Catherine Leahy
Rajagiri School of Social Work, India

Valerie Hoogstad Scholar Award Recipient 2017

Things I've Learnt

I’ve been here 9-10 weeks now. At this point you start to establish some friendships and lots of connections with people.


A very typical greeting in Kerala is “Have you had your breakfast?” I don’t know whether I will ever fully understand their inordinate interest in what I consume for the first meal of the day. My fellow exchangers and I have learnt to ask this question when greeting people.


If you are in a de facto relationship, as I am – say you are married. If you have chosen not to have children, as I did, then assume that people will be very apologetic and feel sorry for you. In India marriage and children are expected. If you are an older student, as I am, note that this is highly unusual in India and requires some explanation.


My educational institution blocks you from viewing pictures of sports women and men online. Go figure.


Head movements are so important in India. So much can be said with the right rotation of the head.


People never tire of photographing the white person. Never, ever. But you will tire of being put in photos with or without your permission. Well, I did anyway.


Dosas are the best. Indian food has always been one of my favourites. As someone with coeliac disease you couldn’t pick a better destination. There are lots of options.


Kerala is a dry state (as in prohibition is in force). Yes. Attending a conference in neighbouring Tamil Nadu provided a chance to catch up 😊


Time is a very different concept in India. I was told very directly by one of the priests in my organisation, that no-one would ever think to turn up to a meeting on time. It is true. But there does seem to be a window within in which you are meant to appear and I haven’t mastered that one yet.



Keralans find it hard to say a confirmation just once. There is never a single ‘OK’. It must always be ‘Okayokayokayokay’. Malayalam, the language of Kerala, has words with many syllables, often sounding the same. I think this is why a single syllable just seems to be lacking something for them.


Doing a school visit. These are major affairs with gushing speeches and effusive gratitude. The younger students ask a lot of questions. They seemed quite curious to know whether dingoes were a problem in Australia, how much drugs and alcohol affect our population, and who was the first prime minister. Not really that easy to answer when you are put on the spot.

I put in many extra hours on my placement as I’d arrived late due to various issues. Consequently 8-9 weeks in I hit a bit of a wall and decided I needed to make life a little easier.
I took a night off and headed to a music festival in Fort Kochi with some of the other exchangers. I’ve spent many years at the conservatorium in my youth studying music and normally I’m rather hard to please but so many Indian people seem to have extraordinary mastery of complex rhythmic patterns. The concert goers were the wealthy Indians probably spending a good deal of their time in the UK. It was a bit of a shock to see women’s legs and shoulders on display – a taboo in Kerala which is really a very conservative society.
To the left is a photo of Susheela Ramen performing in Fort Kochi. Below left you can see a photo from my visit to the Munnar Tea Growing Areas, and on the right you is a photo from the Under 17 World Cup Soccer in Kerala!