“They wound up teaching me more than I could ever possibly teach them”

written by Brian Zylinski – Class of 2012, Canisius College

Seventh-grade students at the Loyola Higher Secondary School in Kuppayanallur, Tamil Nadu, India.

This past January, I was blessed with the opportunity of a lifetime; I embarked on my first-ever international service-immersion experience, which was organized by the campus ministry office of my primary undergraduate institution (Canisius College in Buffalo, New York). This experience enabled twelve Canisius College students and two Canisius College professors to live alongside the Dalit (also referred to as the “Untouchables”) for two weeks in the province of Tamil Nadu in southern India. I knew beforehand that this trip was going to be immensely challenging and rewarding; however, nothing could have prepared me for how profoundly this magnificent experience would actually affect me.

I can honestly say that I learned more about the true meaning of solidarity during my two weeks spent in India, a mere snapshot in the history of my life, than I had in the remainder of my existence on this earth. If you had asked me to define solidarity prior to my participation on this trip, I probably would have said something to the effect of “a feeling of togetherness with the underserved” or “working alongside marginalized peoples with compassion.”  While both of these definitions may be accurate to a degree, they in no way completely encompass what solidarity truly means. Solidarity, in its purest form, is living to the fullest extent on a continuum – personally, spiritually, and culturally – with the totality of God’s creation. By interacting with the Dalit on a deeply metaphysical level, I truly felt in total harmony with the rest of the world in a way that simple human explanation cannot adequately describe.

Initially, I went to India with the intent, at least in part, to teach basic English lessons to Dalit children. Ironically, the Dalit people wound up teaching me more than I could ever possibly teach them. I was (and continue to be) absolutely astounded by their phenomenal appreciation of simplicity and captivating regard for simple human presence and togetherness. I feel truly honored to have been a part of this unforgettable adventure, and I am eternally grateful to have shared it so intimately with the Dalit and my fellow Canisius College students and professors.

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