Graduate Student Receives Critical Language Scholarship to India
Erin Riggs (pictured on the left above)
Graduate Student: Anthropology, PhD.
Hometown: Running Springs, California
Article Written by: JC Wu, Class of 2017
The Critical Language Scholarship Program is an intensive program that provides an opportunity for students to explore foreign cultures and strengthen their skills in a critical language. Recipient, Erin Riggs, third year PhD. student of archeology at Binghamton University, spent the summer of 2015 exploring the cultures of India and gaining foundational Punjabi skills to help build her dissertation project.
Traveling isn’t new to Erin. Originally from Running Springs, California, she went to University of California Berkeley for undergraduate before coming to Binghamton University for a Ph.D. In her sophomore year at UC Berkeley, she participated in a field school in Greece where she excavated at a Greek colony site. However, she soon discovered that instead of classical archeology, she was more interested in historical archeology, through which she could engage with the stories of individuals.
During her time on the west coast, Erin built an impressive collection of academic works, much of which examines the relationship between people and their homes and material surroundings. Here at Binghamton University, Erin is pursuing a Ph.D. in archeology under Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Randall McGuire. Her current interest resides in the archeology of human displacement in the recent past. After volunteering at the 1947 Partition Archive in California where she collected oral histories through interviews with Partition survivors, she thought about the option of building a dissertation on the material legacies of the Partition in Delhi, more specifically "looking at homes within refugee colony neighborhoods and how they have been altered through time.” When she became aware that the Critical Language Program offered the Punjabi language, she knew it would be a great opportunity to learn about the histories and landscapes through first-hand experience of living in India.
Erin departed for India in the summer of 2015. She was instantly struck by the diversity of India’s built environment. For example, when she arrived at the city of Chandigarh, she throught “it wasn’t what most Americans imagine India to be.” Post-Independence Chandigarh, planned by the French architect Le Corbusier, is composed of gridded streets and predominantly modern Western architecture.
Erin befriended another student from the US who has family in India. This family welcomed Erin into their home and guided her in planning weekend trips to many major cities within Northern India. Together, she and her friend ventured out of Chandigarh and visited the cities of Amritsar, Shimla, Palampur, Delhi, and Agra. For nine weeks, she made significant progress in learning Punjabi. By the end of the program, she became “more comfortable with speaking” and was able to attempt conversations about the most basic topics. With this foundational Punjabi in hand and a valuable experience of living in India, she felt ready to develop the plan of her dissertation upon her return to Binghamton.
Overall, the Critical Language Program provided Erin with an opportunity to gauge the possibility of pursuing her research interest and allowed her to immerse herself in another culture. Now back at Binghamton, she is taking on her research project under the guidance of Professor McGuire. She is grateful for the guidance of the Office of External Scholarships and especially of director Janice McDonald who assisted her in the Critical Language application process. To students who are interested in an experience like this, she recommends talking to as many people as possible, taking advantage of resources provided by the Office of External Scholarships, and also having “come from a sincere place when applying” because “you don’t want to apply simply because you want to travel, you need a clear objective to why this is important.” Whether it is to increase fluency in a language or to explore new cultures, the program is beneficial to students of undergraduate or graduate level looking to broaden their horizons.