Every year, I’d get asked, “How did you ring in the New Year?” It seems almost unreal, but this past New Year’s Eve, I was on a flight to Frankfurt, Germany…only halfway to my destination of New Delhi, India. I signed up as part of a study abroad group to stay at Navdanya Vidyapeeth, an organic farm, on the outskirts of Dehradun, India. I was scared, and I was nervous; but nonetheless, I was excited to see India. I was expanding my horizons…in every sense.
Office of Study Abroad Assistant Director Emily Gorlewski said only 2% of Western students travel abroad to study. Those who decided to study abroad, do so for many different reasons, but Gorlewski stressed that getting a fresh perspective is a big reason. “You gain a different perspective when you’re a student. To develop intercultural skills…to travel while you’re in school… It’s great exposure to another culture,” Gorlewski said. She further explained that currently, there are study abroad programs available in over fifty different countries. “A lot of students go to Western Europe and the United Kingdom…Italy, Spain…we are getting more students going to non-traditional places, like India,” she said.
I signed on for a faculty-led study abroad anthropology and sociology course called “Stories of India;” I traveled with a group of ten students and two professors. The traveling was arduous, and it took us all a few days to recover. After all, we had to adjust to an eleven-and-a-half hour time difference from Central Standard Time which created an incredible amount of jet lag. Once we landed in India, we had been on a plane for nearly eighteen hours total…and it was not even close to being over. When we landed, we stayed in New Delhi’s YMCA for breakfast (tea and bread), and then off we were again to ride the train to Dehradun. After a six hour train ride, we finally we arrived at our destination: Navdanya Vidyapeeth.
Culture shock was a topic that was covered in our pre-departure meeting. Gorlewski said that people experience culture shock in different ways. “I see students experience it all the time,” she began. “We have many students who get to their destination and feel shocked. It can be overwhelming, but it passes. When you go over, it’s new and different and romantic…exciting…then you come back [to America] and you’ve changed… How do you deal with that?” Gorlewski said.
At the beginning of the trip, I admit I was nervous. Here I was, a twenty-two year old American, riding a shaky bus to Navdanya Vidyapeeth without my family, friends, or the Internet. Hundreds upon hundreds of people were scattered in the markets and children were playing in the streets or playing cricket behind fences. I was in awe; this place…India, it held so many people. I was seeing a place that is completely different from the life I know in America. I thought, by the time I would return home, I knew I’d be different…and I was. All I could do was take it all in at that moment.
Over the next few days, the group and I adjusted to eating all-organic vegetarian meals. The organic part was easy. We all were afraid of eating a lot of curry-based food because we thought we’d get sick, but eating all organic food made us feel healthier than the food we eat in America. Rice, potatoes, and chapati (Indian flatbread) were the dominant foods in every meal. On top of eating the healthiest foods in my life, we participated in yoga sessions from a yogi every morning. A yogi is a spiritual practitioner of yoga and meditation. It was spiritual and enlightening. Drinking organic chai tea from real leaves, (which is actually hard to come by in the States because it’s powdered here) and doing yoga every morning was a real treat.
As the next few days passed, we visited Rishikesh (a town the Beatles visited in the 1960’s), Haridwar, Paonta Sahib, Dehradun, New Delhi, and the Ganges River. We saw so many temple and shrines all over India. We met many people who were elated to educate us. I learned so many things from my study abroad experience… and I could not have had this experience anywhere else.
My trip from India changed my perspective towards many things in America. I appreciate the hot water, the quick transportation, the internet, phones, heat, and clean water. These things can be hard to come by in India, and I have all these things within my grasp. My perspective towards businesses, politics, and school all seemed to morph. I am more enlightened because of my trip and I would only hope I get to travel again someday soon.
Gorlewski said WIU alumni who have studied abroad are always welcome to drop by the Office of Study Abroad. If you’d like to share your past study abroad experience with WIU, contact Gorlewski at EJ-Gorlewski@wiu.edu.
Do you have any Study Abroad stories that you’d like to share? If so, please post a comment below.