Meet Nisha Felicita
SITA’s New Community Advisor
Originally from Bangalore, Nisha moved to Madurai for college in 2011. “Six years on,” she says, “this city still surprises me.” Nisha is most looking forward to “giving SITA students a glimpse of the vast experiences this place has to offer.” Read more about the diverse skills, interests, experiences, and perspectives Nisha brings to her new role as SITA’s Community Advisor — a position that helps facilitate a culturally immersive and experiential learning environment for students.
You have been a part of the SITA community for years, long before the Community Advisor position even existed. Can you tell us how you found out about SITA and some of the interactions you’ve had with our students in the past?
Nisha: As an undergraduate at Lady Doak College, I was actively involved with the International Studies Center (ISC) on campus. During my second year of undergrad, back in 2012, the ISC organized a mixer for the students at Lady Doak and the SITA students. That was when I was introduced to SITA.
I have had friends from other countries before that, but not students and not Americans. My preconceived notions about American life stemmed from their media. It was refreshing to see how far from the truth they were. To encourage interaction, we were sectioned off into groups where I met Hillary Mullan, who I later had the pleasure of translating for. We both were science majors and instantly took to having meaningful dialogue on the healthcare facilities in both of our countries and the prospects of studying science.
Read Hillary Mullan’s reflections about her semester, an “experience too raw, vibrant, challenging and beautiful to simply be described as study abroad. I came back to the US a different person because of the people I met and the experiences I had there.”
Since collaborating with Hillary, I have translated for about six SITA students in the next four years as and when my course load allowed me to.
In addition to your work at SITA, we know you’ve worked with several American scholars as a field assistant and translator. What were some of the projects you assisted? What were your most memorable experiences?
Nisha: Working with research scholars was more advanced than with SITA students, requiring me to expand my networks and resources and to travel to remote parts of Tamil Nadu. It opened me up to a plethora of new experiences. I got to experience my own culture in more intense way, I learned with the scholars. I treasure those experiences and am very grateful to have had them.
I mostly worked with Anthropology scholars, I first assisted in a study on Tamil Visual Culture, which forever changed the way I will view flex boards or wall paintings thereon. I then assisted in a study on changing food and snacking trends in Tamil Nadu, this one was especially my favorite, because my job was to snack on healthy homemade nibbles and try new food items every day. Lastly, I assisted with a study on farming methods in Tamil Nadu. During this study I had the opportunity to witness what I study (Biotechnology) being implemented in real life. I mostly observed and helped document the changing perspective on farming in the state, and the farmers’ slow transition to sustainable farming practices. One of my most memorable moments of being a Research Assistant is when I got to harvest paddy with a sickle on a field and share a freshly plucked tender coconut with the farmers.
Prior to joining SITA, you worked at People’s Watch, a prominent human rights organization in Madurai. What were some of the key insights you learned while working there? What do you hope to share about this experience with SITA students?
Nisha: During my time at People’s Watch, I was given an in-depth introduction into the many dimensions of Human Rights and the ways it is interpreted. It was interesting to learn and assess the extent to which entitled rights have been given to those in my immediate reality, and to me. I was given a close look at how multi-layered Human Rights can be. As a Biotechnology student, Right to good healthcare and especially the Right to clean and sustainable environment appealed to me. I was also made more sensitive to the social issues around me and how it affects the people of this nation at large.
The fact that a good chunk of our population is denied access to the privileges enjoyed by one part of India’s citizens was eye opening. I found myself gravitating towards issues like the problems faced by tribal populations in the name of development. Examples of this include uranium & coal mining in Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu’s problem with the notorious Prosopis Juliflora (Seemai Karuvelam tree in Tamil), a weed that has been responsible for the water scarcity in the state. Issues like this, caused by our interaction with our environment, interested me most, especially since I knew and had the training to produce laboratory solutions for these issues. My new-found knowledge on Human Rights altered how I viewed our environment, associated populations, and the practical implementation of science to remedy issues.
Many students take advantage of the opportunity to take classes in the arts while in Madurai (known as Expressive Culture Classes at SITA). Tell us how the arts play a role in your life.
Nisha: I have always been inclined towards creativity. Even in grade school I participated in many painting & drawing competitions and always performed (skits, mimes, dance) when given a chance. During college, my interest in the creative arts shifted from performance arts to a newly evolving form of abstract art, what I learnt later was called Zentangle. Zentangle is a method of creating beautiful images from repetitive patterns. It helped me increase my focus and creativity. I also discovered my hidden talent for portrait sketching. It was natural for me to document my time in Madurai in photographs. It’s a vibrant city full of colors and life at all times of the day. With every festival, street parades, the annual summer festival (Chitirai festival), this city seems to opens itself to me one photograph at a time on my instagram. (You’re likely to see some of Nisha’s photography on SITA’s instagram as well!). My creative senses have expanded more after moving to this city. I find inspiration for paintings, sketches and photos in every temple, street and people I come across in this beautiful city.
You are originally from Bangalore but moved to Madurai for your undergrad. Could you talk a bit more about that transition?
Nisha: Having spent my whole childhood in Bangalore, it sure was interesting when I first moved to Madurai. I found my 18-year-old self forced to be exposed to new experiences that I initially wasn’t sure I would like. Though Tamil was my mother tongue, growing up I spoke very little of it. The dialect in Madurai was difficult to catch on to as well. I remember asking my new classmates and my aunt to constantly repeat themselves a little slower so I may understand them. Eventually, watching Tamil movies and with a little help from my classmates, I learned the dialect.
Only after coming here, I had to find my own way. I got lost a lot of times and had many adventures by myself. The culture, the streets, and the amazingly delicious food in Madurai made me miss Bangalore a little less. I still visit home, when I get too homesick. The transition was tough, sure. But after I gave into the flow of things in this place, it helped me immensely to adapt. And now, I advocate for people to move to Madurai! This city I have discovered is beautifully preserved in a sense that, it incorporates a western way of life but also still holds firm to its traditional ways.
Having lived in Madurai for six years, what are you favorite aspects of the city?
Nisha: When I began exploring Madurai on my own, the energy of this city caught on to me. With every turn, there are colorful temples with their own style, and the palette-pleasing food options here are my favorite. I have a two-wheeler, and Madurai is a scenic place for going on a long drive. I take my scooter out and go on long drives by myself, which to me is meditative, it also gives me an opportunity to make images. Usually, my friends are surprised that a woman can take solo rides and be safe. This city also respects its women, and I have felt protected whenever travelling in public transport and when I was on my own. Madurai is where I discovered my love and addiction to coconut chutney. There’s never too much chutney.
There is an addictive energy to this place, from the neighbors who wish me a good day, to temple elephants that strut down the streets, from the waiter at Murugan Idli who always remembers I like my coffee strong, to Alagar Hill where I get the most majestic sunrise pictures. After I let myself be taken for a ride, this city keeps surprising me.
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