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Calcutta Experience






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The Calcutta Experience was established in 1985 as an opportunity for students to travel to Kolkata, India and volunteer with Mother Teresaís Missionaries of Charity.  The Calcutta Experience (now the Seattle University Calcutta Club) is based on the four pillars of Service, Community, Culture and Spirituality.  With these pillars as a guide, students who have served in India provide mentorship and guidance for other students who wish to participate in this experience.  There are no limitations or restrictions on who can participate in this experience or who can join the club.


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.

In 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.

The Calcutta 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 Teresa
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.