Studying Abroad as an Army Vet – Alumni Q&A

Why did you choose to study abroad in India?

I chose to study abroad in India because I wanted to be challenged in a completely different environment with a very different culture. To be honest, I was thinking to myself “Where in the world would I likely not vacation to?” India and a handful of other countries popped up and due to the fantastic value of USAC India, I made the plunge.

How did your experience differ from your expectations?

As with anything, we all have preconceived notions about what we think about certain things through what we’ve heard from others or what we’ve seen on television, etc. For me, everyone told me that I was insane and that India was a very dirty, smelly country and why would anyone want to visit there (even before leaving these comments hurt me ). Regardless, after spending May to August in Bangalore, I can tell you that India is beautiful country, filled with friendly, amazing people, amazing smells, which can derive from all the amazing food there, and a beautiful landscape filled with more culture and history than one can learn in the short, yet precious time I spent in India.

What is one thing you would have done differently?

If I could have rewound time, I would have chosen to study for a full year. India is a huge country and has a lot to take in.

What surprised you the most about Bangalore/India?

What surprised me the most was the amazing people I met there. Contrary to what people think about India, it’s a very diverse set of people, whether it be all the expats who are coming from all over the world (and I mean ALL over the world) to the amazing local Indian population. The relationships I forged in India were more powerful than anything I could have thought of. One person specific I look at as my best friend. I love him like family and he will absolutely be in my wedding! And just from 3.5 months of being together!

What is your favorite memory from your time abroad?

As the summer semester began, we had a field trip around the city and part of the trip, we went to a Gurudwara where we were able to see where the local Sikh population practiced their faith. They joked with me because I had a large beard and that I looked like them and long story short, I asked if I could help prepare Langar sometime (a free meal that is provided to the local community regardless gender, caste, economic status, religion, etc.). They said yes and I started to integrate myself into learning more about the Sikh community. They learned of my time in the US Army and started to call me Sardar, which is a title of nobility in the Sikh community. I became very close with my newfound Sikh friends and they honored me by giving me my own turban, something foreigners did not wear. We had to wear handkerchiefs when inside the gurudwara to cover our hair. Here’s a picture of my first night with my turban!

What was your favorite course that you took and why?

I really enjoyed learning Sanskrit. I will admit though, it was very very challenging and I am not sure there are many places where this language can be learned. It was for sure not a language that your local university will offer to teach!

What was your favorite field trip or personal travel destination?

Going to Nandi Hills, a 4,851 ft above sea level ancient hilltop fortress. It was so peaceful and serene up on the hill and lots of wildlife to admire. I have attached a picture from that experience.

How did the USAC staff support you during your time abroad?

The USAC staff was amazing, from the administrative people to the professors. I really enjoyed the university as a whole. Very beautiful campus, with even an area for wildlife. Anytime I had any sort of questions or needs, the staff was always there promptly, helping in any way they could. They were an integral part of my studies.

If you had to convince a student to study in India over another location what would you say?

Funnily enough, I already have convinced others to study abroad in India! When I returned and finished my last semester of college, I also made it a priority to talk to other students about USAC and my time in India. As an Army veteran, I was blessed to travel all over Europe and parts of the Middle East. I am not new to traveling and I can honestly undoubtedly say that India is my favorite country in the world. My dream job is to be a diplomat for the US and after studying abroad in India, I’ve now made it my goal to be the the Ambassador to India someday.

How has study abroad affected your life since you’ve returned?

Funnily enough, I thought going into this that I would not be affected by studying abroad simply due to the fact that I’ve lived abroad and have been around different cultures than my own. But amazingly, my life has completely changed since returning from India. Any of my family or coworkers will tell you that I never stop talking about India and how amazing it is. My daily life is integrated with Indian culture and food. I cook Indian foods at home often by purchasing the proper ingredients from an Indian Market here in Oregon, and my Spotify will tell you my most listened genre of music is Bollywood. My Indian friends who live in America joke that I’m more Indian than them, always updating them on the new songs and movies and political events taking place in India. I’ve actually been offered two jobs in Bangalore since graduating and eventually I will move back to India and do exactly that. India is the first place abroad that I’ve truly felt at home and at peace, and that is not a feeling one finds many times in their life. Mera Bharat Mahan

Can you talk about what it was like to be a vet studying abroad?

So going into this I knew I was going to be an oddball since I was at the time 26 years old, much older than many of the other students. But I looked at that as a good thing. I already had some life experience, I had lived abroad and for the most part, I knew what to expect and how to assimilate in other cultures. That for sure helped me in India, which is a culture bomb. I used my GI Bill to study abroad. As long as the program is through a US university, like USAC, then you can use your GI Bill to pay for it. I did not know this until India and if I had known sooner I probably would have done two years abroad for my degree. It’s a fantastic benefit and many veterans do not know they can study abroad on their educational benefits. Veterans using the GI Bill will still receive their housing allowance while abroad, which for India being such a cheap place, allowed me to live very comfortably at all times, so that’s a great stress reliever. And surprisingly when people found out about my service, many Indians thanked me for my service which was very funny and odd coming from a foreign nation but it was greatly appreciated.

What advice do you have for future study abroad students?

Face your fear and do it! There were a lot of students in my cohort that it was their first time away from home. It was an honor watching them grow. And we all had an amazing time. It will change your world and potentially change your direction in life! And it looks competitive on your resume, so why wouldn’t you?

Chris Powell is a Towson University alumni who studied abroad in Bangalore, India.