By Alex Wilson
I chose to spend the fall semester of 2013 abroad, via the Best Semester India Study Program directed by Kirk McClelland, because I wanted to learn about a culture that was totally different than the United States. Being a Biochemistry major, this study abroad trip was not directly related to my science; rather this trip was about expanding my horizons and discovering what life was like beyond the U.S.
I lived in a hostel with the other male college students while studying abroad in India. We would go into the city, drink tea, and just have a good time. I loved that I could get fresh coconut water just 3 minutes down the road! India has a variety of different fruits that we don’t have in the U.S., but even the same fruits, such as pineapples and mangoes (which India has seventy varieties of!), taste completely different!
While studying abroad in India, I took a Contemporary India class in which we learned about India’s history and culture. It began with the Indus Civilization and continued until India’s Independence in 1940. Additionally, I took Religious Landscapes which consisted of learning about different religions, as well field trips to visit temples. We learned about Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Islam, and few other minor religions. We also learned about the history of Christianity in India.
It was a very eye-opening experience for me to be in a country where Christianity was not the dominant religion. I had the opportunity to learn about other religions which gave me new insight and perspectives about my own.
I also took a culinary course in which I learned how to make authentic Indian cuisine. All the classes were hands-on and practical, allowing me to gain actual experience rather than only theory. Not only did the food taste delicious, but I got to learn a variety of different cooking techniques. In India, the cooking changes from state to state, and so every class we cooked cuisine of a different state. We cooked six different dishes per class: meat/poultry/fish, vegetables, rice, salad, bread, and dessert. This meant about four hours of cooking! When we finished, however, we realized it was worth the wait!
During the second half of the semester, we did a lot of traveling and visited at least 6 different states in India. Each state had its own language, culture, and cuisine.
Additionally, I was able to volunteer at Cottolengo Special School for the Mentally Challenged. I learned how much I enjoy teaching and helping youth. It was fun to be a kid again and play hide and seek with the children. I began to see the children improve as we continued to give them attention and got to see first-hand how patience, care, and affection can transform a life.
The most impactful part of studying abroad in India was experiencing their hospitality. There is a saying in India: “Guest is God.” Being a good host is an integral part of their culture. I believe this is because relationships have such a high importance in India. In western culture, individualistic achievement is given priority, whereas in India, cultural success is centered around one’s family life. I enjoyed the trip abroad and the knowledge I garnered from experiencing the wonderful culture and people.