Last Spring, I had the opportunity to study abroad in India with the SIT New Delhi: Health and Human Rights program. The SIT program is an experiential learning program and included extensive travel between the rural and urban areas of Northern India. My classes included Capacity Building, NGOs and Healthcare Delivery, Politics and Economies of Public Health, Intensive Beginners Hindi, Field Methods, and Ethics in Social Science and Health and an Independent Study Project. My main research included interviewing Dalit women and exploring the social determinants of health access in rural India through Development.
Studying in India taught me so much about the world and about myself. India is like no other country; it is vast, with many different people, cultures, and languages. Sometimes, I imagine India as the whole world wrapped up in one country. I met amazing people during my time there. One woman, named Lalanbai, taught me how to forgive and to help people despite the ways they once may have treated me. Lalanbai is a Dalit woman who was treated badly by the people in her community who belonged to a higher caste. In spite of this harsh treatment, she decided to become a health worker and care for the very people who had spit on her, beat her, and called her names. Meeting people like Lalanbai became a life-changing experience – a central theme of my time in India.
Another part of my trip was the opportunity to travel to some amazing places. I had the opportunity to travel to Amritsar and see the Golden Temple, a place I first learned about and researched in the Religions of South Asia course that I took my sophomore year. I was able to connect what I learned at Gettysburg College with what I experienced first-hand in India. The opportunity to connect information to an immersion experience is just one of the things that sets Gettysburg College apart from other Colleges.
One of the more difficult tasks preparing for my trip was learning Hindi. I speak English fluently and have studied Spanish and French. I would never have thought Hindi would be the language that would get me from place to place. Before I left the United States, the only Hindi word I knew was Namaste but now I am conversational.
I also had the opportunity to live with a host family and it made my experience unforgettable. Each family member taught me something valuable that I brought back home and continued to keep close to my heart. My host mom taught me how to make roti and chai. My little host brothers helped me with my Hindi homework and taught me how to have fun without my electronics. My host father taught me how to work my way up in the world and how to dance Bollywood style. Now I can shake my hips, cook, and speak like I am from India.
Writing with brief synopsis of my time abroad may be the hardest “paper” I have ever written. How can you condense four months of an incredible experience in a few short paragraphs? I guess I would say that studying abroad, no matter where you go, is the experience of a lifetime, and everyone should try it. You come back to the United States, a little more independent, a little wiser and sure of yourself. A favorite Hindi phrase captures my feelings about my time in India: Aap se milkar Khushi hui – “it brought happiness to my heart to have met you!”