of the US. It also made me think about my privilege as a member of a religion that doesn’t always present itself in such a visible way, or subject me to singling out or prejudice because of my appearance.

Arrival on the Subcontinent + Adventures in Bangalore

The first few days in India have been filled with new experiences. The thing that immediately struck me as we left the airport in Bangalore was the activity on the streets. Along with the hundreds of people crowding the roads, stray dogs and cows roam around, undisturbed. The drivers in India do not stay on one lane in the road, swerving to avoid people and rickshaws in their paths. Gaurang, one of the trip leaders and an Indian national, said Indians are the best drives since unlike American drivers they always have to be on alert. The scariest part of that first day in India was crossing the busiest street I’ve seen, staring down a bus as it hurtled towards us, holding each others’ arms for dear life.

We also went shopping in the markets of Bangalore and bargained down the prices for our kurtas. I also tried the spray toilets for the first time, which involves a water jet that you use to clean yourself up in lieu of toilet paper. At first we all thought this was disgusting, because how could you spray yourself without thoroughly wetting your pants and underwear, but after I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that it’s a ton better for the environment, and probably more hygienic than paper wipes anyway. It’s still taking some getting used to, but we still have more than two weeks here, and many of the toilets are Western-style.

The saddest part of these first few days has been seeing barefooted people and children banging on the windows of our buses, pointing to their mouths or shoving little knickknacks into our faces, trying to get a few rupees. Bangalore experienced a huge strike on the first day we got here, which shut down all the transportation and kept us in the hotel til 6pm. There’s a lot of tension in this city between the rich and poor, and such strikes have been known to get violent. Overall, the first few days have been overwhelming and kind of intimidating, yet also intriguing. I’ve been missing home and my people there, but I’m excited by this city and wonder how the rest of India will be similar and/or different.

Reflections on Orientation

Our 2016 Leadership Collective Orientation at The University of Chicago was jam packed with workshops and activities focused on India, unpacking terms such as culture and identity, and developing a common foundation of topics and ideas to make our time in India as valuable and rewarding as possible.  Students participated in hands on workshops led by The University of Chicago’s Committee on Southern Asian Studies, The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago’s Center for Christian- Muslim engagement, and The University of Chicago Admissions Office.

On our last night, as we ate deep dish Chicago pizza and prepared to depart the next day, we asked students to reflect on their experience at orientation and how it impacted their expectations for India. Below are some of their responses:

Alex Hurst:

The duration of our time in Chicago has set an understanding within the group that while we all have different backgrounds and desires for the future, we also have similarities that make us a cohesive group. Whether that be similar views on politics that we discover through a conversation with a possibly drunk man at the bus stop, or a similar sense of humor that reveals itself in the form of sarcasm necessary to stomach the less than fair rule and expectations put forth by the patriarch of a culture created during a game of bafa bafa. However, we are all still slowly coming into the comfort level necessary for us to be our “truest self”. A self which we have been told over and over again will shift in one way or another, and that we simply need to “let it come” and keep our boundaries open for new experiences an encounters.

With the group that I am traveling with and the experiences that are to come I am sure that I will not be able to let it go, in terms of this trip.

Dariela Villar:

I was initially really excited about this India trip. Even these past three days in Chicago was unbelievable. The preparation for India has definitely taught me a lot about what to expect and although I’m kind of taking it lightly now, I know that when I do get to India, I will be filled with emotions and most likely overwhelmed. From Sarah’s information sessions on expectations, culture, and so forth, I was able to understand more about India and what to expect once we get there. In all honesty, I’m more fearful about this trip than  I was initially as a result of all our talks. However, my desire to finally put a face to all of these facts and information has only increased and I am very much still excited.

