This May, I traveled to Manipal, India through the College of Public Health as part of my STEP Signature Project. While abroad, I took a global public health class taught by an Ohio State professor and went on various field visits to learn more about the Indian culture and healthcare system.
As cliché as it may sound, this study abroad program was a perfect reminder to me to “never judge a book by its cover.” Having only little experience traveling outside of the United States, my views of India had been shaped entirely by things I read online or saw in the media. Preparing for the trip, I envisioned polluted cities, poverty-stricken streets, crumbling buildings, and dirt roads. What I found when I arrived in the country was far different than anything I had expected. Sure there were unhealthy levels of pollution and impoverished neighborhoods, but there was also so much more than that. The country was beautiful and far more developed than I anticipated. There were newly paved highways (better than many roads here in Ohio), beautiful temples, and ongoing efforts to improve life for the Indian people. Everyone I met was friendly; and, most asked questions to learn more about the United States. My study abroad experience showed me a whole different side of India that is rarely portrayed in the media.
My study abroad experience also changed my understanding of the role I play as a global citizen. Although we may identify with specific nationalities, we are all citizens of the world. My time in India was an eye-opening experience that allowed me to learn about a culture very different from my own. Through my interactions with the individuals I met, I also had an opportunity to teach others about my own country and culture. As global citizens, we must be open to new experiences and cultures, but we must also be willing to teach others about our own. We also have a responsibility to advocate for the health and well-being of all people and support the development of new innovations that are beneficial to everyone.
As part of the class component of the study abroad program, we went on daily field trips to various locations in order to learn more about the Indian healthcare system. Some of the places we visited included health clinics, a hospital, a water treatment plant, and an impoverished neighborhood. During these field visits, we learned about public health efforts currently underway in India and made comparisons to the United States. I was amazed at the various programs that have been implemented in India to improve health. Not only are public health professionals working to treat various diseases, but they are also actively working to educate individuals and prevent the spread of chronic and infections diseases. We also had the opportunity to meet and interact with different individuals during these field visits. Their national pride and willingness to help one another was truly inspiring and showed the importance of working together to improve life for all.
In addition to the daily field visits, we also had the opportunity to explore the area where we stayed and immerse ourselves in the culture. One day, we visited an ancient Jain Temple and I can remember being amazed not only by the architecture of the temple, but also by the view from atop the mountain. Another day, we visited a beautiful white sand beach and danced with locals while riding the bus back to the university. We also shopped in the city, attended the circus, and went on a train ride through a more rural part of the country. These trips allowed me to see another side of India that is often not seen in the media and gave me a far greater appreciation for the country’s beauty and culture.
On our final night in Manipal, we attended a banquet hosted for our group by Manipal University. Faculty and students from the university were in attendance at the event, which featured traditional Indian performances, local cuisine, and presentations by two members of our group on their experiences in India. For me, the most memorable aspect of the banquet was the presentations by the two other members or my group. It was amazing to hear what my group members’ favorite experiences and how the trip had changed their lives. One of my group members described how her experience in India helped her recognize her role as a global citizen; and, this really resonated with me. The banquet was a perfect way to end our time in India and helped me reflect on my experiences. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to travel to another country and spend over three weeks with an incredible group of people.
This study aboard program and the experiences I have gained are very relevant to my future. The program allowed me to improve my knowledge of public health and connect my classroom experiences with real-world experiences. For much of the program, we explored sociological issues as they relate to health, a field I hope to further explore in the future. Furthermore, my experience in India reaffirmed my desire to pursue my Masters in Public Health following graduation. Beyond my academic goals, the program also served as a starting point for my personal goal to explore new places and learn about new cultures. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to study abroad in India and for the STEP program that made the trip possible.