If you had told me even two years that I would be spending my junior year of college living in India, I would’ve shaken my head. When I finished my exchange year in high school in 2010 I figured one day I would spend more time overseas, but I never dreamed it would be in India, and I wasn’t sure how soon I would be (or if I would ever be!) ready to live away from my family and friends for so long.
But when I got to college, the idea to study abroad again was planted almost immediately. As a requirement of an undergraduate enrichment program I’m in, Wisconsin International Scholars (WISc), I was required to take a course called ILS209: Introduction to Global Cultures. I found myself in a huge lecture hall with a professor named Joe Elder standing front and center. A professor for over 50 years, this is someone who knows what he’s talking about. He was also there when the UW in India program got started in1961. During class, he encouraged all of us to study abroad, and he pushed for the Varanasi program. I was intrigued, but I’m a planner, and a year in India certainly didn’t fit in to “The Plan” I had crafted. A freshman with nothing but an empty DARS report before me, it just didn’t seem plausible.
A few months later, I ended up going to the study abroad fair with some friends from my dorm. We wandered through the maze of tables representing all the different countries and programs, a world of opportunities, and again I found myself by the table to go to Varanasi. Professor Elder was there with flyers. “Have you considered studying in India?” I took the pamphlet and carefully tucked it away in to a folder back in my dorm room.
Fast forward to just after winter break, to a WISc event where other students were talking about their experiences abroad. I made my way over to the poster of someone who had spent his fall semester in India, looked at his pictures, heard some of his stories, and I was hooked. Something in my head clicked, and I knew this was it, a chance to become immersed in a fascinating culture, a chance to challenge myself, and a chance I just couldn’t pass up. Later that day I sat down and drew up a new plan, one that included studying Hindi in the fall and studying abroad junior year.
Many students who choose to study abroad can relate to the next part of my narrative: the part where you nervously, but excitedly, break the news to your parents. I remember the night well. “So… I think I want to study abroad in India,” I said, bracing myself for the rejection that never came. Though I’m sure they would prefer I chose Italy or France, or somewhere else they could go on wine-sipping vacation, they were surprisingly okay with the choice I had made. The following months have been peppered with the occasional “Are you sure you want to do this?” but I know that I have their support in this endeavor, just as I always have had and always will have.
With the okay from my parents, I added Hindi to my class schedule and started sophomore year, and now I’m here, having just finished up the last days of second semester. I’ve signed all the forms, renewed my passport, and attended the program orientation. I haven’t even left yet, but I already feel like there is a reason this is all happening. While sharing my interest in India with other people who feel the same (shout out to my Hindi classmates!) I’ve made many new friends and they’ve only helped solidify my desire to travel and experience this new place. I know this is only the beginning of a beautiful and life-changing undertaking, and I’m curious to see what will come from it.
I’ll end my finals-week procrastination here! But you can expect another update sometime this summer, detailing some of my interests and goals in going to India, and hopefully an update in August, where you’ll be able to read about me freaking out about my impending departure.
Until then, Namaste!