Note: Newest blog submissions are first.
Differences can’t be ignored
India and the United States are two very different places. This has been a common theme to many of the blogs by myself and classmates on this trip, but it cannot be ignored.
In the beginning I started to notice many of the things I take for granted, being from America. In India it is not advised to drink the water from the faucet, unless it is piping hot, or eat fruits without washing them yourself. I am not a speaker of any of the majority languages and though English is an official language, there is most decidedly a language barrier between myself and a large part of the population here. I, and most of the students I have travelled with look vastly different from everyone else. All of these were just some of the things I began to notice I take for granted living in the United States at the beginning of our trip.
Now, having been in the beautiful country of India, surrounded by the many (and I mean MANY) wonderful and interesting people who inhabit it, I have begun to note things about this place, which I have begun to take for granted. These things will soon be gone when we return to the states. I will no longer wake to the sounds of car horns (which are used quite differently in India than the U.S.) and the chatter of some 1.3 billion people outside my windows. After I wake I will no longer (without some difficulty) have Kellogg’s Choco cereal with hot milk or chana masala for breakfast. No longer will I be swarmed by children or asked randomly to take a picture wherever I go. No longer will I ride In the back of a car in Indian traffic, which I probably cannot describe without scaring mothers and violating university policy. No longer will a lunch fit for two cost me the equivalent of 1 U.S. dollar. No longer will I hear Bollywood and religious songs on every radio station I flip to. No longer will there be a Hindu temple or Sikh Gurdwara at walking distance at any moment. No longer will all my elders be Aunty and Uncle. No longer will I be able to see a child’s face light up when I give them a wave, the simplest of gestures but not native to India. And last but surely not least, I will no longer be able to get the most delicious cup of true Indian Chai at any roadside stand for only 5 rupees.
While I will surely miss many of the sights, sounds, tastes, and feelings of India, we will soon be returning to the reality, the gift, the luck that is our home in America. This has been an extremely eye opening and life changing journey. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities, like this one, that the University of Louisville has offered, and continues to offer me.
sophomore anthropology major
Thinking about the kids
Preparing for the trip, Deep and Gerome kept reminding of us things to expect that we might not necessarily be used to in America. Like smog or stray animals. The one they stressed the most was being approached by beggars. I’ve been to cities like New York or Chicago before and live only a few minutes from downtown Cincinnati, so I’m used to seeing homeless people and them asking for money. I’ve also spent time in third world countries before, so I’ve seen abject poverty at its worst. But I admit it: I was nowhere near prepared for the beggars here. I don’t want people to get a bad image in their head of this country – both the people and the landscape are beyond beautiful. Sadly, this is the reality though of cities here.
In Delhi, we didn’t run into many people asking for money (mostly because of the places we went within the city). Personally, the train station was my first experience. After getting to our platform with our luggage (which was a task itself), the group was standing around waiting for our train to arrive. While we were waiting, I heard someone behind me. I turned around and saw a man scooting across the floor with his hands. The man was asking for the visitors (especially the Americans) for money. The man was polite, and after I told him I didn’t have any small bills he left us alone and went over to lie down on a cardboard mat beside one of the benches on the platform. To the best of my knowledge, the man spends most of his time living in the station begging for money. There was another man, this one much older, who approached us right before we boarded the train. Ivy and Shelby gave the man juice and a bag of chips which, to our surprise, he blessed and thanked them generously for. It was really moving to see how grateful the man was for something as small as a snack. The deep creases on his face and hands told the story of a long life, and I can only imagine what that man must have gone through.
We’ve seen people in most public places begging for money, but the hardest one for me to see has been a group of five young kids at the shopping center in District 17. Today was our third visit to District 17, and the same kids have come up to us every time. Each time they’ve approached us, they’ve gotten more persistent and tried to get more money from us. Our first visit there, one of the little boys came up to us as we were about to get into our cars, so we gave him a few rupees and he went away. The second time, two of the girls followed Hunter, Ram, and me for about ten minutes. We told them we didn’t have anything and they still followed us. We walked into stores to shop and they waited outside for us. Hunter gave one of them a hundred rupees (it was the smallest bill he had), but the other girl still stuck with us. It wasn’t until one of the store owners ran them off that they finally went away. I felt bad for them at first, but after they continued to follow us (and even try to grab our hands) I got really annoyed by them, so when the store owner got them to leave us alone I was really relieved.
