Last semester, I traveled to Pune, India to study public health and social entrepreneurship. Being a Sociology and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies joint major along with pre-law, I’ve developed a passion for public health and policy. This study abroad opportunity enabled me to study public health within a human rights framework, and expand my knowledge on the rights-based aspect of studying medical law. My main motivation in going abroad was just to learn about a different culture and take advantage of an incredible experience I might never come across again, but I ended up learning so much more about myself, my goals, and my interests than I thought I would.
Still, the semester was tough. I thought I was used to culture shock. After all, moving from Miami to Lancaster was a difficult transition: big city to small Amish area; Spanish-speaking to English-speaking population; Hispanic majority to White majority; different foods, different clothes, different weather. I had adjusted once before and I did not think it would be difficult to do it again, when I traveled from Lancaster to Pune. I was wrong. Very wrong. I didn't know the local language, but I had to take a rikshaw to and from school every day, so communicating with drivers was an ordeal. Sticking out like a sore thumb drew a lot of stares. Getting used to bucket baths and no toilet paper was a long process. Spotty wi-fi access made it difficult to keep in touch with friends and family. There were times during the semester when I really just thought about giving up and going home--but I am so glad I didn't. The support I found in my program, from the other students who were going through the same thing to our program advisor, who was sweet, understanding, and full of great tips. By the end of my semester, I was so glad I had stayed, because I was able to learn a new kind of dance, learn to make Indian sweets, travel through northern India and camp out in the Himalayas, and participate in various religious festivals. The adjustment was tough, but it was worth it just to have all these priceless experiences.
I came home with a new outlook on life. I had learned a lot about myself, but I also learned a lot about India and how we as Americans think of ourselves in relation to countries like India. I've heard people say that India, as a third-world country, isn't as advanced as the US and that their customs and traditions are oppressive to women. What I hadn't heard people in the US say about India was that India is home to world-renowned doctors and ingenious non-profit organizations working to involve children in conservation and environmentalist efforts through science education. India is home to a flourishing transgender rights activist movement as well as countless grassroots female empowerment programs. It's home to non-profits that train women in impoverished villages to deliver babies in the homes of women who don't have regular access to a hospital for deliveries, and these women have child and maternal mortality rates lower than the national average. Women in villages have started businesses, built "barefoot colleges", and learned to use solar power technology. The incredible, innovative things happening in India blow my mind and debunk the myths that many Americans believe about India. Yes, there's poverty in India but that exists here too. Yes, there's gender inequality in India, but don't even get me started about gender inequality in the US. Yes, there's pollution in India, but our current president just decided we don't need an EPA. And for all of these issues, there are talented, courageous, brilliant Indian activists stepping forward to tackle them. I learned so much about creative problem-solving while in India, and I definitely think the US needs some of that insight.
All in all, I loved my experience abroad. It was challenging, emotional, educational, eye-opening, and formative. Learning here at F&M is great, but we all have to be global citizens someday, and I think it's best to start now.
Cecilia Plaza '17
Term Abroad: Fall 2016
Brooks College House
Major: Sociology and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies joint major