Everyone has that one place that calls them, a place that seems to hold some unspoken promise that is longing to be realized. For me, that place has always been India.
But India is more than a place or even a series of places; it is a tapestry of experiences, a moving, changing landscape that gives itself a new face for each visitor. You don’t come here filled with expectations. India does not tell you what you want to hear; you simply have to show up and say, “Hello, I am listening, so tell me what you want me to know.”
It didn’t take me long to figure this out. I think I realized it somewhere on the dusty road leading from Delhi to Agra, in a place without a name, in a moment suspended between minutes and hours. When you look at brochures advertising study abroad trips to India, you see bright colors and lots of promises. In most ways these things are delivered.
But in my experience these are not the things that end up really sticking with you. They aren’t the things that change you. It is the quiet moments, the experiences no one could ever have come up with one their own, that have the deepest impact. As amazing as the Taj Mahal or Holi are, I feel more deeply connected to a lonely rooftop in the middle of Varanasi, to a forgotten temple in Warangal, and to the little places that have become my routine here in Hyderabad.
When you think of the term “study abroad” you probably have a lot of images in mind. But none of your expectations, none of the pre-departure talks and workshops, can prepare you for the fact that you come here and build a life from the ground up, quickly and without any chance to hesitate. Not all of your experiences will be pleasant or exciting. India, more than most places, will change you – and change can be difficult or even painful. But you come through it with such a deep sense of gratitude for everything this country throws at you, even if you can’t really explain where that gratitude comes from.
It takes a certain kind of person to want to make the eight thousand mile trek and establish themselves in a land so diverse and so different from where the journey begins, but if you are that kind of person you should not hesitate to take that first step. I promise you, it will be everything you didn’t expect, and everything you never knew you needed.
This post was contributed by Emily Montague, who is spending a semester studying abroad with AIFS in Hyderabad, India.