Earlier today though was even worse. The entire group came up to us early into our visit, and Shelby bought them each an ice cream cone. They were all happy and smiling, so that was nice to see… but soon they came back. We told them we didn’t have anything and that we had just bought them something, but it didn’t matter to them. As we walked away from the main square of the shopping center, they all ran away towards a corner of the square. We thought that they had left us alone, but as we headed towards the restaurant where we were going to eat lunch at, they hounded us like never before. The kids kept grabbing at our hands, running in front of us or beside us, continually begging in Hindi and broken English. We tried ignoring them. We told them no, to go away. Again they refused. They followed us up two levels of stairs to the very front doors of the restaurant, completely away from the store fronts, and didn’t leave us until we had all gotten inside the doors (and they waited right next to the doors for a few minutes before finally heading off). I’ve never been so frustrated, annoyed, bothered before… but worst of all is the pity and the sympathy for them. The sad truth is that these kids most likely work for some man (a thug, I’d call him) who forces them to beg for money and return whatever they get. If people say no, he tells them to persist. They’ve probably learned that if they keep it up, eventually the people they’re bothering will run out of patience and give in.
That entire concept is terrible to imagine. Here I am wearing my name brand clothes, spending thousands of dollars to travel across the globe with a group of similarly privileged university students. And there those kids are wearing dirty, worn-out clothes that don’t really fit, begging for a few rupees from whoever they think has some to spare. All of them robbed of any opportunities to better their lives, go to school or earn a decent living. Whenever they approached us, I was probably the most impatient and curt person of our group towards them – telling them no or waving them off as soon as I saw them approach. Looking back on it all though, it hurts to think about. The questions that remain on my mind: how many of these kids are there, and what will become of them all? Is there really any way to improve their situation? Like I said, India is an absolutely beautiful country. With that beauty though, comes a stark reality. There’s the Taj Mahal, there’s pristine farmland. There are also kids like that group.
sophomore biology major
My favorite experience in India thus far was being able to visit a school while it was in session. Entering the school, we were graciously welcomed by the president. Her grandfather founded the school some years back and now it was running more successful than ever. You could see her pride in the development of the school and the degree of education it provided for the students. She then introduced us to the principal who showed us towards a classroom. Inside there were students lined up around tables with science experiments, economic models, and art pieces.
Listening to the students present their models, you could see their excitement and pride in their hard work. They were excellent speakers and you could see their vast knowledge in the subjects. I could see that not one single student took their education for granted. Their intelligence and dedication towards their education was inspiring. There was a table where they had lined up all their notebooks, and flipping through them I was amazed at the advanced concepts they were learning for only being in 10th grade. There were science terms that I hadn’t heard of until I entered college.
After the presentations, we were shown outside where students were practicing dances and skits for their school’s anniversary the next day. The principal kept nudging us to get on the stage, but I was hesitant at first. The moment I started dancing though, I had a great time laughing and joining in with the kids. The little girl dancing in front of me was not holding back, and you could feel her energy radiate as she danced filled with kicks and fast hand movements. I definitely saw a more lively and youthful side of India today, and I loved it.
Junior biology major
India continues to be an incredible experience! In our day break in between the medical camps we took a trip to Sultanpur, a city about four hours away from Chandigarh (where we are currently staying). Near the end of our day there, after visiting the first Sikh temple and a brilliant school we traveled several miles out of the city to a rural village. As we passed field after field and were driving on dirt roads I started to get really excited about the idea of seeing a farm town in India, since I grew up in a very rural area myself. Before we got to the village we came to a river and crossed via a homemade bridge. At that moment I began to realize that the areas we would be going to would most likely be entirely self-sufficient, and they certainly were. Shortly after we arrived at the first village a man pulled up in an onion truck he had built himself. It was amazing to see such innovation with such limited resources. The people that brought us to the area talked about how the people living in the village were indeed wholly self-reliant; from growing all their own food to using cow dung for building materials, which was amazing. The villagers gave us food and wanted to take lots of pictures with us which was also a neat experience. The other village we went to had a large focus on sugarcane and we saw them making and tasted brown sugar and got to help make sugarcane juice (which we then drank later). Once again, it was fascinating to see such innovation and resourcefulness. As a whole I loved the trip and it made me feel very appreciative and fortunate to have access to so many things I take for granted. Additionally, I’m completely guilty of complaining about living “in the middle of nowhere” but those rural villages brought me an entirely new perspective on rural life, which was something I’m really glad I learned. I can’t believe we’re headed home in just a few days!