Ohaji Williams:

So with all the activities leading up to our travel to India, I’ve reverted my thinking to a concept of being more aware then what I actually planned to be, and also to look at everything as if it were part of my own cultural habits and ideals. Now reflecting on the information that was given and events that transpired through out these days till our departure my thoughts and perception’s about India have changed not in a good nor bad way but in skeptical manner. Media gives you information it feels is appropriate based off factuality meaning yes they’re showing you how it is but not giving you the full story. This altered my ideas and perception on India because in media I’m influenced that India is this diverse wonderland of religion and culture but in reality after orientation I was able to realize it has some of it faults being the way that it is wealthy by culture but poor in the more materialistic aspect of money and having poverty. Although in more ways than not I learned about India, I was more amazed at the people I met not just the actual 360+ leaders  but also in the actual teens from all around traveling as well. Each has their own unique character and idealistic perception on life and I’m glad I met them.

Talia Ivry:

Before I came to orientation, the whole idea of this massive trip felt like an abstract mess of images in my head, pictures I had seen on National Geographic of vibrant colors and writhing throngs of people. And while I still sort of have that picture in my mind, this week has been really good for me in terms of waking me up to the fact that I have many preconceived ideas about India and the people that live there. Something Sarah Trumm said in one of our sessions which really stuck with me was: “let it come.” Instead of jumping to conclusions about who each person I meet will be or what the food will taste like, I’ll try to just accept what comes with a consciously open mind. I think the best thing about orientation has been getting to know the people who will be with me on the trip, and while I’m still nervous about some of the unforeseen challenges I’ll face in India, I know that I’ll have a good support network, which is one thing I didn’t realize would feel so comfortable by this early in the trip.

Emma Ottum:

As I sat in front of chicken tikka masala, naan, and a mango lassi smoothie in the Indian restaurant that we went to for dinner, I reminisced on that last time that I was in India. It was my first time eating Indian food in over a year and my taste buds were once again, shocked. Memories of the villages, henna, and bargaining flooded into my mind and sent me into a whirlwind of the past. I remembered everything that I’m going to encounter once again. The homelessness, poverty, culture, and colorful saris. All of this is something I can’t wait to see again.

Michelle Estrada:

Way before I had gotten to meet everyone and learn what we were getting ourselves into, I was scared and didn’t know what to expect. We are going to a whole different place, and how would we prepare for it ? I think that the orientations we had made me feel more comfortable with the group and taught me a lot of  different things about India. While we shared our thoughts, everyone was learning something new about us and it made me feel like by the end of this trip we will have lifelong friends. Something Sara told us was “expect the unexpected” which is important for us to know. However, all the information they gave us only made me feel more excited to be on this trip.

Ayan Ahmed:

Orientation made me feel more comfortable about going to India in so many ways. All the workshops that we did really helped me understand India more. My favorite activity was playing  BaFa.  In the game we had two different cultures and we couldn’t communicate or  understand each other. We made assumptions about the other culture but we couldn’t understand the other culture until we talked and they explained it to us.

I learned that in India there will be some people who will not understand me. They won’t be able to communicate with me even if they want to. This game really opened my eyes to how patience is a key factor for traveling. I need to be patient with the people around me because they are trying their best, and I need to patient with myself if I don’t get something the first time around

Raven Swing:

When I arrived at the airport here in Chicago a couple of days ago, I was sleep deprived, thinking of about a million things at once, and chock-full of excitement. I was also full of curiosity and expectations for the people I was about to meet. I’ll be spending the next three and a half weeks with these people in India, and I’ll admit I had been much more worried about the people I’ll be traveling with then the trip itself (I’ve had much experience of un-American culture, and recent experience of traveling to a country that is far different from my own). Well, I can happily express that my fellow travelers are about as open minded and considerate as I could’ve hoped for, and I can’t wait to get closer to all of them. As an individual that is usually different than most, I haven’t held back my personality or many of my thoughts at all, and I’ve been welcomed with interest and many valuable points of view that I think I can learn a lot from. Just today, as we waited for the bus to take us back to the University of Chicago where we’ve been staying for orientation, I was having a inspirational/political conversation with a very drunk man I had just met, and before long probably half of the other kids in our group chimed in and expressed their thoughts on the American political circus that is currently taking place. Long story short, I think we left the man with several thoughts that may have stuck, and the conversation continued well into our bus ride home. Given the experiences I’ve had just while here in the states, I cannot wait to see what will happen while we’re journeying around India. I have high hopes for fun times, interesting and informative conversations, and lasting memories!

