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BC Students Explore 'Writing Out of Place' in India

Students in the 'Writing Out of Place' workshop in India with Suzanne Matson
BC students at an Aarti ceremony in Rishikesh with Professor of English Suzanne Matson.

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. (September 2015)—From mid-May to early June, eight undergraduates representing a range of class years, schools and majors joined Professor of English Suzanne Matson for a three-week creative writing experience at the foothills of the Himalayas.

Dubbed “Writing Out of Place,” the three-credit course required participants to express their experience of a new location—and  dislocation from the familiar—through narrative non-fiction, poetry and fiction. Their destinationMussoorie, Indiawas born from Matson's interest in the place where her mother, the child of Mennonite missionaries, grew up. Once a part of Nepal, Mussoorieknown as a hill station due to its relative elevationis located about 290 kilometers north of the national capital of New Delhi.

Matson designed and taught the first workshop in 2010, and led it again the following year. The sojourn, which she deems “my favorite teaching of the year, because we all get to know each other so well,” now rotates among other English Department colleagues. “I love that there are now several of us who have shared this journey,” she said.

'Writing Out of Place' students with Suzanne Matson in Delhi at Qutab Minar.
Day One, at Qutab Minar in Delhi.

This year’s travelers found historical, ecological, social, political, religious, spiritual and literary dimensions to fuel their writing through trips to Delhi's Mughal monuments, Rajaji National Park, ashrams, temples and mosques, and talks by area writers.

The experience, students say, was important to their growth both as writers and as individuals.

Lynch School of Education junior Sarah Bradley says she learned a great deal about writing from the workshop, "especially within the unique context of living in an unfamiliar country. But the best part was the challenge that this program provided," she said. "I returned to BC with a greater understanding of myself.”

"Writing this summer helped me to better express and understand the depth, significance, and impact of every word on a greater whole," said Jared Collier, a junior in the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences, who found his negotiation of writing and reality intensified by "the ecological, social, political, and cultural uniqueness" that is India.

"I would recommend this class to anyone," he added.

Kelly O’Connor concurs. The Carroll School of Management sophomore, who calls her choice to attend the workshop “one of the best decisions I’ve ever made," discovered that "the more you separate yourself from places of comfort, the more you are sure to learn.

“I began learning the moment we stepped off the plane; about the people, the religions, the history, and the culture,” O'Connor said. “Perhaps most importantly, I learned what it's like to observe and appreciate differences, separate from judgment.”
“Students often describe the travel to India as transformative, and no matter what their majors they all grow tremendously as writers from the intense workshop process,” said Matson, herself an award-winning author, widely published in both poetry and prose.“The mix of their disciplinary perspectives was a boon; we all learned from each other.”

 “A million thanks to Professor Matson and my amazing group, who kept me laughing for the bulk of the time,” O’Connor added. “And, of course, to India: phir milenge (we will meet again)!”

A three-video series of the trip by Carroll School of Management student Joon Gloria Yoo '17 begins at this link.

—Patti Delaney and Rosanne Pellegrini, News & Public Affairs