I have waited so long to finish this last blog post because I can’t bring myself to accept that our trip is actually over. There are SO MANY stories, memories, and adventures that I experienced but I couldn’t possibly talk about them all so I’m just going to list a few favorites.
For starters, there is nothing more thrilling and happiness inducing than a ride on the back of a scooter in the streets of Hubli. Before going to India I had always been too afraid to ride on a scooter or a motorcycle so I never tried. I don’t know if it was the fact that I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to take public transportation or the fact that I had already adventured to the other side of the world so why not conquer another fear while I was at it, but I jumped on the back of Abhishek’s scooter and never wanted to get off. From that point on I snatched any ride I could on the back of someones (usually Ameen’s) scootie.
This trip also helped become a more confident and somewhat aggressive (in a good way I promise) person. I’ve previously been a timid person when it comes to conflict and usually keep quiet even if I am somehow being wronged in a situation. But let me tell you, arguing over prices or money and yelling at vendors in Hindi who are admirably persistent is quite a rush. On our touring trip after leaving KLE we stopped for lunch at a coffee shop where I ended up being owed Rupees from the cashier and I had a hard time getting it back. As soon as the disagreement started I had Professor Mehta, Sahil, the tour guide, and Sean all at the counter ready to argue on my behalf. The five of us took turns voicing our complaints and then also all shouting at the same time, luckily the cashier had enough of our drama and threw 100 Rupees right at us. In hindsight we were arguing over a little over $1 but when in India…. All I’m saying is a lot can happen over coffee.
Another one of my favorite memories was ethnic day. Getting dressed by the Aunties who came to wrap our sarees was one of the greatest feelings. I felt like a princess. I wish I had the ability to put my saree on myself so I could wear it all the time. Seeing everyone else all dressed up was incredible as well. All the different colors and accessories and smiles plastered across everyones faces. We were so excited to get a closer look at Indian culture and the Indian students were beyond happy to share it with us. We had a fashion show and everyone had the chance to rock the runway, even the professors themselves! Our night ended with sending lanterns into the sky (except for the one that set a temporary fire that didn’t harm anyone!) with one another to end a good night in Hubli.
Our final day in Hubli was full of tears as we parted ways with our friends that had felt like family. We weren’t ready to leave each other quite yet, two weeks wasn’t long enough to learn all that we wanted to from one another. In our last days together we made promises to see each other again, hugged tight and often, and spent all the time we could with each other. Time seemed to move so fast and before we knew it we were driving away from the scholar house and on our way to tour for the next 5 days. I am so thankful for the friendships I made in Hubli and I will miss it until I return again. The very best time I had during my trip was spending time with genuine people who were willing to share parts of themselves that you can’t see on the surface. It opened my eyes to see that beyond culture, language and distance from each other, we are all still very similar and want the same things. It was an experience that I could never duplicate and would recommend to anyone.
Thank so you so much Professor Mehta for encouraging students to experience something different (not to mention sticking up for us when the tour guide brought us to unfavorable places), and Professor Ciuchta for being a great travel companion even though Delhi wasn’t my favorite place to visit in India. This program is beyond words and I hope it continues to give students the same experience that I had!
[EDIT: The timing of this post is off due to wifi mishaps and jet lag madness]
As I write this blog post I am on my second flight of the day on my two-day excursion to Delhi. I was given the opportunity to represent UMass Lowell at an international college fair for Indian students looking to study abroad in the U.S. Although I am very excited and thankful for the opportunity to visit a region of India that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to see, I am also missing my new friends back at KLE. Me and the other American students have already created such close bonds with not only each other but also with the Indian and Chinese students in the program. We all come from such different regions, backgrounds, and cultures, but we are also so similar at the same time. From the time we wake up to the time we go to bed we share as much as we can with one another, whether it’s knowledge on the subjects we’re learning, educating one another on our own customs and cultures, or just exploring the area around us. I’ve already received “I miss you” messages from a few of my new friends, Aakanksha, Naveen, and Chirag. Aakanksha is one of the sweetest people I have ever met. From the first day we were placed in the same project group she has shown me nothing but kindness and love, as if she has known me for a lifetime. She explained to me “Athithi Devo Bhava” which means that Indians respect their guests as gods. Even if she accidentally kicks my foot under the desk she will apologize and do a quick prayer. I have never experienced such kindness from a person that I have known for only a week. In the U.S. I interact with so many people in one day and by the end of the day most of those faces and experiences leave no impact. In one single day in India I pick up knowledge, experiences and interactions that leave me happy, grateful, and excited to learn more.
