Months before participants of Global Outreach (GO!), a student-led cultural immersion and service program at Fordham, embarked on a journey to India, they had several discussions about economic disparity, poverty, and injustices here in New York.
But nothing compared to being in Kolkata and witnessing those social issues firsthand.
“You walk out of the airport and everything kind of hits you,” said Andrew Friedman, a senior in the Gabelli School of Business and the project’s student leader. “The sights, sounds, and smells are completely different than what I think some of us are used to, especially coming from New York. It’s a big adjustment and a bit of a cultural shock—but in a good way. I think that’s the best way to become fully immersed in the project.”
From Jan. 4 through 14, 11 Fordham students and one GO! chaperone teamed up with Kolkata’s St. Xavier’s College, Little Sisters of the Poor, St. Joseph’s Old Age Home, and Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity to assist sick, hungry, dying, abandoned, and orphaned individuals in various group homes.
The St. Xavier team, which hosted Fordham, organized several activities for participants that were focused on service and community engagement. The GO! team also participated in the college’s “Village to College and College to Village” program, which brings underprivileged children in rural villages and slums to St. Xavier’s campus.
“There was a wonderful cultural exchange that went on between our students and the students from St. Xavier,” said Claire Cumberland, GO!’s assistant director at Lincoln Center, who served as a chaperone for the project. “It was a great way for Fordham students to make a Jesuit connection halfway around the world.”
Through the Matthew J. Lavan Endowed Scholarship, six Fordham students received financial support to cover the cost of the project. The scholarship was created in memory of Matthew Lavan, FCRH ’98, an alumnus of GO!, who died in 2003. The Lavan family, the program’s largest sponsors, has been funding GO! immersion projects for over ten years.
For Friedman, a recipient of the Lavan Endowed Scholarship, the generosity of the Lavan family, allowed him to not only travel to India, but also see the world through another lens.
“The trip has an impact on everybody differently,” said Friedman. “Spending time with the Missionaries of Charity, being at the Mother House for Mass, and having the opportunity to visit St. Teresa’s tomb were all spiritual experiences.”
Cumberland said that in addition to working as a team to support the GO! partners’ work with the destitute people of Kolkata, participants spent time reflecting on the injustices they observed and what it means to be privileged Americans who are coming into a city or culture that is not their own.
“We hope that we’re helping students to be better men and women for others because we want to facilitate an understanding of standing in solidarity with people who are marginalized,” she said. “It’s not just about recognizing that our community is the 12 people on the trip, but recognizing that we’re part of a global community.”