This study abroad trip has not been a vacation, even if some of our amazing experiences has made it seem that way. After almost two weeks of non-stop activities in India, any form of down time comes as a welcomed chance to process all the things we’ve seen and done, and to rest our minds and bodies. Today was that chance.
The day started late since we had the opportunity to sleep in-and we all know how much college students enjoy sleeping. But too soon it was time to leave. Before setting off for the airport, though, we gathered to share with each other our experiences since arriving in Assam. We discussed the challenges we’ve faced, our suggestions for Vijay Gi, and our gratitude towards him for everything he did for us. While common in social work, this “circle time” was often a challenge for me both as an extremely private person who’s bad at winging it and as a non-social work major. However, I found that it provided a good sense of closure, and made our departure just a little less difficult.
Goodbyes are never easy, especially when you’ve come to love a new place and all the people who made it feel like home. I know I speak for everyone in our group when I say that we feel extremely grateful for the incredible hospitality of every person we met and all the opportunities we had to learn. We spent a week fully immersing ourselves in a culture and a way of life so different from our own. This could not have been done so successfully without the help of Vijay Gi and everyone working at RIWATCH, and Dibrugarh University.
So, after saying goodbye to Vijay Gi and Dibrugarh University, we boarded our flight for Delhi. The flight was long and uneventful, but I know many of us appreciated the time to catch up on more sleep and our journaling. I admit I opted for sleep instead of journaling.
I did take the time to reflect back on our journey, at least when I was conscious. The flight back to Delhi was, in a way, the end of our study abroad-at least the study part of this trip. Once we arrived, we would do all the tourist-y things you do when you go to India, like take pictures in front of the Taj Mahal, buy all the souvenirs we can, and maybe even get some henna if we’re lucky. Now that the end is quickly approaching, I find myself struggling to describe what the last week and a half has meant to me.
It has been a long time since I have been so completely out of my element, surrounded by people with a different academic focus. For once, I was the one struggling to keep up, trying to learn what social work is and analyze how it is put into practice at the same time. If I had to name one thing I got out of this experience, it would be the expansion of my perspective.
As a molecular biology major, my focus becomes more and more specialized each year. The concepts and processes I am learning function at the atomic level. As a result, the big picture gets a little fuzzy. But many of us in biology majors are also on the pre-med track. As future doctors, it is dangerous to be so narrowly focused. This experience has challenged me in many ways, but it has also given me a deeper understanding of the factors that affect people’s health, their responses to medicine, and the challenges they live with everyday. I had gotten lost in all the little technical aspects of what I study. I had lost track of why I had even wanted to study it in the first place. I can’t say that I’ve found answers to all of my questions or that I have “found my way.” If any thing, I have more questions and doubts than I did before I came to India. I can say, though, that the experience is far more valuable than what I could have learned about India from a textbook. At least some of the big picture has become clearer. Wherever I end up, whatever I end up doing, I know what I have seen and learned will change the way I look at my work and my own life. I will never be done processing, because there will always be more to learn. I only hope more people take the chance to experience something like this. The end of this adventure is bittersweet. I have no idea how we will be able to say goodbye to all the people who have so warmly welcomed us into their country and homes when we leave India.
Reflections by Leah Abramoff:
A big part of studying social work is the constant reinforcing that we are never done learning. People grow, new concepts are learned, and we as a result are constantly re-framing what we know as clinicians, service providers, etc.. The experiences learned thus far really targeted this core concept of social work in that every new item we learned expanded our education base but also lent to us having to acknowledge that each individual we met have their own challenges and strengths they use within their communities. Our goal for this program was to learn about the socio-cultural context of indigenous people’s health within Northeastern India in the Himalayas. However, stamping our perspective of their health challenges would be unfair as each person has their own culture – their own experiences, perspectives – that makes up the bigger picture and should be acknowledged and respected when we bring back what we have seen and experienced during this program. So when people ask me what I learned during this program it would have to be the constant underlying of how there may be umbrella-ing motives of hospitableness, artistic talents, community bonds but each person is an individual with their own strengths and apply them daily. This is a belief I hold personally of every person I meet and it does not change no matter which land I stand on and what it may be called. The terrain may look vastly different, but this elemental belief has remained constant.