The Seattle University Calcutta
Experience was started in 1985 by Professor Neil Young of the Psychology
Department. Dr. Young taught a student at the University of Dallas who
had traveled to India and worked with the Missionaries of Charity at
Kalighat, Mother Teresa's home for the destitute and dying. Inspired by
his student's bold endeavor, and having relocated to Seattle,
Washington, Dr. Young decided to also offer Seattle University students
the opportunity for service, travel, and education in India. Dr. Young
did not travel to India himself until 1987 (and again in 1991), but he
started the Calcutta program after over 30 students vied for a
scholarship to India that very first year. What is now known as the
"Calcutta Club" is the university group that helps organize and
financially support each new group of students that embarks to
experience life in Kolkata.
1985, a single student, Todd Waller, participated in the fledgling
program. He was in India for a little over 5 weeks. Each year since,
gradually more students have traveled to India and stayed for longer
periods of time. Other American Universities have international
volunteer programs (Fordham and Wake Forest Universities have programs
to India), but Seattle University is believed to be the only school with
something as structured and long-standing as the Calcutta Experience.
Experience has become a completely student run and facilitated
organization. The selection process has moved beyond an application
process to one of discernment and desire. Any who wish to participate
are welcomed into the club and all the resources associated with the
club are available to them. The most important resource that the club
is able to provide is the personal experiences from other students who
have served in Kolkata. This network provides information and guidance
for students preparing to go, as well a support network for students who
a have recently returned from India. The reverse culture shock
associated with coming back can be a difficult and lonely experience and
having a network of students who have gone through the reintroduction is
an extremely important part of this club.
The Mission of the Calcutta
Experience largely reflects the Jesuit mission of Seattle University and
of the former Volunteer Center.
The journey of these volunteers
reflects the mission of Seattle University to educate leaders for
service, to build a just community through acts of love and compassion,
and to infuse one's life with an intellectual and contemplative spirit.
The journey also reflects the
mission of the Volunteer Center to bridge teaching and learning
activities with service to diverse communities.
With this in mind, the Calcutta
Experience is primarily based on the four principles of service,
community, culture, and spirituality. These
principles are experienced in a myriad of ways for the volunteers.
Service is experienced through our work with the Missionaries of Charity
and through the mentorship of other students who wish to participate.
Community is vital to this experience, in preparation, with volunteers
and patients in Kolkata, and with others who have gone in the past after
returning. Volunteers experience only a small portion of the rich
culture of India through learning about and living in Kolkata.
Independent of religious tradition, working with the Missionaries of
Charity and service of our fellow humans in need is a spiritual
experience. The depth and manifestation of that experience varies
greatly with each individual.
The Calcutta program aims at
developing cross-cultural awareness, sensitivity to the problems of
contemporary urban life, and commitment to leadership in serving the
needs of the community.
Both the Calcutta program and the
Missionaries of Charity are expressly interdenominational. Each accepts
volunteers of diverse religious backgrounds, and offers aid to all,
regardless of religious affinity.
Students are not sent to India
under an exaggerated notion of "changing the world." We acknowledge that
the benefactors of our program are primarily the participants
themselves. Despite full preparation for the logistical aspects of
travel in India, volunteers begin their mission almost naive, but they
come away with a dramatic internal transformation of the highest form,
bringing a new perspective of life. Student volunteers reach out in
service and discover themselves in relationships of mutual caring.
When Dr. Young began the Calcutta
Experience it was associated with the Seattle University Volunteer
Center. In the mid 1990ís the program has gained a more autonomous
position in the University community under the Calcutta Club. As an
official campus club, the Calcutta Experience receives guidance from a
part-time advisor. We receive annual tax-deductible donations and hold
meetings, fundraisers and an introductory slide show on campus in the
winter. We have also developed a photo gallery with reflections from
each artist about their experience and the photograph. Though the club
is a registered club of Seattle University, the University only acts in
the role of advisor and accountant for the Calcutta Club. Our status as
an international volunteer program is independent from Seattle
University sponsorship and supervision.
No college credit is gained by
participating in the Calcutta Experience and each member takes a one
quarter (10 weeks) leave of absence from classes. Volunteers leave for
India once a year, typically in the Fall (thereby avoiding the Summerís
heat as well as the monsoon seasonís rain). In order to receive
financial aid associated with the club, students are required to
volunteer for two months with an organization in India, typically the
Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata. Some volunteers stay longer, but
each individual is left on their own to decide their limits and
capabilities. Upon returning from Kolkata, students are expected to be
active in sharing their experiences with the Seattle University and
broader community, and to take an active role in service to the
community here at home. By January of each year, when most volunteers
have returned, preparations begin for the next yearís group.
There are no limitations on who
can participate in the Calcutta Experience. It is a personal decision
and the club is viewed solely as a resource for those who feel called to
serve in this way.
Along with mental, spiritual and
physical preparations, the Calcutta Club also provides resources for
fundraising. Each year the goal is to fundraise enough to pay for each
participantís plane ticket, which can range from $900-$1500. Most funds
are raised from the Seattle University community, the Associated
Students of Seattle University (ASSU), Seattle area Catholic parishes,
the Seattle Jesuit Community and other personal sources.
Learning to Love with Mother
by Neil Francis Young, Ph.D.
Dr. Young has interviewed many
students and volunteers who have worked with Mother Teresa's
Missionaries of Charity and he has compiled excerpts from these
interviews and passages from his own
experience into a book titled Learning to Love with Mother Teresa,
published by Accent Digital Publishing Inc.. Contact the publisher
or the current Calcutta Club members to purchase copies of this book.