Hi friends. I want to first start by apologizing for not having written in several months… I’ve just returned from India, where the internet connection was at times weak and other times unreliable. I’ve been thinking about being abroad (and the converse-being at home) a lot lately, so I thought I would write a series of posts about the experience of being abroad and my reflections.
Before I went abroad, I was thinking about the institution of study abroad and it’s place within the world. In places I’ve traveled to in the past, I’ve met dozens of people who told me that if they could leave their country, they would. And here, I realized, are several thousand of American and Western students, leaving their countries for an experience of several months to study abroad with a sense of entitlement that it was part of the “college experience”. Everyone has different reasons for going abroad: becoming more independent, learning about a new culture, practicing language skills, advancing their future career, and infinite other reasons. While all of these reasons are valid and interesting to consider, it was important for me to realize that it was truly a privilege in the global context to be able to travel abroad for a period of several months to embark on a new personal, academic, and cultural endeavor. It was with this in mind that I first set off abroad to study Public Health in India. With a few inevitable expectations, a suitcase, and a drive to learn as much as possible within a four month period, I had to constantly remind myself how privileged the opportunity would be and hoped that my fellow classmates had possibly understood our roles in the global context, especially in how it would affect our experience in India of all places.
In retrospect, I still feel the same way. I have to admit, it broke my heart that some of the people I studied expressed utter frustration and inconsideration to the local customs , even until the very end. I think that is what has truly made me think the most about the experience as a privilege: when people are able to enter a different people’s land and avoid adapting to the local customs at any personal cost because they will eventually return home. Respecting the people, the culture, and the privilege when going abroad is of utmost importance to me. In the end, the most resonating lessons we will learn are from people themselves and without respect and gratefulness to all people, we miss these opportunities. People are willing to allow us into their countries, schools, and communities. The least we can offer in return is a sense of gratitude, flexibility, and an open heart.