by Bill Loftus
Nichole Thiel, who teaches family and consumer sciences at Lake City High School in Coeur d’Alene, gained new ways to educate her students during a trip to India this winter with Sandra Evenson and a Fulbright-Hays Study Tour.
The cultural immersion will help make her lessons into first-person accounts rather than knowledge she learned in her classes while earning her bachelor’s degree from the University of Idaho.
India’s caste system still dominates the culture. In some villages, men are born to be weavers and in many cases they still weave fabric in the same patterns as their fathers and grandfathers.
And yet, contrasts are everywhere. In one private school, she asked a young girl what she wanted to do with her life. “She said she wanted to be a nuclear physicist,” Thiel said.
But even as things change, thousands of years of tradition still underlie the economic engine that textiles and handicrafts provide for India. Thiel noted, “One of the speakers on the tour said that every piece has a history and a piece of the maker’s soul.”
Insights from village tours
The opportunity to visit villages where artisans still hand-make goods for export was impressive and exciting, as well as humbling, Thiel said.
Yet something that took them weeks or months to make, they sold for pennies. “We would never put that much effort into it,” she said. That cultural difference, the focus on producing a product valued for its own worth, was one Thiel found humbling.
Her class talked about textiles and history after her visit. She plans to use her own observations in her lesson plans. “Rather than referring to what a professor or a textbook said, I can say I was there and this is what I saw,” she said.
Those observations will affect her students in other ways, such as a lesson in how fabrics are dyed. “It was interesting to see the more rich colors of synthetic dyes versus the more pastel shades of the natural dyes,” she added.
The Fulbright provided a rich educational experience that would be nearly impossible to repeat, Thiel said.
The tour also required a financial commitment on her part to hire a substitute to cover her time away from her classes. The American Family and Consumer Science Association’s Idaho Chapter helped offset some of those costs with a $500 professional development award.
See related stories: textile trends overview, Sandra Evenson's Fulbright story, or alum Lori Wahl's adventures as a designer.