An Unforgettable Trip: INdIA Winterim

By Zach Wahls

This editorial was published Jan. 19, 2011, in The Daily Iowan. For more information about the INdIA Winterim program, contact Cory Petersen in the Office for Study Abroad or visit www.uiowa.edu/~geog/india.

Photos by Zach Wahls. All rights reserved.

Just when I’d thought my younger years were behind me, Cory Petersen, the cocoordinator of the INdIA Winterim classes, informed my section that, for logistical reasons, our upcoming visit to India was technically a “field trip.”

Best. Field. Trip. Ever.

If you have ever wanted to travel outside of the United States, but weren’t sure how to go about doing so, take this class.

The INdIA Winterim program, a collection of three-week study-abroad courses, just concluded its fifth year; it can boast of helping more than 100 students in 10 different areas. (We got back Sunday-Monday, and I’m still pretty jet-lagged, so I apologize if some of this doesn’t make sense.) The classes are worth three credit hours, there are some great study-abroad scholarships available, and I can’t think of a more personally enriching experience.

I’d never traveled outside of the Western world before. Like many of you, I’ve grown accustomed to the comforts of a developed nation; to spend three weeks in a developing country was abruptly different, to say the least.

After all, I don’t consider running water a luxury, and I take for granted that it’s clean and safe. When my Internet stops working, I fume at Mediacom and offer a few choice words to the 404-error page, having grown used to immediate accessibility. Power outages here are rare and almost always brief. Our roads are well maintained. The list goes on.

We stayed with a relatively well-off Indian NGO studying rural development. Even on the incredible campus, we were unable to drink tap water, experienced a number of blackouts, and had an Internet connection that was temperamental at best. Of course, the villages we visited didn’t have to worry about any of these inconveniences, because they didn’t have running water, access to an electrical grid, or Internet.

Turns out the occasional blackout is a good problem to have.

Despite the advances of humankind in the 20th century, and the extraordinary development the Western world has witnessed, a vast number of people still live in small, technologically primitive villages. It’s one thing to read about these conditions, but it’s another to see them. I can’t even imagine having to actually live in them.

After arriving in New Delhi, we took a train to Allahabad and then journeyed four hours by automobile to our final destination. A classmate of mine mused that he had learned more about the world from looking out of that window than from all the textbooks he had ever read.

I wouldn’t disagree.

Even as the world changes and “developing” nations continue to modernize and progress, it’s hard to imagine a future in which there is little to be gained from travel abroad. Westernization is an increasingly powerful force, but although the world seems to be converging on a similar ideal, there is much to be learned from those who are different from us.

Calling the last three weeks “life changing” would be like calling the pyramids “impressive” or referring to Bob Dylan as “pretty good.” It wouldn’t be so different from describing skydiving as “exciting” or The Great Gatsby as “decent.”

A quote often attributed to the Prophet Mohammed goes like this: “Don’t tell me how much you know. Tell me how much you have traveled.” Wise words from a wise man. With this program, I traveled halfway around the world. I had a great professor and amazing classmates and learned more in this three-week span than any other similar stretch of time in my life.

If any of my fellow students are interested in studying abroad, I highly recommend this program.

My entire class had a ton of fun, but we learned even more. I’m sure any of my fellow students would tell you the same thing in a heartbeat.

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