Chesley Swann

India's insightful experience

Indiana University senior Chesley Swann was already an experienced international traveler. The Washington, D.C., native had already traveled to Ghana through a program at his junior high school and performed in China with the renowned D.C. Boys Choir as part of a music festival.

But through IU’s Overseas Studies and Scholarship Program, a unit of the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs (OVPDEMA), Swann went to India in the summer of 2015, and came back from the trip with an entirely new perspective.

“I think it sparked an interest within me and other students. We see the world is much bigger than where we are right now. India is amazing—I want to come back and maybe do an internship, maybe even a job,” said Swann, a policy analysis major in IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) who plans to attend law school after graduation. “It really widened my horizons to see that the world is so big and has a lot of opportunities. People are people, no matter where you go. They value the same things, like family and being honest. So, that’s one thing that I saw, that you have so many opportunities to go out there and meet people, and if you put your mind to it, you can do it. I think that’s the one thing I got from this trip to India.”

On the trip, Swann and his fellow IU students visited the cities of Varanasi, New Delhi, and Mumbai. IU Maurer School of Law Professor Kevin Brown led the group in studying the relationship between the contrasts and similarities between African Americans in the United States and the Dalit class of India. That aspect of the experience appealed to Swann, who believes traveling through OVPDEMA gave him a different insight and sense of community than other excursions abroad.

IU has really provided a space where you can explore, and education is all about that—it’s not just in the classroom. The best students go outside the classroom and learn from experiences to learn more.

“I would tell other students to just be truthful with yourself. In some communities, we kind of shy away from traveling—perhaps that’s because there’s some historical context to it, too—but I think that you have to kind of push past that and see your parents just want you to be safe. Through OVPDEMA and different programs, they’ve taken the measures to keep you safe within the boundaries of their control. Students have to see that there’s so many different opportunities here at IU. Being here for four years, I know that I won’t get these opportunities ever again. I know that if I go back to India, I’ll probably have to pay a whole bunch of money,” said Swann, who is part of OVPDEMA’s Hudson & Holland Scholars Program. “IU has really provided a space where you can explore, and education is all about that—it’s not just in the classroom. The best students go outside the classroom and learn from experiences to learn more. In India, I read a Hindu text that said, ‘The best people are those who experience.’ Your whole life will be better if you venture outside of your comfort zone. Always be safe, but know that if you go outside of your comfort zone, that’s where you’ll gain the most.”

Students interested in OVPDEMA’s Overseas Studies and Scholarship Program can learn more about it on Saturday, November 12, at the Study Abroad Fair, which is part of IU’s International Education Week. The fair, which will feature activities, international entertainment, and panel discussions, will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. at the School of Global International Studies.