Guest Post By: Anabel Blankenship, a Sophomore. She is a Global Business Center Study Abroad Scholarship Recipient, and she studied abroad through a Foster Exploration Seminar in India, during Early Fall Start 2023.
I could not have been more excited to step foot in India first and foremost for the food. Especially once I learned that the “Indian food” we think of in the U.S. is limited to variations of a few select dishes found primarily in Northern India. There was a whole southern portion of the country with an entirely unique culinary landscape to explore!
Realizing that I had such a limited scope of knowledge about India was clear once I arrived in Bangaluru and was surprised to have a banana leaf placed on the table to be used as my plate. I was completely unaware of this style of cuisine that I came to realize is incredibly common in southern India especially for fancy dinners and special occasions. The varied components of the meal were truly delicious and unlike anything I had ever taken part in, so it was a wonderful start to the program.
As we ventured from place-to-place traversing India as north as the Himalayas, I learned about different cultures, religions, languages, but also experienced different climates. Bengaluru was already an adjustment for me despite it being cooler in comparison to most of our stops. There were moments of relief though, especially in Mumbai with the rain and in McLeod Ganj which sits at the base of the Himalayas and is much more moderate in weather. With this speedy journey through India there was a lot to take in and while at times this was overwhelming for the most part I was constantly learning and absorbing.
Some of the biggest learning opportunities came as we visited non-profit organizations and businesses that are working to better their communities. Certain visits like Hasiru Dala especially stood out to me. Hasiru Dala or “Green Force” is an organization that started by working to create better livelihoods for waste pickers, or people who live off selling dry waste, but has since grown to completely transform the waste management system of the city of Bangaluru. Since the environment is one of my main passions and I have goals to hopefully be involved with a business or help start one that betters the environment in some way, I was inspired and learned a lot from this visit. It was especially intriguing to see their approach. The organization wasn’t environment-focused at first, yet they have massively helped the environment in the region and continue to do so as this is now a major focus. In fact, the city went from putting almost all their waste into one landfall that was polluting the groundwater and harming citizens to sorting all of their waste that is collected. Sorting lowers the amount of waste sent to landfills and in turn creates more of a circular economy. Additionally, this has helped create a waste collection system that is actively diverting waste from ending up in waterways. So, while the initial goal was simply to help support a vulnerable community of people, they have managed to do this and more. There is so much that can be learned from the way they approached this issue, how they have grown their organization, and how they have pivoted given the many obstacles that have come up.
I learned from the visits, but I also learned from the people I was surrounded by during the trip. Our professor, Abhinav Gupta, taught us about the history of India as well as the modern-day issues it faces. These lessons helped provide context throughout the trip. Plus, we had many tour guides and liaisons for certain visits who were available to answer questions throughout. They all brought a fresh perspective to the country and what we were learning about that day which was so helpful in learning. Finally, conversations on the buses, plane trips, dinners, and more with my fellow students were what allowed me to absorb the most from the trip. We reflected day by day on the unexpected things we experienced, and all those conversations developed my understanding more and more.
There were so many new experiences that I had throughout the 3 weeks spent in India that built upon my knowledge of the social structure, religions, and history of India. The country is full of innovation and organizations that form the backbone to a country that is continuing to develop every day, so the experiences I had are shaping a new perspective that I will take in my education and career going forward.