Two Pacific Professors travel to India to plan new travel course
Pacific University’s Creative Writing Program Director Professor Keya Mitra recently returned from a trip to India along with fellow professor Jennifer Hardacker. Together, they are researching and planning a travel course for January term of 2025. But the trip was also an opportunity for Mitra to do her own research for her novel-in-progress titled Immigrant Delay Disease.
Mitra emphasized the interdisciplinary nature of the course. The course will “involve media arts, English, creative writing, editing & publishing, and gender & sexuality studies. We’re really looking for interdisciplinary and collaborative students,” said Mitra. Students will be able to choose a focus for their own research and discovery.
In the course, students will spend three weeks traveling the eastern coast of India in the state of Kerala. “For a while I wanted to take the travel course up to Meghalaya, but it had risks to students, so we changed our plans to Kerala,” Mitra said.
A large chunk of Mitra’s research for her novel was done in the northern state of Meghalaya which has an existing matrilineal society even to this day. This allowed her book’s writing to flourish. Mitra summarized her novel: “It’s literary fiction but also a thriller. Immigrant Delay Disease is a name given to a genetic condition of people born without fingerprints. And people without fingerprints who try to immigrate are often denied, even if they have other forms of identification, because they have no fingerprints. You have this narrator whose mother is continually denied access to America. There’s a point where she gradually realizes she is unseen. This thing, this disease, which disempowers her and her mother becomes used to their advantage when she decides to kill her husband.”
Mitra elaborated that Immigrant Delay Disease includes “characters that involve multiple generations of women. I researched the culture [in Meghalaya] and the matrilineal structure that’s tied in with Khasi—both the language and the culture. Some of the Khasi myths have made their way into the novel.” These matrilineal societies will be discussed throughout the course as well. She found that researching her book enriched her plans for the travel course and vice versa.
No such murder shall occur on the travel course. The course will start in Kochi, letting the students reflect on the city and its art and architecture. They’ll also have the opportunity to attend the Biennale art show to see a collection of movies, stories, paintings, music, and other art.
After Kochi, the course will move to the city of Madurai where they will collaborate with students at Lady Doak College, an all-women’s college. That section of the course will allow for “(a) lot of interaction with the students and the lectures along with discussions about gender identity in India. We’ll have outings as well to see the caves, markets, and city.” To wrap the course up with a ribbon of reflection, students will visit a retreat in Munnar that promotes calm minds, bird watching, hiking, and workshopping projects.
The travel course will have a prep course in the fall before departing, and is looking to be upper division credits but not restricted to any particular major. For students considering the course, Mitra said, “One of the most meaningful parts is going to be the cultural exchange, the interaction. Especially at Lady Doak. A back and forth between students while interacting with lectures. There’ll be so many different opportunities.” — Ashley Strobel