Truth be told, I never thought I would be able to do a study abroad program because of the costs associated with them, and I had no idea how to sign up for scholarships. So I didn’t put any effort into doing them during my time at UWB. Then the perfect opportunity came along, a study abroad trip focusing on gender, media, and human rights during spring break…in INDIA! Practically my entire undergraduate education was centered around this topic, especially in India, it was meant to be. However, the cost almost scared me away again. But I knew that I had to at least try, and I’m so glad I did.
After my acceptance (which was a super exciting day for me!!), the Global Initiatives team were extremely helpful and encouraging, helping me step-by-step for the scholarship application process. It was my first time applying to one so I figured I wouldn’t get it, but here I am! It took care of half the cost of the tuition for this program, leaving so much of the financial burden behind. I was, and still am, truly grateful for that.
I was really excited for this trip and couldn’t stop thinking about what it would be like! But when I started to tell people about it, the outcome was usually not so great. Here’s what a typical conversation would look like:
Me: “I’m going to do a study abroad program!!”
Friend: “Cool! Where?”
Practically every time!! No one understood (or wanted to understand) why I wanted to go to India. They warned me and told me I would get sick from the food, that’s hot, and that it’s dangerous for a woman to go. All they really knew about India was negative, which was clear to me that they did not really know anything about the country. But it didn’t work. No one could talk me out of this amazing opportunity. I knew it wouldn’t be a vacation on the beach, but I knew I was meant to have this experience that would push me out of my comfort zone and help me grow.
That being said, I still did a lot of research on what I should bring. I got all of my shots, special bug spray, toilet paper, medicine, snacks, shoes, and probably the biggest struggle was finding suitable clothes. We were told to only wear baggy clothes, none that really showed our figures, so I had to buy an almost completely new wardrobe. I’m glad I did because I was comfy in the hot weather and I didn’t draw a lot of attention to myself, but at the same time, shopping over there was plentiful (and AMAZING) so I didn’t need to over-prepare as much as I did.
By the way, if you’re not used to eating Indian food, it might not be a horrible idea if you started to work on your spice tolerance. The food I ate was some of the BEST food ever, but also incredibly spicy for my pallet.
Okay! So more specifics on the structure of my program! We had to attend three orientations: each were 4 hour meetings that went over health, safety, and cultural adjustment issues, as well as historical and political information about India to prepare us for this trip. Our last pre-departure meeting was held at a Hindu temple. This was a very interesting experience, as it was many of our first time being exposed to this type of environment. There were lots of colors, statues, rituals, which we were all amazed by, but also were a bit caught off guard because we didn’t understand what was going on. I think my tip to those of you who are thinking of doing this program is to do a bit more research on your own and ask lots of questions to your professor so you know how to conduct yourself in these environments and know what to expect. Otherwise, it was a great experience and the people there were so welcoming and kind. We got to eat really good food afterwards which was a plus!
I think some of my pre-departure tips for India are to:
- Keep an open mind. Don’t have set out expectations of what you feel you must do while you’re abroad. Plans change and you need to be flexible with whatever happens.
- Know that you may feel uncomfortable with a lot of the things you see and experience.
- Understand what privileges you hold and how that may affect your experience. (Ex. a white male may have a different experience from an asian female. I will explain this more later on.)
- Pack light! You only get 1 carry on luggage. Hand-washing clothes is easy, you can do it!
- Bring toilet paper and feminine care items. Toilet paper is not really something that is common in their bathrooms. (Also be prepared to use the squat toilets…they’re not as scary as they look!)
- Bring a scarf. It’ll protect you from the heat while also being useful to cover your body when necessary (such as a low-cut top or if you are visiting a temple to cover your head).
- Bring a water bottle and stay hydrated! Only drink filtered or boiled water down there, as the tap water is not safe to drink. Same goes for raw foods, be very cautious with these.
- Learn a little bit of Hindi! I downloaded a free Hindi app on my phone and learned a few phrases such as “Hi, my name is…” and “thank you”. It shows as a sign of respect to the locals there that you took the time to try and learn their language.
- Have fun! This is a once in a life time opportunity to travel with your classmates and study this curriculum. You are going to have a fantastic time!