Even our classes and assignments have come with an excitement that you can’t duplicate in a U.S. class setting. On January 2ndeach project team was given 500 rupees (roughly 7 dollars in America) and we were told to invest the money in anything of our choosing and somehow find a way to make a profit back. Immediately every group had started plotting ideas that would result in the largest return. My group started throwing out ideas like reselling Indian jewelry, online click advertisements, personalized paintings, and even selling real life kittens. Some of these ideas were a bit far-fetched however, so we ended up deciding on candy grams for students to send to one another within our hostel. The first problem we had with this idea was explaining what on earth a candy gram was to the Indian and Chinese students. I hadn’t realized how American the idea was until it took me 5 mins to explain that it was essentially a candy delivery service with a personalized note attached. But once we overcame this speed bump we were open for business.
While our team was in search of customers, every other team was hard at work making items by hand, bartering with one another, and looking for any possible way of making a quick profit. It was an amazing sight to look down from the 2ndfloor of the scholar house and see students interacting with intent during all hours of the night. All of the items the American and Chinese students had brought as gifts had turned into a way to make a quick profit. Although we had all become so close by that point, we were acting as business men and women and friendships were put on hold for a few days. At the end of it all I ended up with mehndi, Chinese bookmarks, artwork for my family, and other homemade gifts. I likely paid more than I needed to for these items but all the profits we made went to charity and it was too fun not to join in on the bartering.
So far, I am having a wonderful time, learning more than I thought I would, and looking forward to what comes next!
So far my travels to India have been full of different emotions and experiences. My adventure started on my first plane ride from Boston to Qatar. I got lucky with a window seat and only one other person in the row with me. My flight companion was a Vietnamese man named Anthony who was on his way back to Vietnam for his father’s funeral. Regardless of his situation, from the start he was nothing but kind to me and gave me the run down on an international flight experience. I told him it was my first real trip abroad excluding a trip I took to Mexico a few years ago but it was a tropical getaway so I don’t really count it as a real cultural experience. As the flight went on Anthony and I shared a little bit of our lives with each other over slow-cooked beef, sandwiches, and desserts. Half way through the flight he ordered the ice cream they offered as a snack. I, of course, passed it up because I’m lactose intolerant so I observed his snack from afar. At first we shared a laugh because the ice cream was fully melted and unable to eat, so he decided to close it back up. But do to the slippery airplane trays it slid back before he could close it and it fell right into his lap. I couldn’t help but start laughing and he had a chuckle himself while he rushed to wipe up all he could with his free airplane blanket. All in all he was in good spirits and I admired his ability to wipe things off. Had it been me in his position I would have asked for an immediate landing of the plane.
After a quick layover in Qatar we had another 4 hour flight to Bangalore. Upon arrival to Bangalore our UMass Lowell group finally got a chance to gather together as we prepared ourselves for Immigration. I wasn’t sure what to expect when arriving to the desk where I would be questioned on my reason for traveling to India. Well it was much worse than I thought. The woman at the desk made me feel as though I had done something wrong which I’m assuming is part of her job, but I felt a huge feeling of relief when she finally let me through the gate. Once we had all picked up our bags and exchanged some money we proceeded through the airport to check in for our 3rd flight which would bring us to our final destination in Hubli. This 6 hour layover in Bangalore was definitely my favorite part of our 20+ hours of travel. The group finally got a chance to get together, learn each others names, and start bonding before our arrival in Hubli. Within a few hours I had started friendships that I knew would last a lifetime. I was surprised at how quickly we found similarities in each other as we shared stories and laughed while we ate Indian KFC at the airport at 5 am.
Once we finally made it to Hubli it was an awe filled experience. We grabbed our bags and piled onto the bus to KLE and took in every sight we possibly could. With my camera in hand I hung out of the window on the bus and took pictures of anything and everything. Not once did I sit down on the bus because I was too excited to look out the window and wave to the people in the streets. When we pulled up to campus we were welcomed by the Indian students with open arms and everyone was so excited to see us. It was an amazing feeling to be welcomed so warmly by people who were perfect strangers. I can’t wait for the experiences that the rest of the trip will bring me!