SITA Center & Staff
SITA gave me a chance to explore, understand, and fall in love with a culture completely different to what I’m used to. I will never forget my experience here and I hope to come back to India soon! I really recommend this program if you are looking for an opportunity to be fully immersed in Indian culture. You will have a great support system and you won’t ever regret your decision.  - Bates student, 2011

Draw on the cultural and academic resources of Madurai through the SITA Center, located near two colleges.

South India Term Abroad students take classes at the SITA Center.  Located in a residential area, the SITA Center offers students a comfortable home-base and access to the cultural and academic resources of Madurai. It is adjacent to Lady Doak College (a women’s college) and a short bicycle ride to American College (co-ed college). Students can visit both campuses to attend events, use libraries, and meet with faculty and students. Faculty members from these, and other colleges and universities in Madurai, come to the SITA Center to hold classes. The two-building center houses classrooms, staff offices, a state-of-the-art library, a computer center, and social gathering spaces for students. Host families live an easy walk, bicycle, or bus ride from the Center. It is a 10 minute bus ride from the center of the city.

In addition to faculty members and your host families, there are many people who will help you prepare for your journey to Madurai and adjust to the cultural and academic demands of South India Term Abroad. Our staff members have remarkable travel, volunteer, and academic credentials in India and years of experience in study abroad. They understand the unique experience of studying and living in Madurai as a U.S. undergraduate student. They create a culturally supportive and intellectually challenging environment for you to thrive as a SITA student. As a cultural immersion and language study program, SITA has a core staff with exceptional academic qualifications.

The U.S.-based EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DR. CONNIE ETTER, is responsible for overall program operations, manages the admission and pre-departure process, and oversees staff in Madurai. Connie holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Syracuse University, with Certificates in Advanced Study in South Asian Studies and Women’s Studies. Her dissertation research explored themes of belonging and community in a social rehabilitation shelter for women outside of patriarchal family structures in Madurai. Connie first visited South India as an undergraduate study abroad student in 2000. Since then, Madurai has become a second home. Before becoming SITA ED, Connie visited Madurai annually for research trips and Tamil language study. She also lived in Madurai for over two years beginning in June 2007. Connie joined South India Term Abroad in August 2010. She is currently based in Salt Lake City, UT and visits Madurai at least twice a year. In Utah, Connie enjoys road and mountain biking, snowboarding, running, walks to the grocery store, coffee shop, post office, and campus with Abbey (a border collie/husky), and teaching anthropology courses at Westminster College. SITA site visits always include shopping for new clothes, bindis, and bangles, multiple meals at Murugan Idli, trips to see Tamil films with Nirmala, ridiculously hot treadmill running, and bowling at the local mall. Although this is a great position, her best job ever was working as a canoe guide for high school students in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota.


laurah for website-1The RESIDENT DIRECTOR, LAURAH KLEPINGER-MATHEW, manages program operations in India, teaches the Ethnography course and supervises students’ field research projects, advises students on cultural adjustment, and assists students in integrating their personal experiences into an academic framework. Laurah is a doctoral candidate in Anthropology at Syracuse University. Her dissertation is a study of working lives and relations in the South Indian branches of an international yoga organization. Through the lens of one well-established spiritual institution with high ideals and a long-standing international community, the project explores some of the limits and possibilities of communication across difference, in the context of contemporary globalization. Laurah is proficient in both Tamil and Malayalam language and was twice a language fellow with the American Institute of Indian Studies. She holds the MA degree in dance (performance and culture) and MFA in dance (choreography) from UCLA. Laurah has been a yoga teacher since 1997 and a mom since 2011. She and her family joined the SITA community in Madurai beginning with the fall 2013 semester.


The FINANCE & PROGRAMS MANAGER, DR. ARUN RAJA SELVAN, is responsible for all program logistics and travel arrangements, faculty relations, and budget and finances. He is also SITA’s Tamil language professor. Dr. Arun earned a Ph.D. in Linguistics from Madurai Kamaraj University. His dissertation was entitled “Problems in Translating English into Tamil.” He has been with South India Term Abroad since 1993. During the summer of 2012, Dr. Arun is Tamil Professor at SASLI: South Asia Summer Language Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


The OUTREACH & OPERATIONS MANAGER, MS. NIRMALA CHRISTINA, is responsible for host family relations, student health and adjustment, and facilities and staff management at the SITA Center. Her first position with South India Term Abroad was librarian, when she had the huge task of organizing the  wonderful and large SITA book collection. She has been with South India Term Abroad since August 2008.







Program assistants impart pre-departure information and advice, help students deal with cultural issues in India, and facilitate students’ well-being during the program. As recently-graduated South India Term Abroad alumni, program assistants are particularly conscious of and well-suited to address the sorts of issues and challenges that SITA students face. 

meredith photoPROGRAM ASSISTANT, MEREDITH UNGER, was a South India Term Abroad student during spring 2011. Her program assistant position began in fall 2013. She represented SITA at study abroad fairs during the fall and moves to Madurai in December. Meredith graduated from Smith College in 2012 with a B.A. in Education and Child Study, and is a licensed elementary school teacher. Meredith was touched by the careful guidance and endless care she received from her host parents and siblings, whether it was help with tricky Tamil homework, hand-drawn maps to guide her on the bike ride to school, and certainly always from host mom’s exquisite cooking! As a dancer and gardener, Meredith was struck by the beauty of Madurai. Street vendors of exotic fruit greeted her outside the SITA Center, and she admired strings of fragrant jasmine flowers hanging in women’s long, thick braids down colorful saris. She watched herds of goats trot through streets and patiently waited as cows moseyed their way across busy intersections. Her semester spent living and learning in Madurai proved to be as alluring and illuminating as she expected. For these reasons and many more, Meredith is thrilled to return to Madurai as a Program Assistant and to welcome the incoming SITA students.

DSC_0082PROGRAM ASSISTANT, ERIN BENNETT, is heading to Madurai in December 2013 to join the South India Term Abroad team for the spring semester. Erin graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2012 and earned a triple major in Languages and Cultures of Asia, French, and International Studies. As part of her undergraduate education, Erin learned Hindi and Tamil and studied abroad in Pune, India, where she taught English to middle school students and conducted a research project on education in India. Erin also earned her certification to teach yoga in 2009 and has been teaching yoga and meditation classes ever since. After earning her bachelor’s degree, Erin spent nine months in Madurai where she completed a U.S. Fulbright-Nehru Grant and worked as an English teacher in a local secondary school. While living in Madurai, Erin savored dosas with coconut chutney, attended as many Carnatic music and Bharatnatyam dance performances as possible, and delighted in the colorful kolam designs in front of her neighbors’ doorsteps. One of Erin’s favorite memories is buying jasmine every morning from the local flower vendor before taking the city bus to school. Having spent the last semester teaching English in a high school in France, Erin is excited to return to Madurai as a Program Assistant to share her experiences with the SITA students and to help them get to know Madurai’s unique, welcoming, and beautiful culture.