University of Iowa

Student Reflections on First Generation Abroad: India

February 27th, 2018

My name is Amanda Burroughs, and I am a first generation college student, as well as an only child. I come from a middle class family in which no one before me ever attended college, and I have a lot of student loans covering the cost of my education. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably considering studying abroad but you aren’t sure how to make it happen, or if it’s even possible with a limited budget. About 6 months ago, I found out about an amazing program called the India Winterim. I wanted more than anything to be a part of that trip, and I knew in my heart that it would be the experience of a lifetime, but my heart sank when I looked at the program cost sheet. It can be discouraging when you first look at the expense of going abroad, but I am here to assure you that if you are truly passionate about traveling and determined to have an experience abroad, you CAN find a way to make it happen!

When I first learned about the India Winterim study abroad program, I remember feeling an overwhelming desire to be a part of it, but also an immense feeling of doubt that I could ever afford to do something like that. I already have a lot of student loans, and my parents even have loans for my tuition as well. I was also worried about what it would be like to take such a huge trip and prepare appropriately for it, without having anyone in my family to look to for guidance since none of them had ever done anything like this. I found out very quickly that the study abroad office and the wonderful advisors there are excellent resources for these kinds of questions and concerns, and they are dedicated to helping all students find a way to experience the joys of studying abroad. I met with an advisor that semester, and she helped lay out funding options that I hadn’t considered before, helped me find relevant scholarships for my studies, and reassured me that she and many others would be available for guidance throughout the entire study abroad process. Shortly after that meeting, I applied for the program, got accepted, and before I knew it I was on my way to India!

My first days in Kerala, India were completely surreal, in the absolute best way. Never before had I been so far out of my comfort zone, immersed in a culture so different from my own. It is hard to fully prepare yourself for this experience; even if you think you know about a place and the people, seeing it all in person is the only way to really grasp the beauty and expansiveness of another culture. I learned to eat spicy, unknown foods without any silverware, to walk along busy streets and maneuver through crazy traffic, to dress conservatively according to cultural norms, but most importantly, to be more culturally aware and embrace the beauty of diversity. For the first time in my life, I was in a place where I was the minority. It is something I guess I’d never thought about before coming to India, but especially in the rural towns I became very aware of how much I stood out. People would stare or ask for “selfies” with us, and they were always eager to know where we were from. It was a really important experience that truly emphasized the importance of cultural awareness for me. All over the world, people make assumptions about other people. We do it every day, but especially when we see a custom, or a form of dress, or a practice that we are unfamiliar with. It made me realize how much I had to learn about the world, and it sparked a passion in me to learn more about world religions and other cultures.

I was part of the Pain, Palliative Care, and Hospice course, where we had the chance to work in a palliative care clinic, make visits to see patients in their homes, and learn from the one and only Dr. Raj, who really started the movement with palliative care in Kerala. I gained a lot of insight into the world of healthcare in India. Overall, my 3 weeks spent there were incredibly eye opening, heart-warming, and impactful. I walked away from this experience with a new awareness and passion for understanding diversity and embracing it.

All of the challenges I was afraid of as a first-generation student in the beginning, like the cost, the resources for support, and the fear of the unknown, were completely dissolved when I got to India. Although it wasn’t an easy road- I applied for many scholarships, looked into several private loan options, and did a lot of saving- in the end, the experience was beyond worth it. So if you think you want to study abroad, but you aren’t sure how to make it happen, do some research. Meet with an advisor. Look at all of your options and know that, if you really want it, you can make it happen. And if you’re as lucky as I was, the experience just might change your life.

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