As my time abroad comes to an end, I have had time to do a lot of reflecting. I still remember the pre-arrival excitement I felt the week before I left for Varanasi, India. Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I couldn’t have been more excited to embark on my journey. Before I began my adventure, I wrote a list of goals that I had for my semester abroad. One of my biggest goals was to grow as a person, and to take this time to learn from India’s culture. What I didn’t know was that there was no way that I could have accurately prepared for the lessons that India had to teach me. The lessons that I learned were unexpected, yet invaluable.
#1 How to Let Go of Expectations
The very first lesson that I learned while in India was how to let go of the expectations I came to the country with. This was a bit of a hard pill to swallow at first. As someone who has always felt the need to be in control of everything around me, letting go of that was a little difficult. I wanted my time abroad to look a certain way. When my experience did not meet my expectations, I found it difficult to adjust. It took an effort to let go of the previous assumptions I had, and to open up to new, unexpected possibilities. But once I did surrender, I had an even more fulfilling duration abroad than had previously anticipated. This, I believe, was my first step toward growth during my time abroad.
#2 How to Depend on Others
Among those closest to me, I am well-known for being extremely independent, almost to a fault. Asking for help, even when I need it, is not my strength. So, when I was forced into an environment that I knew almost nothing about – well, it was a bit of a shock to my pride. Being in a foreign country where I didn’t know the common language, how to get around, or even how to use a payphone, required me to learn how to ask for help. I learned that reaching out to others is okay, and that it doesn’t make me a weak person. Over time, I became more comfortable with needing assistance and support from those around me.
Studying abroad surrounded me with many different cultures, perspectives, and beliefs. This challenged my own opinions and viewpoints, and ultimately, taught me that I don’t have all the answers, and that it’s okay! Just because someone does something or thinks differently than I do, doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. I learned that I am constantly learning, and will never stop learning from others.
#4 How to Be Uncomfortable
Travelling in a foreign culture can be uncomfortable. There were many times that I was forced to do things that I wasn’t used to, and therefore, was uncomfortable with. One of the activities I was most nervous about participating in during my time in India was the religious festivals and visiting holy places, such as Hindu temples or mosques. I’m not particularly a religious person, nor have a had much exposure to Varanasi’s most prominent religions, like Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, Buddhism, etc. However, I still pushed myself to attend these events, as I knew religion is a huge part of India’s diverse culture, especially in Varanasi (known as one of the holiest cities in the world), and it was important for me to view these ceremonies, festivals, and places in order to truly learn about the culture. While at first I felt awkward, and I wasn’t quite sure how to act in these spaces, I pushed passed this feeling and tried to simply enjoy the event. I ended up having a much more fulfilling time in the city, and learned a lot more than I would have had I not participated. It was through trying new foods, participating in new cultural activities, and talking to those different from me that I learned how to be okay with being uncomfortable, and that often, growth is born from this.
#5 The Culture
Through studying abroad in another country, I had the chance to understand the culture in a way that I would never have been able to otherwise. From the prominent religions, to the many different languages, customs, and politics – I was able to experience Indian culture in a way that reading about it could never give me. I learned by talking to locals in the area, reading the daily newspaper, and participating in cultural events such as festivals, visiting temples, and more. I now feel truly immersed in a culture that I wouldn’t have otherwise felt so connected with had I not studied here.
Spending four months studying in India has taught me so much, and I am so thankful for the lessons the country has given me. Had I not chosen to study abroad, I would not have been given the chance to grow in the ways that I have. I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunities that this program has given me. IFSA was essential in guiding my growth. From my IFSA advisor, Kerry Springer, who helped me prepare for my journey abroad, to my Program Coordinator, Lara Azzola, who has made my time in India unforgettable with her patience, guidance, and care. I am blessed to have been given this opportunity to grow, and to have made so many deep connections with others along the way.
Grace Carson is a Journalism and Political Science major at the University of Denver and studied abroad with IFSA ’s program ‘The City, The River, The Sacred’ in Varanasi in India in Fall 2017. She is an International Correspondent at IFSA through the Work-to-Study Program.