Elisheba Brown:

So the orientation and everything that we have done in the past three days have not really influenced my expectations but made me realize that I had expectations. But the past few days has also made me more comfortable about traveling with everyone one because at first, this might sound weird, but I thought that I would be the only one different on this trip religion wise but after hearing everyone’s background I felt more comfortable. I also thought that everyone would be mean but these past few day I have been able to understand everyone a little bit more and they were not what I was expecting which is great. I thought that I didn’t have any kind of expectations but these past few days has opened my eyes to the expectations that I thought I didn’t have. I thought I was very open minded so yeah this trip hasn’t influenced my expectations but opened my eyes to them

Danielle Truxhall:

The activities have definitely gave me a more open perspective of India. Culture shock and stereotypes have opened my eyes. I didn’t think of all those things for the trip. Also expect the unexpected I’ve been holding pretty close to me, so I prepare myself for inconveniences. Seeing everyone else shock of what we are doing influences me slightly as well because we are going to have to look out for each other on the trip. So even though I have done research on India in order to prepare myself, others have not so now we have to prepare ourselves to help the group.

Luz Flores:

Before coming to Chicago I was really nervous and scared because I didn’t know what to expect. it was my first time flying in a plane, and the thought of going by myself to another country made me a bit nervous.

To my surprise, getting to Chicago wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. My worries of getting lost, missing my flight and possibly getting on the wrong plane from Portland quickly disappeared the closer I got to Chicago.

After meeting Ira and the others that would be joining me on this trip I felt a bit more comfortable at the thought and reality that I would be spending the next 3 weeks with them. Being 12,337 km away from home and with little to no way to contact my family made me feel worried and sad.

The activities, lectures, games we did and the people we talked to at orientation made me feel a bit more knowledgeable about the things I’d be seeing and soon to be experiencing in India. As the days began to get closer to our departure date, I learned about Indian culture, dance, and customs. I learned that in different places of the world you can be considered nice, thoughtful and generous; but when you take those customs into other cultures some may call you rude, disrespectful and even inhumane. It’s crazy to know that the action you do and the ways to interact with people may and will be interpreted in many different ways depending on whom you speak to or interact with.

As we depart for India, I feel safe, secure, and confident that even if i don’t always get things right, laughing at it and learning from my mistakes is always good. Orientation made me realize that India will  be filled with kind, loving people. Families and people of all ages. It’ll be filled with different customs, clothing, and food.

I was afraid of not fitting in, getting lost, or not being able to communicate with those in India. Getting sick from the food or being bitten by an animal. I know now that all of my worries are much to worry about.

Like they say, expect the unexpected.

The whole group with Sara Trumm of the Lutheran School of Theology
The whole group with Sara Trumm of the Lutheran School of Theology




Reflections on Orientation

Before I came to orientation, the whole idea of this massive trip felt like an abstract mess of images in my head, pictures I had seen on National Geographic of vibrant colors and writhing throngs of people. And while I still sort of have that picture in my mind, this week has been really good for me in terms of waking me up to the fact that I have many preconceived ideas about India and the people that live there. Something Sarah Trumm said in one of our sessions which really stuck with me was: “let it come.” Instead of jumping to conclusions about who each person I meet will be or what the food will taste like, I’ll try to just accept what comes with a consciously open mind. I think the best thing about orientation has been getting to know the people who will be with me on the trip, and while I’m still nervous about some of the unforeseen challenges I’ll face in India, I know that I’ll have a good support network, which is one thing I didn’t realize would feel so comfortable by this early in the trip.