Exploring India

Plucheck with classmate Sophie Geister-Jones in Rishikesh, India

Plucheck with classmate Sophie Geister-Jones in Rishikesh, India

Senior Haley Plucheck, a communications and Spanish major from Centennial, Colorado, spent three weeks in India exploring the stages of pilgrimage for a Civitas project.

Q: Your project for Civitas, Augustana’s Honors Program, took you to India. Tell us about your project.

A: My project was titled “Pilgrimage: A Return Home” (and it was designed to allow me to) seek a more universal understanding of why people decide to go on a pilgrimage. A lot of the texts I’d been studying describe different religious views and contexts of why people go, whether to Mecca, the Camino de Santiago, or other locations. It’s an exploration of their backgrounds and the significance of each stage of a pilgrimage. My intent was to explore why it’s important to take these journeys and how people use the experience of the journey once they return, because the key is what you do with what you learned, whether about the world or about yourself, and apply it to your everyday life. Going to India was an opportunity to experience a completely different world, an eastern country with different societal roles for women, religious beliefs, and culture. My pilgrimage kept me moving from place to place, roaming all over India, not feeling settled.

Q: How long were you in India, where in India were you and where did you stay during your time there?

A: We were in India for about three and a half weeks. We flew to Delhi and then went to Rishikesh, which is in the Himalayan foothills and where the Ganges River begins. It was absolutely stunning. We also went to Puri, one of the four pilgrimage sites for Hindus. Next, Bhubaneswar and then a train to Bodh Gaya (an Indian train is an experience in itself), which is home to the Bodhi Tree where the Buddha attained enlightenment. Varanasi, followed, the Holy City of Shiva. From here we went to Agra, where we saw the Taj Mahal, then Jaipur, our last city before returning to Delhi. So eight cities in all: Delhi, Rishikesh, Puri, Bhubaneswar, Bodh Gaya, Varanasi, Agra, and Jaipur. Lots of traveling!

Q: You talked about the sites, but was there anything else that you did while you were there that helped you with your research?

A: The whole trip was a pilgrimage. I talked a lot with Dr. Janet Blank-Libra (English and journalism), who is my advisor for this project, and also with Rev. Dr. Paul Rhode (campus pastor), who has done a lot of research on pilgrimage. Pastor Paul talked about how two main things in pilgrimage are the departure, making that decision to go, and attentiveness. It is an inner journey as well, discovering personal limits and more.

Q: How did your experience at Augie, as well as your Civitas experience, prepare you for this moment?

A: I cannot say enough good things about the Civitas Program. It challenges you and pushes you to think outside what is comfortable. Dr. Murray Haar (religion) has this lovely quote, “think that you may be wrong,” and that’s what I’ve been learning at Augie. You have to go outside your perspective and look at what other people experience and what other people believe to get closer to truth. In all of my classes, not just the Civitas classes, I’ve been pushed to keep learning about the world and look beyond what I know to be true. There are over 7 billion people in the world with experiences much different than mine. The opportunity to study abroad allows you to challenge yourself on an even greater scale because you are immersed in a new culture, and that’s invaluable.

Q. Favorite Augustana professor so far and why?

A. One of my favorite professors is Dr. Ann Pederson in the religion department. She’s pushed me to see the power of landscapes and discover the importance of certain geographical locations and how they inform your faith and your life. Her “Religion Seminar on Contemporary Theology” has been one of my favorite classes. I took a Civitas class with Dr. Haar on justice in the State of Israel. I learned about the conflict in Israel and to think critically about the different lenses we wear, how we tend to see from only one perspective, the need to seek more, and the importance of listening. Last year I took a class on the life of Che Guevara with Dr. Pilar Cabrera (Spanish). That class was a favorite because it gave the perspective of a college student seeing change that needed to happen but taking it to an extreme. It reinforced the need to seek new perspectives and listen. Those three are definitely at the top of my favorites list.

Q. What’s your dream job after graduation, and why?

A. I’m hoping to spend a year with the Border Servant Corps and then pursue the dream of being an audiologist. I want to provide access to hearing to others so they are able to fully interact with this world and listen to the sounds in life that make a huge difference in how we interpret the world. That’s the plan right now.