Like it’s the last night…

It’s been forever since my last post, yet it feels like the past week and a half flew by. So much has happened in the last 10 days, that it would be impossible to share it all.

New Year’s Eve was unlike any that I have ever experienced. The celebration began early with a holiday dinner and cake. After dinner, a dance party ensued on the second floor of our dormitory. One thing is for sure: Indian students at BVB love to dance. After the dance party, we moved to the grounds where we lit lanterns and release into the sky, symbolic for letting go of old business and welcoming the new year with a blank slate. The night wrapped up with a bonfire in the courtyard, where students took turns sharing songs. In my opinion, the entire experience brought the team closer together.


The morning after began like the others, but during our Chai break we took the opportunity to count down to Boston’s New Year, at which point the entire class bursted out in celebration. It’s a rare opportunity to welcome the new year at 10:30AM, in class, and much less without an adult beverage in hand. That day we began working on our projects, and despite having less than two weeks to complete them, I decided that I wouldn’t start off the new year stressing myself over the project. Instead, that evening a small group of us decided to visit a local orphanage to meet the staff and bring school supplies for the children. It is difficult to describe the experience, but to say that it was perhaps the most rewarding part of the trip. The children welcomed us with wide smiles and bright eyes, playing and singing with us, and admiring my tattoos, one of which they named “Godzilla”. After keeping the children up more than an hour past their bedtime, we said our goodbyes and thanked the staff for allowing us the opportunity to visit.


Saturday, the class was treated to spend the day at Suman Sangam, an incubation farm in Dharwad, where we took part in listening to inspirational speakers and sharing our experiences. Later that evening, we traveled to a nearby venue where we attended a classical Indian music concert. For some odd reason, despite an entire day worth of activities, I was not tired in the least bit. After a quick shower, it was time to hit the town to experience some of Hubli’s night life.



Apparently, Saturday night was a little too fun, as I didn’t wake up until 11AM the next day. In the interest of time, I’ll simply state that Sunday was equally rewarding, as blogged by some of my classmates.

Happy Married Life

During the first session, we sat through in introductory lecture, took a chai break, formed teams, and were assigned our project. My team’s project assignment is E-Tongue, a portable, lightweight, easy to use handheld device for the testing of heavy metals in liquids.

All in all, it was a great first session. But perhaps the most interesting moment of our first day of class was an impromptu invitation to a traditional Indian wedding. At lunchtime, we took a bus to the wedding venue, which was filled with three thousand friends and family members of the bride and groom. The women were dressed beautifully in brightly colored clothing, while the men were neatly groomed and wore more conservative clothing. We were given a fistful of flower petals as we entered the ceremony hall, which we later threw forward in unison, a metaphor for wishing luck to the newlyweds. A band played loudly, music echoing through the building, as wedding-goers engaged in lively conversation.


The main hall was packed with hundreds of people, with even more outside and in additional rooms.


Family and friends gathered to celebrate the union of the happy couple.

After wishing the couple a “happy married life”, we were invited downstairs to take part in the wedding feast. It’s difficult to describe the food, but to say that it overwhelmed the taste buds with delicious traditional Indian flavor. While I cannot pronounce any of the foods I was served, I made it a point to try everything available. Except for the buttermilk. That’s where I draw the line.


Planes, Kumkuma, and Cold Showers


It took us thirty hours to get to Hubli (although by other accounts it was more), but we finally made it safely. The route from Boston to Dubai to Bengaluru was pretty straightforward. Once in Bengaluru, we met with the Chinese team of students, who greeted us with big smiles. Shortly after our arrival, we were informed that our final flight to Hubli (which was set to depart in five hours) had been delayed by five hours.


We arrived in Bengaluru shortly after 2am.

After 20 hours or so of travel, the last thing I needed was a delay. However, in the spirit of welcoming new experiences with optimism, I searched the airport with a couple of other students for something to do to kill time. After a warm shower and breakfast, I felt reinvigorated and ready to take on the rest of the trip. That is until I came face to face with this:


Our propeller plane greeted us with a big smile.

I’m no stranger to propeller planes, as I’ve had the need for short-distance flights in the past, but I’ve had pretty good luck avoiding them in the past few years. Despite the numerous thoughts running through my head, I was for once thankful for my sleep deprivation, as it allowed me to pass out shortly after takeoff, and remain asleep until the final approach.

Upon exiting the plane, a gust of hot air hit me, sparking the realization that I’d be enjoying pleasant, albeit hot weather. As soon as we walked out of the airport, we were greeted by locals who adorned us with tricolor garland and kumkuma, a very powerful moment marking my arrival to India.

Once at KLE’s Scholar House, we met the other students of the program and were immediately treated to lunch. I thought I had mentally prepared myself for the spicy food, but quickly realized I was wrong (it probably didn’t help that I bit into a pepper). Regardless, the food was incredibly delicious and gave us all an opportunity to get to know each other over a meal. During a 5:30pm orientation session, we were welcomed by KLE’s vice-chancellor, and were introduced to other program faculty.

After the session, I had a chance to familiarize myself with the dormitory. I found that my room’s water heater had broken, but was of little importance since a cold shower was just what I needed. It was only 7pm, but my exhaustion finally took over and I succumbed to sleep shortly after closing my eyes. Despite some rocky sleep caused by a combination of jet-lag, heat, and loud noises outside my window, I was up and ready by 7:30am, ready to take on our first day…

Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has turned on the Fasten Seat Belt sign…

Well, today’s the day… after months of anticipation and careful planning, in just a few hours I will be boarding a plane with 15 other UMass Lowell students and faculty headed to Hubli, India, described to me by a co-worker as “a small city in India of only about 1.5 million people”. Riiiight… Needless to say, I’m very excited to partake in this unique experience, working alongside fellow students from both India and China in a program that is part academic, part service-learning, and completely cultural immersive.

At an orientation dinner a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet my classmates, as well as former participants of the program. The cuisine was delectable, the conversation was, well… very informative. True, I have been very excited for this program, but prior to this event, I was admittedly very anxious. I have never visited an Asian community, much less one of rich culture and traditions. Will I be accepted as a fellow student in pursuit of academic advancement, or will I stick out as the typical American tourist? Will I quickly grasp the societal norms that await, or will I say or do something that may be interpreted as offensive. The group spent about 4 hours sharing past experiences, answering our questions, and even volunteering a bit of unsolicited advice; all of which has put me slightly at ease. Yes, I admit that I still remain a bit anxious about the impending culture shock, but I know that as long as I keep an open mind and a willingness to take part in new experiences (and yes, even make a few mistakes), this journey will be one I will cherish my entire lifetime.

Now, all I have to do is get past this 20-hour voyage…