junior political science and communication
Despite this being my fifth time visiting India and my second time on the trip, I am constantly surprised by the country. It is very difficult to describe the scene in India, but the closest word to describe it would be colorful. In the most basic definition of the word, one could use colorful to describe the traditional clothing that adorn the men, women, and children here. In a slightly more complex perspective, colorful can be used to describe the drastic changes in scenery: from the city life of Dehli to the slums that are so non-discretely present and from the villages to the farm land where creativity and innovation is always present. In the most abstract of forms, colorful can be used to describe the character of the people here. Though the majority of the inhabitants of this country face economic hardship in a way that we will never understand, they continue to thrive to be better, whether it be through hard work, endurance, or dedication. Furthermore, they do all of these things with the basis of compassion. This dedication to improve themselves despite such grand set backs is the part of India and the Indian people that continuously impresses me. The most obvious example of this was present when we went to visit a public school in one of the smaller villages. Many of the students have to walk 30 minutes every morning just to reach the school. Once there, the students are immersed in a broad range of subjects including math, English, science, Hindi, economics, social studies, geography and many more. While at the school, we were fortunate enough to see an exhibition that the students had set up with various projects. These projects were beyond any school fair I could have ever have imagined. In 10th grade, students were learning about cell cultures and economic concepts that I, myself, had only learned last year as a sophomore in college. The pride that the students displayed on their faces as they showed us their project was definitely evident. It was even more evident that the students’ thirst for knowledge far outweighed the “burden” of the long journey they would have to take to reach home that afternoon once school was out. This desire of people to constantly find ways to improve themselves is present throughout the country, whether they reside in villages, farms or the cities. As I return to India next year as a leader of this group, I look forward to again being surprised by these scenes and sharing them with other students.
Junior biology and Spanish major
No Expectations, No Reservations
One of the first questions people have asked me when I’ve told them about this trip has been “Why India?” or “What do you think it’ll be like?”, and my honest response has unwaveringly been “I don’t know”. Since deciding to take part in the trip, I never had any expectations. Even getting ready to board the plane, I still couldn’t have told you what I thought India would be like. Now though, we’re week into the trip, and it’s been absolutely incredible.
The weeks leading up to our departure, I was so excited for the trip – but I refused to let myself spend too much time daydreaming about India while I still had to finish out the semester. Once we touched down in Delhi though, it began to set in that we were halfway around the globe, and with every new experience that realization becomes even more profound. From visiting world wonders to exploring rural villages, India and its people are teaching me so much about our world and my role in it. Our first day here we visited the Taj Mahal, and today the medical camp we worked in was in the foothills of the Himalayas. When I sit here and re-read that last sentence, chills run through my body. Those two experiences alone are things I always dreamed about but never imagined that I’d have the opportunity to do – and those are only two instances of what we’ve been lucky enough to do.
Tomorrow we’re getting up early to spend the day exploring a rural village (where some of Deep’s family lives), and again I’m keeping my mind open. I’m usually a big to-do list kind of guy who loves to have a plan for each day, but simply going with the flow over here has made the trip that much more mind-blowing. At every turn we’re met with opportunities to dig just a little bit deeper into this wonderful country, and I’ve loved every second of it. Today marked the halfway point for us, and the time has definitely flown by. I am so grateful for what we’ve seen so far and can’t wait to discover what else India has in store for us.
sophomore biology major
It is almost unreal to believe that I have now been in India for about four days.
