Major: Public Policy and International and Area Studies
Hometown: Lenoir, North Carolina
Study Abroad Program: UNC Summer in India
Five weeks seems a short period of time, but in just five weeks my entire outlook on life was altered. India was an unfamiliar country which proved testing and frustrating. I was faced daily with challenges and confronted obstacles and decisions unlike any I had encounted in my prior twenty years of life. Language barriers, cultural barriers, and differences in fundamental beliefs were just a few walls I found myself beating my head against on a daily basis. But in facing these things, I was forced to deal with them and ultimately overcome them as well. I learned a great deal about acceptance of others. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and decisions, and just because I might not agree with those things does not mean I should combat them.
Many people are interested in traveling the world, but there is a difference in visiting a place and studying there. I truly believe that to be a part of the world as a global citizen, we must learn about nations other than our own, and learning within these nations takes it one step further.
A typical day in Delhi, where the majority of my study abroad group’s time was spent, consisted of three hours of class: two hours of Hindi language and one hour of Indian culture. My classmates and I were then let loose in the city for the duration of the day to explore on our own and learn by experience. We also spent a significant amount of time travelling. We went to the historic city of Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, to the university town of Aligarh for a week-long homestay with Indian families, to the mountain resort, Nainital, where vacationers from across India come to visit, and to Haridwar and Rishikesh, the destinations of religious pilgrimages to the Ganges River. Incredible memories from all these places will be forever ingrained in my mind. Yet, in travelling to so many different places, one experience remained unchanged: my encounters with and the perceptions of the locals I came in contact with.
For the first time, I experienced life as an outsider and found it difficult to relate to the people I met. My upbringing was completely different than the vast majority of people I encountered and this made it difficult at first to form connections. Yet, in time I realized that we were not so different after all. I shared conversations about shopping, worrying about grades, future plans, and how spicy I liked my food with a variety of individuals. We grew up a world apart, but shared common interests regardless.
It is no surprise that you learn a lot about yourself when you are dropped into a completely foreign environment where your identity must constantly be defined. But, I am glad my time abroad was difficult. The difficulties are what made the experience immensely more rewarding. I came to greatly respect the beliefs of others whose culture I was a guest in and learned more about my personal beliefs and morals as well. I will never be mistaken for an Indian, regardless of how many saris I try on or the number of bangles I wear on my wrists, but I can recognize my differences as a strength which allows me to learn more about a culture through being an outsider.