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Professional Counseling Graduate Students Embark on Transformational Journey to India

Photo shows MU professional counseling graduate students attending an event during their trip to India
Photo by Parker Hilton

In January 2019, Assistant Professor Joanne Jodry, Ed.D., Associate Professor Stephanie Hall, Ph.D., and a group of professional counseling graduate students traveled throughout Northern India as a part of the Transformational Travel in India counseling course.

Offered for the first time during the fall 2018 semester with travel taking place in January, Jodry created this service learning trip as a means for students to expand their understanding of multicultural differences and enhance their multicultural competence as they experienced dozens of spiritually enlightening sites steeped in Indian history and culture.

In addition to visiting infamous sites such as the Taj Mahal, the Ganges River, the Golden Temple, and the Himalayan Mountains of Dharamshala, much of the group’s time was spent at One Life to Love, a nonprofit organization and orphanage that provides resources such as education, nutrition, and health care for children with mental and physical disabilities in New Delhi, India.

Jodry was inspired to work with One Life to Love in the creation of this new counseling course after meeting Courtney Lalotra, the founder, who had left her life in Brick, New Jersey to begin the orphanage in India.

“The reason I was originally connected with Courtney was because all of her children had disabilities and she was discussing guidance for their maximum potential,” said Jodry.  “The mental health graduate students were a perfect fit to go over and interact with these beautiful children.  I would like to say that we were there to help them, but the truth was that they helped us more,” said Jodry.

While creating the trip, Jodry enlisted the help of graduate student Merritt Reid, who is enrolled in the clinical mental health counseling program.

“I wanted to see if I could capture the graduate students’ transformation on film, as this was both a service and a spiritual trip.  My graduate assistant, Merritt, was also a filmmaker—and so the class was born,” said Jodry.

As part of Jodry and Reid’s research, the counseling students’ personal and academic preparation for the trip and the trip itself were recorded and will be made into a documentary, aimed at capturing personal and spiritual insights and changes made by the counseling students as a result of this journey.

“The main focus [of the documentary] is the students’ internal journey within themselves by taking an external voyage through India as they are faced with the existential questions such as the meaning of life and what really matters,” said Reid. “The documentary explores what causes change in people from an inside-out perspective and how people heal.”

The film, entitled “Bodhi,” highlights students’ time spent at One Life to Love and their personal fundraising efforts to support the orphanage before the trip took place.  In Sanskrit, “bodhi” means “to see the true nature of things.” It is traditionally translated into the English word “enlightenment.”

Set to be completed by the spring of 2020, the documentary will also include a six-month and one-year follow-up of the students discussing their experiences.

Reid, reflecting on the trip, said that these types of opportunities are crucial to learning for anyone, but more importantly, for those studying to be counselors.

“The research as well as the documentary are meant to explore any emergent and recurring themes in lasting transformation,” said Reid.  “Being in the mental health program, most people have a goal of wanting to be happy. This documentary and research explore what that means in a sense, and how happiness cannot be chased.”

Jodry said that in the future the program may be open to graduate students in other helping professions, and that this trip is being planned as an annual program.

For more information and updates about the forthcoming documentary, visit the IMDb page online.


Additional Links

India Trip Photo Gallery