Today is August 16th, 2022. I leave for New Delhi, India in approximately three days. The road to being part of a study abroad program has been rough for me. I had always wanted to be able to travel in an educational setting. Study abroad always felt daunting. The typical study abroad program would often be for several months to an entire year and cost an astronomical amount of tuition. This led to some feelings of isolation. Culture and travel have been important to me, but I could not connect well with others regarding the subject. My family is American. However, they have no strong feelings, heritage, or traditions. My family has no idea how they came to the United States nor our family history. Honestly, I loath it. I have a festering fissure in my identity. This has led to the unavoidable need to experience and learn culture for myself. I crave experiences in the real world; I am so fatigued by the predicted monotony of a lab and classroom. Life, especially working in medicine, is not predictable. When I saw that listing for a study abroad experience that was affordable and timely, I jumped on the opportunity.
India is such a unique country for me to study abroad in. The nation is so diverse. I know it will be an experience completely different from any other experience I’ve had thus far. I have traveled to Mexico in 2019. Although, I only traveled around the Cancun and Yucatan areas, so it was pretty touristy. Currently, I am studying abroad in the Czech Republic for a different study abroad program. I do not think Europe and India could nor should be compared to one another. In Europe and America, I am part of the majority ethnic group. I am blindingly pale and have platinum blonde hair. I often get mistaken for a local in Prague. I have a strong suspicion I will not be mistaken for a local in India. I am afraid that my pale skin will lead others to perceive me as a wealthy American/European. The only wealth I have is my knowledge and education. I have been reading a book called Culture Smart! India: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture by Becky Stephen (I can’t recommend these books enough). Stephen talks about how pale skinned women will often have their photos taken by Indian men. Additionally, she said that blonde hair individuals may have their hair touched without permission by locals. I completely understand being curious about others who may look different than one is used to. Nevertheless, I am not enthused about having my photo taken or being touched without permission as both a person and a woman. While I am constantly made aware of my gender in American society, my ethnicity is not typically in the forefront of my identity. I am curious to see how living in India will change my experience of these identities.
As the days grow closer to my departure, I feel excitement. I have been doing my research and learning some Hindi phrases. I cannot wait to be there in the heart of New Delhi. While I have some anxieties about being in a completely different country, I still can’t wait for the new foods, new sights, and experiences. I am ready to leap out of my small world and into anew.