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Agra India: Exploring the Taj Mahal

Marcous Phillips at the Taj Mahal
Marcous Phillips at the Taj Mahal

We started the day off by having a traditional breakfast at the hotel. I never would have expected that breakfast meals contain curry spices. We also had their traditional tea. It was great way to start off the day as it was a perfect blend of sweet and bitter with a warming sensation.

After breakfast we started our trek to Agra. It was interesting to see the vast improvement in the roads. The roads surrounding the hotel where riddled with potholes while the highway was well maintained with wide open country scenery. While we were driving we watched the local farmers tend to their rice and wheat fields.

Once in Agra which reached one of India’s prized jewels, the Taj Mahal. It was a grand sight to watch as the Taj Mahal pierced through the fog and revealed its overall beauty in the distance. We rode on electric buses to reach the inner ring of the Taj Mahal site. This is to help reduce the pollution that is discoloring the white marble.

Once at the Taj Mahal it was everything I expected and more. We first stopped at central gate that protected the entrance to the Taj Mahal. Our tour guide explained to us the history of the Taj Mahal and how the Taj Mahal came to be. Inside the Taj Mahal I could see firsthand the hand artistry of the Taj Mahal stone work. Each colored stone was perfectly inlayed into the white marble and sanded to create one solid piece of work. My favorite was finding the fire stones within the white marble as they radiated a bright warm red color when light passed through it.

After completing our visit of the Taj Mahal we visited a craft shop that carries on the traditional inlaying of stone into marble. This was great experience as we learned about the history of this traditional practice. This practice is passed down through families and many of the modern day artist have family heritage connecting them to the workers and artist that created the Taj Mahal. Being able to visit Agra and the Taj Mahal was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

— Marcous Phillips, TSM

Illini in New Zealand

The notion of leaving your comfort zone and venturing into the unknown is the whole premise of studying abroad. You might find yourself at cultural crossroads not knowing what to do in a different country. However, that is all a part of the fun. The chance to explore realms unknown to you for the duration of a few weeks was ultimately my goal in studying abroad in New Zealand. The Massey University National Expedition and Internship was the exact program to meet my needs. I had the opportunity to traverse the country for the first 2 weeks visiting 12 different cities within both the North and the South Island. Then I had the opportunity to intern for a local business based in the Hawkes Bay region. Within my time abroad I met many new faces with diverse backgrounds. What truly amazed me was the fact that I met a University of Illinois alumni while on this program. The picture above was taken at Mt. Nicolas Sheep Station and Jack in the middle attended our alma mater for his Masters a few years back, while myself and the 3 other students are currently attending U of I as well. It was a truly amazing feeling knowing that Illini are all over the planet and how a program like this connected us. This program not only taught me how to work for and with an international business but it gave me deeper insight into the little known realm of New Zealand agriculture.



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