The Revd Sarah Miller is currently on a USPG Journey With Us placement in Madurai, India. This is her reflection on her journey so far.
After fourteen years as a parish priest in the Church of England I was seeking a time of refreshment and challenge in a new context to reflect on my journey so far and to consider my future direction. I was keen to return to India, the place of my birth, to use my experience as a teacher and communicator and to live as part of a community. Taking part in Journey With Us is enabling me to fulfil all these hopes – and giving me unexpected new opportunities.
I am living in the city of Madurai, in Tamil Nadu State, South India at the Church of South India Women’s College of Arts and Science. It is a higher education college with 1500 students studying for their first degrees and some postgraduate courses. I am staying in the hostel, home to 150 students and am offering help and support with spoken English. My role is developing naturally as I get to know the students and staff. I love the opportunities for conversations – the hostel students seek me out in the evenings to practice their English and it is a privilege to hear about their lives and aspirations. They are all highly motivated. Many students will get married after they graduate, this will be arranged by their parents. Most students hope to develop their professional careers after marriage. Expectations of family life are changing in India.
Hospitality is a sacred duty here and as a guest I have been shown great kindness by the college community. Meal times are a prime example, I am served graciously by a member of the kitchen staff or by a student and they sit with me as I eat, making sure I have enough and that I am enjoying the food. This is another good opportunity for conversation and for me to practise saying, “This food is delicious!” in Tamil (it almost always is!) and more new words and phrases; and to hear Tamil speakers becoming more confident in English as they get used to me and my unfamiliar accent. I am no longer a stranger here but part of the community, and am valuing deeply the mutual learning and enrichment that this affords.