Abbey is from Appleton, Wisconsin, and she studied Journalism and Sociology in college. She did a World Endeavors internship in Jaipur, India.
How do you feel looking back on your experience in India?
I miss the country and the friends I met more and more every day. Sometimes I think about it, and I still can’t believe I lived in India for a month. It was the most amazing experience!
Did you have any reservations before leaving for India?
Absolutely. I probably wouldn’t have admitted that before I left though. I had never been out of the United States before my experience in India. I realized I bit off a lot to chew for my first time abroad about two months before I was scheduled to leave. Yikes! It was a scary realization, but I just decided to put my head in the right mind set for the culture shock and to say “yes” to every adventure and opportunity that came my way.
Why did you choose India?
I’m asked this question a lot, and I really never know how to answer it. I have always been attracted to India. First of all, Indian food is one of my favorite cuisines. I love, love, love curry and spicy spices. In that respect, I knew India was the right place for me. Second, I am very interested in Indian culture. Hinduism is so fascinating. Believers worship so many different gods and goddesses and celebrate a holiday to honor them all. The clothes Indians wear are also incredibly beautiful and intriguing. While riding around, I would see women dressed in bright yellows, oranges, pinks, blues, etc. I never see colors like that in the States. Basically, I wanted to go to India to see if it was as spectacular as I thought it would be, and you know what? It was!
How did you hear about World Endeavors, and why did you choose WE over other programs?
I heard about World Endeavors through my university’s website. I was looking at the global education page and came across the affiliated organizations. I clicked World Endeavors and was hooked. They were one of the only programs to even offer India as an internship destination, and I also liked that they were affiliated with my school. I knew this meant it was a reputable program, and I wouldn’t have to worry.
What was your first impression of India?
It was definitely a culture shock, to say the least. I arrived in Mumbai early in the morning, and had to take a bus to get to the right terminal for my domestic flight. While we were driving, all I could see were little huts made of cardboard that looked like they were one big gust of air away from caving in on themselves. I had never witnessed poverty like this. It was all a lot to handle on top of the crazy jet lag! I can’t say I ever got used to the poverty in India.
Living in India took a lot of getting used to. Everything operates differently than it does in the U.S. I had to quickly adjust to all of the staring because it never stopped. However, after awhile, I realized it wasn’t because the people were judging me. They were just curious. They wanted to know where I came from, why I was in India, and most importantly, if I liked their country.
Tell me about your housing and housemates.
I lived in a volunteer house with up to 20 different people from all over the world. There were six rooms, with two bunk beds in each. I lived with three girls. They were from Canada, France and Russia. Living in the house was the best part about staying in India. We all had an immediate bond because we were all foreigners who were trying to figure out this crazy amazing country that functioned so differently from our own. My favorite memories came from traveling with my new friends on the weekends. I went to Agra (where the Taj Mahal is), Pushkar and Jodhpur. I will also always remember the candlelight dinners we would have in the flooded kitchen after a bad rainstorm knocked the power out. It sounds miserable, but it was actually really fun!
Did you have any trouble with language barriers?
In the area I lived in, most people spoke Hindi. The very educated spoke English, but that was only a select few. It was very hard to get around every day because the tuk-tuk (or motorized rickshaw) drivers rarely spoke English. I solved this issue by always keeping a business card with the address of the office I worked at written in Hindi on it.
Tell me about your internship.
I worked for an Indian lifestyle magazine that focuses on various aspects of Indian life. Food, culture, fashion, etc.
What was a typical day like?
I would wake up between 8:00 and 9:00 AM and walk across the hall into the dining room to eat a typical breakfast of toast with Nutella, a banana, spicy rice, and chai. Then I would take a shower and get ready for the day. After I picked up my packed lunch, I would walk through the neighborhood to the main street and wave down a tuk-tuk. After I arrived at my internship placement, I would get right to work on my computer. Some days I would have special events to go to, but on others I would do work like writing or editing stories. At the end of the day, I would catch a tuk-tuk back home and hang out with my housemates.
How did you get around?
By riding in a tuk-tuk!! They are the cutest little things. They’re one of the most efficient and safest ways for foreigners to travel around the city. It’s also really cheap! I was scared the first time I flagged one down, but it got easier.
Looking back on “pre-India Abbey” and “post-India Abbey”, what changes do you see?
This program affected the way I see myself. I can’t believe I lived in India for a month, and I am so proud of myself for doing it solo. Traveling to a strange country so far away from home by myself for the first time was challenging, but I made it. Adapting to a culture that was so different from my own was very rewarding. Most of all, I’m proud of myself for going, and I’m proud for absolutely loving every minute of it!
I think many people thought it’d be hard for me to go from my comfortable life in America to living in a developing country. However, I learned I am more than capable of adapting to new surroundings. Now I want to travel all over the world!
What are you doing now? Any future travel plans in the works?
I’m finishing up the first semester of my senior year in college, and I’m applying to law schools! Oh goodness, as far as future travel plans go…I want to go everywhere! I just need to make some money first : )
What is your favorite story to tell about your time in India?
One day, we went to an elephant village and rode on elephants. Not how tourists usually ride them, with big, showy boxes at a festival or parade. We just sat on mats on their backs and rode around the village. I’ll never forget how it felt to feel the prickle of their hairs on my feet. It was a very organic experience, and my all time favorite memory from the trip. (I should mention elephants are my favorite animal, that’s why I was so jazzed about this).
I loved India, and I cannot wait to go back someday!
If you could give one piece of advice to someone thinking about going abroad, what would it be?
DO IT. Whether you think you’re brave enough or not, or whether you doubt you can financially justify it, just do it. You’ll never ever regret your time spent abroad. You’ll learn so much about yourself and learn to appreciate the things you have and the place you come from.