My name is Sofia Danziger and I am a senior at the University of Iowa and majoring in Therapeutic Recreation. Over winter break of 2012-2013, I was given the amazing opportunity to go to India. I had wanted to go to India so badly ever since my mom told me she had gone there for a year when she was in her twenties. The way she described the scenery, culture, people, and of course, the amazing shopping made me realize that I wanted to experience that. When I heard about being able to study abroad there, I jumped at the opportunity. As I looked through the different programs that were offered in India, it was so hard to choose which one would be most rewarding. I ended up choosing the Hospice and Palliative Care program.
When I got to the airport in Chicago, I remember thinking to myself, "What am I doing? Am I really about to go around the world? Do I really belong in this program?" I knew that once I boarded that plane I was on my way to a life-changing experience and that coming back to the U.S. I would be a changed person. After an eternity of traveling, I reached my destination. On the taxi ride to the hotel, my eyes were dashing in all directions as I absorbed the drastic change in scenery. Looking up, there were beautiful coconut trees and palm trees, clear, bright blue skies, bright colors from the buildings zooming by and beautiful saris and gold jewelry that the women were wearing. Looking down, however, wasn't as beautiful; there was garbage everywhere.
Adjusting to the jetlag was very difficult; I even slept through New Year’s Eve. There were also other major adjustments that the other students and myself had to make. The food was much spicier than what I am used (and I'm Mexican!), remembering not to use water from the faucet was difficult, there were several power outages throughout the day, the streets were obnoxiously loud from the traffic, the heat was very difficult to be in for more than an hour, and the language barrier made getting around slightly difficult. But, although these were all adjustments, it's what I had signed up for, and eventually all of these new things became part of my routine. It's what one needs to do, adjust, if they want to enjoy traveling to different countries.
The Hospice and Palliative Care program consisted of classes lasting from 9am-5pm or home visits with the organization we were working with, Pallium India. We all learned a lot from the different speakers that spoke during our classes, but home visits with the doctors were eye opening. There was one home visit in particular that I will never forget. We arrived to a small house in a village outside ofTrivandrum (where we were staying) in almost 100 degree weather. Before stepping inside, we took our shoes off and waited to be welcomed in by the family who lived there. We walked in to a small dark room that consisted of a small radio, fan, a table, a couple of chairs, and a woman sitting in the middle of the room smiling. The woman was a breast cancer survivor, had high blood pressure, had an open sore on the bottom of her foot.
The doctors talked to the woman and her family in Malayalam about how she had been doing since she was last seen. Because I couldn't understand the language, I was able to focus more on facial features, tones of everyone's voices and body language. The woman kept shifting in her chair as though she were trying to get comfortable, occasionally she would wince in what seemed to be pain and she would massage her legs. Despite her pain, every time she would make eye contact with any of the students in the room she would smile. At one point during the visit, the woman even took off her shirt and showed us where she had had her mastectomy. It amazed me how even though this woman was missing her breast, was in pain and lived in what Americans would consider fairly poor living conditions, she still seemed happy and was so grateful for the doctors coming to see her. She thanked the doctors, and us the students, several times as we were leaving.
The most amazing and beautiful part of India is the people. I have never been around that many people who are far less fortunate than most lower class Americans and are still so happy and grateful for life. Not once did a patient we saw complain, cry or yell.
Every single one welcomed the doctors and us with open arms into their home. Some even went out to buy cold soda, with the little money they had, for us to cool down. I have seen my parents struggle financially. I struggle financially too, but in no way am I struggling near as much as many of the people in India. It makes one re-evaluate how to approach daily life and the attitudes one may have when they wake up in the morning. It's a reminder that when you have so little, you can still be happy and grateful for having anything at all. The people I met in India changed how I live my life and taught me to be grateful for all of the opportunities I have been presented with.
If you are a student and thinking about studying abroad, do it! It will change you in the most unexpected ways. It may be scary and intimidating at first, but you'll come back not regretting the experience for a second.
Sofia N. Danziger