I have always been one to explore; whether it be climbing the mountains of Alaska, conducting research in a leading university in Japan, or implementing water treatment systems in the middle of rural Honduras. When the opportunity to study abroad presented itself, I could not resist. I was intrigued by the challenges, the independence and the novelty. Everyone told me it was crazy to leave Rice University for my last semester but once I had decided, nothing could change my mind.
I could have chosen to study in any country across the world but I chose to come to India. I sought to have a shock of an experience; something completely different from the United States. The image of India presented in the U.S. is the poverty depicted in Slumdog Millionaire, the Taj Mahal, extremely spicy food, call centers and snake enchanters. These impressions made India fit my criteria. Also, since India is growing so quickly, it is starting to have an even bigger impact on the world. I thought it would be advantageous to have a first-hand understanding of this complex and thriving culture. IIT Bombay attracted me in particular because it is filled with brilliant people and I knew my academic rigor would be fostered.
I definitely got what I asked for because for the first couple of days- I was so shocked I began to wonder why I even chose coming to India in the first place. I felt very isolated and nothing reminded me of home. I could barely breathe because the air was so dusty and polluted.
Crossing the road outside of the Main Gate was an adventure in itself. I thought I was going to get hit every time because I had no idea in which direction the cars, motorcycles, and auto-rickshaws were going to move. On campus, I appreciated the trees and cleaner area but I still felt lost and didn’t know where anything was. I am vegetarian and Indian food is my favorite but after every meal, I seemed to have some sort of stomach ache.
Everyone stared at me as if I were an alien who had just landed on Earth. In general, I like to look up when I walk but I became so nervous to see all the people staring at me that I instead stared at the ground. That is when I noticed how dirty all the streets were. Trash, rats, red spit, and dust lined the streets. I didn’t understand how people could just throw things while they are walking or out of the window.
The most isolating thing of all was that in few classes, I would sit down and no one would ever sit next to me. Often I was the only student sitting in the entire row. But after a week or so, I began to accept the differences instead of longing to go home.
Now after two months, my opinion and outlook has changed significantly. Everything seems so normal and the differences have been where I have learned the most. I can breathe without coughing and I look forward to every meal. Instead of being scared when crossing the road, I have fun trying to weave in and out. When I am out and about, if I just ask, everyone is always willing to lend a helping hand.
Being a foreigner definitely has its advantages because people seem to be extra kind. In the trains people always go out of their way to make room for me to sit. When I walk around Bombay and on campus, multiple people invite me for tea. In my courses, students help me get access to moodle and email me notes for days I miss. These little acts of kindness make me feel welcome and not just a foreign exchange student.
The first weekend in January was TechFest. All the excitement made me forget that I was not at home. I enjoyed watching all the performances and robotics competition. The festival made me realize what an amazing place IIT really is and how lucky I am to spend a semester here. Coming to IIT-B was one of the best decisions I have ever made.