It is almost unreal to believe that I have now been in India for about four days. This being my first experience abroad, I can honestly say it is shaping up to be an incredible life changing trip. Today we completed our first medical camp, and words cannot accurately describe this day. For starters, I, as evident by my major, have no direct connection to the medical field, so as I began my day working with a lab doctor focusing on cholesterol I was somewhat lost, but throughout our conversation in his broken English I learned about his family and he even pulled up his resume to show me his educational history. It was so inspiring to see him choosing to spend his day working at the clinic all while laughing with the patients and other workers, and teaching me about the subject.
There wasn’t much activity with cholesterol testing for the day however, so for the remainder of my day I assisted in checking blood sugar levels. And the amazing thing about this simple task was how much you could tell about a person just from the prick of a needle on the tip of their finger. As I wiped an alcohol pad over the patients fingers I was able to see their hands and the incredible hard work, blood, sweat, and tears these people have experienced, and that is indescribable. I feel as if I often speak of hard work, and how I believe myself to be a very hard working, driven individual; whether it be from growing up on a farm or my dedication to my schoolwork, I see hard work as one of my core values. Yet, as I felt the coarseness of their palms and saw the permanent dirt beneath their fingers I realized I know very very little of true hard work. These patients work day in and day out at painstaking jobs for very little reward, but continue to do so and put forth their all because that is what they know and that’s what puts food on the table. It is the norm. And that to me, is an incredible lesson I learned from the camps today. My “hard work” can always be much greater than I believe. When I feel like I’m giving something my very all, I guarantee there can be something else to be done. And when I think I’m tired, aching, or burned out….I have no idea what that completely feels like, because there are people here who live that every day, and it is much more than I could ever have imagined.
I cannot wait for this adventure to continue and spend my next days in this spectacular country!
junior political science and communication major
A Return Trip
It has been four years since the last time I came to India and a lot has changed since then, the traffic has increased, there are more western stores, KFC and McDonalds are everywhere and for some reason everyone seems much better dressed than before. Even though I lived in India for 12 years I always discover something new about India every time I come back. Today was our first day of medical camps and it was quite the experience. The camp was set up in a small street in what looked like a very nice neighborhood that was really new. There was a lot of construction going on, and there were a lot of construction workers in the area due to this reason. Over 170 people came to the camp today, most of these people looked like they were living in extreme poverty. The scheduled start time for the camp was 10:30; this is what was advertised to the community; however no one was there at 10:30. It was very empty for the first half hour. Slowly however the pace started picking up and by 11:30 there were so many people that there were lines forming at each station. There were several stations at the camp like registration, blood pressure, blood sugar, dental check, eye check up and general check up. I worked at the registration table and got to interact a lot with the patients. I had to ask them their name, age and address. I was surprised by how many people did not know their age. Most of the people when asked for their age would become really embarrassed and would say that they didn’t know, so we had to guess their ages. It also seemed like most of the people that came to the camp were there to just get some type of medicine. A lot of them came up to the registration desk and asked whether they could get some medicine, but they did not tell us if they had any problem with their health. When asked what problem they had, they would make something up, and when told to go inside to be diagnosed by the doctor, they would say just give us some medicine and we will be fine, we don’t need to go to the doctor. However, despite some people being there just to get medicine because it was free or for other reasons, there were other patients who were legitimately sick and getting prescribed medication really will help them get better. The first medical camp was successful overall and hopefully helped some people get healthier. I also learned something new about India today. I learned that there are still some people in India that do not know their birthdays and how old they. This is probably due to their parents not getting proper deliveries in hospitals and these people being so little educated that they don’t even know the date when they had their children. When I was in India I was very sheltered from this side of society and so it was very shocking for me to see the real face of poverty in India. I hope that I keep learning through these camps and also that the rest of the camps are as or more successful than today’s camp.
