By: Mitchell Petit-Frere
How fitting it was that the morning we visited St. Xaveir’s College I wound up learning a valuable lesson.
It all started with a bus ride that took us up north to the town of Mapusa, where St. Xavier’s is located. Two minutes into the ride, I received a tap on my shoulder. It was a middle-aged woman informing me that I was sitting in a “ladies seat.” My face immediately flushed red, and I scurried out into the aisle so the woman could sit. As I adjusted my grip on the pole hanging overhead I peered down at my old seat’s new occupant. She was looking out of the window; and on that window was a worn out sign. It read “Ladies Seating.”
Moral of the story: always check for signs.
The bus ride into Mapusa took about 30 minutes, and once we arrived, we each travelled up to the college on a vespa. Our modes of transportation that morning were befitting because a large number of St. Xavier’s students get to and from school via motorbikes or bus.
As we made our way onto campus, I was surprised by the sense of familiarity that came over me. Even though we were in a country nearly 8,000 miles away from home — one that surprised us time and time again during our stay — there was a palpable feeling to St. Xavier’s that was reminiscent of walking through campus at St. John’s.
Nevertheless, as we were shown the campus by our student guides, there were obvious differences from the campus we call home in Queens compared to the one we were traversing. The most obvious being the quality of facilities. At one point I headed to the bathroom and right as I finished washing my hands, I realized that I couldn’t turn the water off. No mater how many times or how forcefully I twisted the handle, the water kept running. Eventually, the water started to flood over onto the floor. Just as I was about to guiltily leave, having no idea what to do, a student walked in. I said something along the lines of “I think it’s broken.” All he did was smile, and then proceeded to gently tug on the handle. The water instantly stopped.
I’ll never forget what he said next: “Stuff like that happens here a lot.”
However, regardless of faulty sink faucets and computer and science labs that aren’t quite as high tech as the ones we’re used to in the States, I soon realized that the passion for education at St Xavier’s far exceeded what I was used to at home.
Take for instance when we met the college’s principal, Dr. (Fr.) Walter B. de Sa, in his office. The first thing I noticed after I stepping foot into the space were the dozens upon dozens of trophies adorning the walls. Interestingly enough, the awards didn’t represent athletic accomplishments — as so many trophy displays do on American college campuses. They were representations of academic accomplishment.
We were privileged enough to see the academic prowess of the students first hand when we made our way to the Psychology department to meet up with a group of graduate students. They spent about an hour showing us various clinical tests usually administered to patients. The tests were a lot like brain teasers and it was hilarious watching the Goan students break into bouts of laughter as we weaved our way through each challenge.
But other than the simple joy of sharing each other’s company, it was obvious that the St. Xavier’s students were proud. Proud to be hosting us; proud that a group of students from America were so enamored with the happenings of a University in India’s smallest state.
And looking back, that visit to St. Xavier’s serves as one of my proudest moments from India. I was proud that the administration and students of the college awarded us the chance to visit, and see, first hand, how much education transcends geographic location.