From crazy drives around mountains and busy streets to eating spicy food and meeting new people, the students were transformed by the new study abroad program, Beyond Bollywood: Taste of Indian Media, led by Amol Pavangadkar, Senior Producer and Outreach Specialist with the Department of Media and Information.
"Though we could be told in a classroom setting that India has many different states that have vastly separate mentalities, languages and customs," explained Media and Information senior Katie Zurburg, "I don't think that fact would have sunken in as deep as it (had while I was in there). Being in India allowed me to be immersed in the different cultures and experience the differences first hand."
The trip began in Ramoji Film City (RFC), the biggest film studio complex in the world, which houses 12 satellite TV channels with live uplink and the biggest film-themed park in India. While visiting RFC, the group met Ramoji Rao, RFC founder and head of the Ramoji Group.
"The stay at RFC was easily the most rewarding production experience for the students," Pavangadkar said. "Earlier in the trip, they got a chance to interact with and learn from world-renowned media experts and later on produced multiple media projects using high-end production equipment and professional resources."
The students also visited Pune, New Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, as well as various studios including the national news channel P7 and the Film and Television Institute of India, all the while attending lectures, a cricket game (Hyderabad vs. Bangalore), a traditional Indian wedding, museums and many historical sites.
"Walking around the (Golconda Fort) and sitting to watch the light and sound show felt like I had just been transformed and sent back to ancient times, when the fort was bustling with people roaming around and great rulers," said Journalism senior Nolly Dakroury.
The combination of lectures and spices in the air with thousands of people coming here and there, allowed the students to challenge their own worldview.
"As a student in a foreign land, I was constantly comparing what I learned about India to what I know to be true in America," said Media and Information senior Andrew Orlando. "The idea of regional media instantly captured me. America has regional media in as much as we have small town newspapers and local television stations, the difference would be whether or not regional entertainment media could be plausible in America."
The goal of the study abroad program was to orient students to the media environment in India, to give them experience working on a live production location, train them to be team players, and give them a solid foundation to be appreciative and respectful of other cultures.
"Each day trip and city visit showed how diverse India is," said Media and Information senior Summer Ballentine. "(We also learned that) media has both the burden and the joy of catering to almost as many audience markets as there are street markets in Pune."
Each experience further encouraged students to look at the bigger picture of social media and its various roles and faces.
"It's like we're on a different planet," said Media and Information senior Alyssa Cleland. "It's crazy to me how oblivious people are to what happens thousands of miles away from them. Is it that communication is not powerful enough to portray these various lifestyles?"
It is not that the lack of power but the accurate use of communication in its fullest potential. A potential that many students saw exemplified through the village of Pastapur. Located in the state of Andhra Pradesh, it is home to many women of the lowest social stratum who overcame the odds and barriers to let their voices be heard through their now award-winning films.
"I don't think any of us could wrap our heads around the extent of talent and strength these women had," Dakroury said.
During the trip, the students produced their own Bollywood movie, "A Connection," which depicts the fine line between friendship and something more, where travel photographer, Chris, strikes up a friendship with Mira on a train to Hyderabad. Mira agrees to show him another side of India and, despite her soon-to-be engagement, the two get closer with each passing day.
You can watch the film by visiting the "A Connection" Facebook page.
To read more about the exciting adventures of the students, visit the Beyond Bollywood: Taste of Indian Media blog.