The University of Iowa

Student Reflections on Diversity Abroad: India

April 20th, 2020
Amani Ali India

Hello or Namaskaram as they would say in Malayalam! My name is Amani Ali and I am a senior here at the University of Iowa majoring in global health studies with a certificate in public health on the pre-med track. I was born in Khartoum, Sudan, and came to the United States as a refugee when I was about six years old. When I first started my freshman year at Iowa, I was clueless because as a minority and a first-generation college student I didn’t have someone to guide me through college. I had to figure out everything on my own. Honestly, I wasn’t even aware that college students could study abroad and how they could sign up to do it. I wish the university did a better job of encouraging first-generation, refugees/immigrants, minorities, and low-income students to study abroad because we have a lot to offer and we want to experience what other college students get to experience as well. 

On December 28, 2019, I got the opportunity to study abroad in India through the India Winterim program that the Study Abroad office offers here at the University of Iowa. I knew about this study abroad program because I had a few friends who applied for it and got accepted. Those friends encouraged me to apply for this program as well because it was a life-changing experience for them. To learn more about this program I did my research through the Study Abroad website at Iowa. I also set up an appointment to meet with one of the Study Abroad advisors and asked them lots of questions. They helped answer all my questions and concerns. The biggest concern that I had was how I would  pay for this trip. 

I didn’t have any expectations while getting ready to go to India. I went there with an open mind and ready to learn new things. Since I have been to a new country before I kind of knew what to expect. I expected to get lots of stares from the locals, be unfamiliar with the culture/religion, and etc. I was beyond right! We got lots of stares from the locals because they often don’t see college students who tutor in India. They also wanted pictures with us so they could show their family and friends. I was familiar with the Indian culture and religion because it was similar to Sudanese culture and the religion of Islam. The top three religions in India were Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity. Many of the locals in India spoke English which was really helpful! The girls who went with me weren’t that familiar with Indian culture and religion so they asked me some questions and I tried to answer them to the best of my knowledge. I also told them that we should ask the locals because they knew way more about India then I did. My experience when I first came to the United States is somewhat similar to my experience when I went to India but since I have once been new to a country it made it easier to visit a new and unfamiliar country.

Amani Ali India

My study abroad experience helped me learn a few things about myself. First, I learned that I am a very passionate person who loves to put a big smile on other people's faces. For example, when I went on the home visits I got hugs/kisses, and my hand held by the patients and their families. Since I allowed them to hug/kiss me and hold my hand they were so happy and smiled so big. I connected with them instantly. Second, I learned that I am a fast learner. It didn’t take me long to pick up the language and navigate my way through the city. Lastly, I learned that I am way stronger than I look. During our home visits we saw some really sad/heartbreaking things that would make you want to cry but I had to be strong and prevent myself from crying in front of the patients and their families. I gained four really important insights while I was in India. The first being communication. Luckily for us the locals in Kerala, India, spoke English so it made communication easier for us. We dedicated a whole day to learn simple phrases in Malayalam to be able to communicate with those who didn’t speak English. The second was cultural awareness. A significant focus of the trip was becoming familiar with the culture and customs of the area. The third insight that I gained was adaptability. Going to a foreign place like India is not easy. It took some time to adapt to the place. In addition to a new language, we had to adapt to the food, weather, transportation, currency, traditions, and laws, etc. The final insight that I gained while in India was courage. Traveling and learning in a different country can take some courage. It can be scary to stay in a place where you don’t know the customs and/or language and to spend time with people you have just met. It took me about four days to adjust to the lifestyles in India.

There weren't any unexpected challenges that I faced while in India because I already faced those challenges here in the U.S. The thing that surprised me the most when I went to India was how the locals treated me like I was one of them. I felt like I belonged in India because the people there were so nice and welcoming. Being a Muslim and Sudanese made it a lot easier for me to blend in with the locals. While in the U.S. I stick out a lot, that's why I always feel like an outsider. I have been in the U.S. for awhile now but I still get the same reactions from people as when I first moved here. My experience in India was beyond amazing and life-changing! Anyone can study abroad and should if they are given the opportunity to do so! I would definitely recommend studying abroad! If I could give one piece of advice to a prospective student through this open letter I would tell them to go study abroad because it’s a life-changing experience. My study abroad experience definitely helped me get out of my comfort zone.