“I had a lot of crap I just wanted to get rid of,” says Pat Kyle, several weeks after returning from India and selling many of his personal belongings in a rummage sale. Kyle, a senior majoring in religious studies, has decided to make some major changes in his way of living following his stay in Pune, Maharashtra, India (“four hours inland from Bombay”). Kyle, along with two other students from Lawrence, Beth Achille and Amanda Birnschein, attended the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) program from July 14 through Dec. 14, 2001.
During their first month in the program, students were introduced to life in the city of Pune and trained in Marathi, the main language of the region. Students then attended four out of six lecture courses (in English) offered by the program, including courses on political science, art and architecture, performing culture, sociology, Ayurvedic medicine, and geology. Students enjoyed three one week breaks intended for travel, during which Kyle visited other parts of India, including Calcutta, Rajasthan, and the Himalayas in the state of Sikkim: “Public transportation was very good, but comfort was not guaranteed.”
Kyle borrowed a bicycle from fellow Lawrence student Keshav Yoshi, and took many trips to materially impoverished neighborhoods of Maharashtra: “They face things that you think would be depressing, but they still manage to find something to be happy about and enjoy life. So many of the things we complain about are small in scale compared to what these people face.”
“Being in India made all of us think about things we never had to think about before… cultural practices, expectations, and standards of living,” says Kyle, who has now sold his entire CD collection and telephone, reduced his wardrobe to three changes of clothes, and now declines to use a computer. Although Kyle admits that he considered making these changes before he left for India, being in the country provided him with time to reflect on his lifestyle and plans for the future.
Kyle says, “My favorite memories have come from times in the wilderness alone or with small groups of friends.” He adds that he is “in a transitional phase, preparing for a more rustic life.”
As part of his new experimental lifestyle, Kyle has decided to reduce his material possessions according to three principles: one, necessity; two, environmental impact; and three, potential for new experiences.
Kyle explains his third principle, claiming that he has noticed improved content and meaning in his communication with others, and enjoys less disturbance and irritation caused by his previous possessions. Kyle says that he no longer worries about dry emails and phone conversations, and that his life has been simplified by the reduction in technology. Kyle now turns to his guitar, tablas (Indian drums), and jaw harp for entertainment, saying that performing has provided more satisfaction than listening to recordings of musicians.
Kyle recalls the summer of 1999, when he worked at a Boy Scout camp in Philmont, New Mexico, and taught scouts about wildflowers, no-trace camping, astronomy, and the history of the area’s land. He hopes to return to the camp this summer, hike the Appalachian Mountains, and eventually work for the National Outdoor Leadership School. Before he can do any of this, however, Kyle must get rid of his Aiwa stereo, which he plans to sell for $50.