sophomore biology major
And we’re off
Well, here goes India part 3! It has now been well over two years since that fateful meeting with President Ramsey, in which he proved to me once again how truly great the University of Louisville is. He gave a young sophomore with a dream, the chance to make it a reality, and I will forever be grateful. After each of the last two trips, seeing the appreciation for both their own lives and the lives of others in each of the participants of this program, has served as a continual reminder about why I do this trip every year, and why I want to continue to see this trip take place even after I graduate. I have no doubt that this year will do the same. We have a group of nine outstanding student leaders from UofL, and are off for another journey through Punjab, India. While setting up medical camps for the needy, we’ll see everything from villages to landmarks, and hopefully we’ll learn a little bit about ourselves along the way. I hope you enjoy our posts over these next few weeks, as we are eager to share our experiences with the world!
senior economics/pre-med major
So day one of India was certainly an eye-opening adventure. As many times as I was warned about everything that I was about to see, I was still shocked by the poverty and the pervasiveness of the people. My favorite part of today was surprisingly not the Taj Mahal, it was getting to talk to the people in a small village we stopped at on the way back to our home. Getting to experience the lifestyle and see on a first-hand basis life through their eyes was eye-opening. I got the opportunity to speak with two kids, Raj and Suni, who lived in the village and were fascinated with my color, my nationality and most importantly to them, my money. Our lives are so fundamentally different. Here I am, in India studying abroad and “experiencing the world” while my new friends were just trying to beg me for money to make a living. There is no way that the boys were over the age of seven or eight. Yet, they had already begun the lifestyle that they would continue, and pass on, for the rest of their lives.
It certainly adds a touch of perspective when I think about my own home and my own career back home. Makes me wonder how long this perspective will last, how long it will impact me and how often I need to see this. The most I can hope for today is that I made a small impact on the boys I met, through my smiles and handshakes. And the most I can hope for the future is for the impact they made on me to stick.
Sophomore, Spanish and economics major
Bowling Green, Ky.
I have never been more grateful towards my lucky chance of being born in America. Traveling from one location to the next in India, you immediately take in the different lifestyles from the thriving businessmen to the impoverished in the slums. It is insane how one moment while you are looking at tall stone buildings and within one blink of the eye, you are seeing the slums.
The most impacting moment of today was when a small child tapped on our bus’ window begging for spare money. Looking at his eyes my heart had literally never ached more. Shelby gave him a piece of candy and he walked around the car and sat on the sidewalk to eat it. Then we put a bag of chips out the window and he repeated his steps and sat back on the sidewalk. Everyone on the bus was crowded around the window looking at the little boy. What made him stand out from the other children that begged us for money was that he was not persistently trying to sell us something. His quietness and ease towards taking our food made him seem more innocent and not corrupted by exploiters. We waved and he waved back with a smile on his face. This small act of kindness, whether or not it was going to have a lasting impact, gave me peace of mind. All I could think about is how this child has only known this one way of life. This fact is mind boggling to me and has really given me a new perspective in life and I am even more grateful for this opportunity to travel to India and hands on volunteer in medical camps. I am ready to embrace what other eye opening and lesson learning experiences India will reveal to me.
Junior biology major
A Striking Difference
One of the most striking differences I have noticed since coming to India is the stark contrast of extreme poverty directly around vast wealth. This is something that I could have hardly imagined before seeing it. Buildings larger, newer and fancier are directly next to people living in tents made of trash bags on top of landfills. Tonight, after being chauffeured and treated around the city of Delhi all day, we took our final trip to a call center. This call center was located in the middle of city alleys and streets. The entrance was a just a simple glass door in the middle of a white brick wall among a hundred others. The general manager of the center was kind enough to give us almost an hour of his time to talk to us and give us a brief look at the center. The employees work nine-hour shifts at all hours of the day and night. It is a much better career than begging or selling items on the street and it requires a college degree, but many people back in the states, especially with a college degree, would not want to do it. I have always been taught and tried my best to not be short or angry when talking to customer service and phone marketing operators even if frustrated. I hope this will serve as a reminder for you to do the same. No matter how upset you may be about the problem you are facing with your product or the time you are taking up you should be aware of the reality the person on the other end may be facing. After they make that call they may walk out into a crowded street and still struggle to feed their family.
On a brighter note almost everyone I have had contact with her has been very friendly and welcoming. I would encourage anyone who is lucky enough and has the means to come to India. It is a truly amazing place.
sophomore anthropology major