Lalitha Sindhuri, is a Kuchipudi dancer and a Research Scholar in Dance from University of Hyderabad. Having completed her B.Tech in Computer Science, she completed her Masters in Kuchipudi dance and is currently pursuing her Ph.D in Dance as a Senior Research Fellow. Lalitha visited Barnard College in New York City as a Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral Fellow for the year 2017-18 and worked under Dr. Uttara Asha Coorlawala on her thesis topic “Dancing bodies: Cross-Cultural Training in Dance”. Along with conducting her research, Lalitha, as a Fulbrighter also performed across USA in different dance festivals at Palo Alto, State College, New York, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Rochester.
Lalitha has given over 900 performances and has many awards to her credit like Balashree National Award from the former President of India, Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam saab, Balaratna State award from the former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Dr. Y S Rajasekhara Reddy garu, Outstanding Young Person Award from JCI International, Young Woman Achiever Award etc.
After her PhD, like always, Lalitha wants to continue her performance career. Apart from working on traditional themes, she wants to choreograph productions addressing social issues. She also aims to establish an institute of her own and teach younger generation the invaluable treasure of Kuchipudi.
Lalitha shares her experiences of her Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral Fellowship with UoH Herald.
“The rapprochement of peoples is only possible when differences of culture and outlook are respected and appreciated rather than feared and condemned, when the common bond of human dignity is recognized as the essential bond for a peaceful world.”
– J. William Fulbright
How relevant are the words of Senator William J. Fulbright (1905-1995) to today’s world of unrest, hatred, terrorism and racism. The only way to deal with these issues is to empathetically understand other cultures and appreciate those cultures as we appreciate our own. The only way to grow empathetic and tolerant is either through “art” or through “education”. How privileged I was, as I could experience both the facets of art and education through Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral Fellowship! As the deadline for Fulbright Scholarship 2020-2021 is approaching; let us delve deep into the philosophy of Fulbright and how it can change our life forever.
I was invited by the US Consulate, Hyderabad for an alumni meet of all the exchange students in August 2018. The alumni were a heterogeneous group of politicians, educationalists, CEOs, students, social activists etc. But, a particular group of young students around the age of 18-19 caught my attention. I can see a spark in their eyes, with a blend of some enthusiasm and innocence. I wondered on what program they must have gone to US. Then I came to know that those students went to the United States for a year as a part of the Community College Initiative Program (CCIP) of the US state department. CCI program participants are recruited from historically underrepresented and undeserved communities. The spark and pride in their eyes reflected their sense of achievement and all the knowledge they gained through this ‘once in a life time’ opportunity. Their ideas, ideologies, perspective, and goals everything must have changed in a beautiful way after coming back from a different country. Perhaps, that is the whole point of an exchange program, that we become more compassionate, open, courageous and kind human beings.
Just like CCIP, there are several exchange programs that run throughout the year between India and USA and one of such prestigious scholarships is Fulbright Scholarship. Indian scholars are selected through a rigorous application and interview process which almost takes a year. I understood the privilege of Fulbright only after becoming a Fulbrighter. Right from dealing with the VISA to placing us in our desired institutes, the USIEF works relentlessly in taking care of us and it is not an exaggeration if I say that their treatment is quite close to pampering. Only thing the program expects out of us is probably to become better human beings (along with carrying out our academic work responsibly), come back to our home country and contribute back to the society.
I have been awarded Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral Fellowship for the year 2017-18. I have been working on my thesis topic “Cross-Cultural Training in Dance” as a Senior Research Fellow, in the department of dance, University of Hyderabad under the supervision of Prof. Aruna Bhikshu. As a part of my research work, I went to Barnard College, Columbia University as a Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral Fellow. Under the supervision of Dr. Uttara Asha Coorlawala, I audited several courses as a participant observant and experienced different dance and movement forms like ballet, modern, Flamenco, Pilates, African Dance etc. Currently, I am writing my thesis in which an entire chapter is dedicated to my Fulbright experience as a participant observant. Apart from being exposed to fantastic academia, I learnt some great life lessons as a Fulbrighter. In an attempt to share my nine month experience in a nutshell, I might be clumsy with my explanations. Please bear with my enthusiasm.
1. Valuing time
People take their time and other’s time very seriously. I was so surprised how people schedule their meetings in minutes. Professors respect students’ time and schedule meetings accordingly.
2. Being Independent
Just like any other outsider, I have varied opinions about the youth of USA. But once I stepped into USA and saw the reality, I developed great amount of respect for them. All the students work extremely hard apart from their academic schedules to make their living and to live independently. This creates a sense of responsibility and a strong personality by the time they graduate out of their colleges. After all, experience is the best teacher.
3. Community Programs & The power to express your opinion
We all are aware of the fact that almost all the institutions in the United States don’t just look at your grades but consider your overall activities, your contribution to the society and your ability to express your views clearly and confidently. Although students start participating in community contribution programs right from their schooling in an aim to get into good colleges, serving to the community, speaking up their minds becomes a habit for them over a period of time which shapes them into authentic human beings. As a Fulbrighter, I was able to participate in several programs in New York and in Nashville as a part of our Fulbright Enrichment Seminar.
4. Celebrating different cultures
USA is a land of different cultures and New York is the capital of multi-cultures. As Fulbrighters, we get opportunities to dine with the local communities as a part of Thanksgiving, apple picking, Christmas, New Year etc. These programs help us in mingling with the locals and understand their culture better. We also get opportunities to connect to Fulbright alumni and speak about their projects over lunch or a cup of tea. In this whole process, we create new friends from new cultures, grow empathetic towards them and sometimes, we develop long lasting bonds.
These are only to mention a few among many other wonderful experiences as a Fulbrighter. Visiting USA as an employee or as a self-funded student is quite different from visiting USA as a Fulbrighter which is a fully funded scholarship program. The entire process makes us feel grateful and responsible. It sparks that inner fire in us to give back something for the world which gave us so much. Having shared my dinner table with my fellow Pakistani and Afghan Fulbrighters in a gateway orientation in Miami, Florida, today, I respond to the border issues differently. My heart aches and craves for peace rather than wishing for a war or bloodshed. Had it been not for Fulbright, my thoughts would have been quite different. After coming back from USA, I still get opportunities to participate in Alumni programs, conferences, leadership programs, community activities reflecting the motto of Fulbirght, “Once a Fulbrighter, always a Fulbrighter”. Hence, through Fulbright, I got a lovely family which is spread across the entire world and I also envision a higher purpose to my life and career now.