It seems safe to say that culture in any given society plays a heavy role of influence on social norms and life in general. So what exactly is culture? From livescience, culture is formally defined as: The characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.
Over the summer I made the decision to leave everything I had ever known about American culture and dive headfirst into a new one. That’s when I decided to study abroad in Bangalore, India for six weeks. When people I knew heard about my decision, I received mixed reviews from everyone. My grandmother told me she would “pray for me.” When people asked me why I wanted to go, I responded with this: The best way I know how to respond to these questions is by taking fear out of the equation and replacing it with a desperate curiosity, a thirst for experience, and an admiration for new cultures.
I told them I am going to India because I want to open my mind and open my heart to life changing experiences. I want to show people that life is too short to stay within your comfort zone. There’s a whole world out there.
In India, I stayed in the southern city of Bangalore which can be found in the large state of Karnataka with a population of over 65 million people. While I was in Bangalore, I had the privilege to study and stay at Christ College. But, the first thing I noticed about India was its beauty. I can see why Bangalore is known as the garden city, because the campus and surrounding areas all looked like a rainforest. Trees as tall as you can see, elaborate fountains and bird cages were scattered as far as the eye can see.
I lived in a hostel on campus with three hundred Indian girls. Eventually, I became very close with the girls in the dorm, and hearing their stories and thoughts about the world is what single-handedly made me feel fully immersed into the Indian culture. They did a wonderful job of showing me around town and introducing to me to some delicious south Indian curry dishes and sweets. It’s incredible what some healthy conversation can do for you. The more I spoke with them, the more I realized that although they live across the globe from me, we could still relate to one another and find commonalities.
Walking down the street in India was overstimulating to my senses, there is so much to take in that it’s very difficult to articulate. What looked like pure chaos to me, is a perfectly functioning society to everyone else, and as the weeks went on I began to learn how to move quickly and become integrated with Indian society.
There were days when I would volunteer in the impoverished areas just up the street from me, where I was exposed to poverty in a way that I have never experienced here in the states. My experience volunteering allowed me time to build relationships with the families that live there, especially with the children — it also made me realize how happy people are capable of being with so little.
In my six weeks in India, I saw some of the most incredible and breathtaking tropical scenery. I ate types of food I didn’t even know existed. I learned how powerful love can be. I met some of the most inspiring people I have ever spoken to. When I arrived back to the states, I realized how self-aware and open-minded I felt about the world. I’m not saying you have to get on a plane and travel internationally to feel awakened like this, and that’s because you can start where you are now, but if you can — study abroad somewhere completely foreign to you and watch yourself grow tremendously as a person.
For the good of your soul, I dare you to take a risk and step outside of your comfort zone.
Hannah Rucker, USAC Bangalore, India