Experience Study Abroad: India Winterim

Just as we have been sharing with you the experiential learning journeys of students who have completed internships, we want to share with you the amazing study abroad programs that our Honors students have participated in. Here is a look at Honors student Jordan Hansen’s experience in the 2017 India Winterim program that is offered through the University of Iowa’s Study Abroad office.

File_002My motto for my second year of college has been a quote that reads, “Life will only change when you become more committed to your dreams than you are to your comfort zone” (Billy Cox). Traveling to India had been a dream of mine for years, but it was definitely one of the biggest steps out of my comfort zone that I have ever taken. When I started planning my trip to India, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted. I was going to learn about developing innovative solutions to help serve and assist people on a large scale, and I was going to bring all of my knowledge back to apply it to my engineering studies. But as I prepared for the trip and began my journey to Pondicherry, India, I realized that my idea of solving problems and helping people was much different than what I had been focusing on in engineering. My three weeks abroad helped me explore this realization and begin to redefine what truly helping and impacting the lives of others means to me.

While in Pondicherry, I immersed myself in the Cultural Exploration, Rural Development and Social Justice course. On each week day, our program gave us the opportunity to work collaboratively with four different NGOs, including a home to support gypsy children, a residential community for the elderly, a school specifically tailored to support children with special needs, and an after school program for children in a rural village.

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I worked primarily with the SAVRAM after school program, and I had the opportunity to lead group activities for about 20 students around the ages of 9 or 10. As my group worked to develop an idea of what we wanted to teach, we wanted it to be more than learning new words or facts, and we wanted to have a lasting impact on a program that was already well developed. For these reasons, we decided to focus on character development. Each day, we chose a word that would serve as our theme, such as trust or teamwork. We taught the children the word in English, and with the help of a translator, we learned how to say the word in Tamil as well. We then prepared interactive activities to help the children understand the meaning of the character trait. For example, each child had the opportunity to draw a picture of what it meant to them to trust someone. As we each shared our drawings, it was incredible to see how values, like trust, can help people relate to one another despite our different cultures and life experiences.

Additionally, one of the major projects my group worked on throughout the three weeks was the development of a video that showed each of the four NGOs that students can work with in Pondicherry. We felt this was needed because we did not have a clear understanding of what we would be able to do or how we could make an impact at each organization prior to arriving in India. With the help of leaders from each of the groups, we were able to compile a video that will help future Iowa students begin brainstorming ideas of how they can help the organizations in Pondicherry continue to grow.

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During each weekend, we had multiple cultural excursion trips. These were incredible opportunities to not only observe, but to be integrated into some of the cultural practices of Pondicherry. One of my favorite experiences was our visit to the rural areas of Pondicherry where we had a chance to walk barefoot through a rice field and watch as farmers cut raw sugar cane for us to taste. I really enjoyed the opportunity to compare and contrast Indian agriculture to the agricultural practices I am familiar with in Iowa. I also loved having the opportunity to personally connect with people in the communities of Pondicherry.

I have always been worried about finding the perfect career that will allow me to help people and truly make an impact in their lives, but I realized a lot about helping people during this trip. Helping someone can be as simple as taking the time to truly listen and appreciate the stories of life experiences that an elderly gentleman wants to share with you. Helping people can also be giving children the love and attention they need to feel just a little bit more confident in themselves. Helping people does not have to be coming up with a major technological solution, and to me, it means more when it involves a personal connection.

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By participating in this India Winterim program, I learned a lot about Indian culture and the methods used to serve individuals in need. However, through the connections I made with individuals in India, as well as from the University of Iowa, I learned even more about myself. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to take a step out of my comfort zone, a step back from everything here in the United States that was influencing my career choice, and a step toward a more positive mindset about finding a purposeful way to help people in my future career.

Interested in applying for this program after hearing about Jordan’s experience? Additional information can be found here: http://study-abroad.uiowa.edu/programs/details/index.php?crse=197#program. The application deadline for the 2018 session is September 20th, 2017.

Written by: Jordan Hansen, Honors Student

Jordan Hansen is a third year student at the University of Iowa, and she is still working to define her academic path. She is currently interested in Communications and Psychology and hopes to pursue a graduate degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs. Jordan has been involved with the Honors Program as a Resident Assistant for the STEM Scholars Living Learning Community and has also completed an Honors Research Practicum. Additionally, Jordan serves as the Vice President for the National Residence Hall Honorary which allows her to focus on serving and recognizing students who live on campus while also representing the University of Iowa at regional and national conferences.

Edited by: Chloe Sekhran, Blog Manager

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