Kat Harlan is a 3rd year Public Relations major at the University of Florida and is also pursuing minors in Spanish and Non-Profit Organizational Leadership. While this is her first time studying abroad, Kat has previously traveled to the Dominican Republic during high school on mission trips. This summer, Kat will be participating in the UF in India – NGOs and Development program which travels to Chennai, New Delhi and Jaipur, India. While she is in India, Kat will be studying Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and she chose this program due to the intense cultural immersion and the focus placed on understanding NGOs in the context of India. In her free time, Kat enjoys being active outdoors, volunteering and being involved in her community. Kat hopes to use the skills that she gains from her degree and her study abroad experience to help her be a culturally adept and globally focused public relations practitioner after graduation.
This is what my parents first said to me when I announced that I didn’t want to study abroad in Spain this summer and finish my Spanish minor like we had planned. And then a few months later, after the major events involving the gang rape and eventual death of an Indian woman in southern New Delhi, my parents asked me again if I was sure. Of course my mind had been made up, as had the minds of the other 15 students that are overly ecstatic to begin our study abroad program in Chennai (located in Tamil Nadu), India tomorrow. There is a wide variety of backgrounds from political science to fine arts to sociology that make up the lot of us that will be traveling together, but we all have in common our interest in culture and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Dr. Kumaran, one of FYCS’ favorite professors, has prepared us thoroughly for what to expect in India, although that won’t diminish the shock we might feel at first. But, as we have titled our study abroad Facebook group, it sure is going to be an adventure! First, we will have the pleasure of residing at the campus of Madras Christian College (MCC), graciously staying in the International Guest House.
During our stay, we will take a tour throughout the city, venture 60 miles away to the monuments of Mahabalipuram, and have three field visits to NGOs. A two-day train will take us to Delhi where we will stay for a week and a half. We will visit the US embassy in New Delhi, and take a day trip to the Taj Mahal! Next stop: Jaipur for five days before heading back to Chennai for the final stretch of the program. Over these five weeks, we will visit 15 NGOs and become familiar with how they all work in the sessions that Dr. K has planned for us. This experience is going to be one for educational and personal development, and we might seem a little different when we come back in August, because this journey abroad will change us for the rest of our lives.
I arrived in Chennai, India with a few other students on July 2 in the middle of the night. We’ve had a few days to explore the campus and get settled as the others start to arrive. The campus is like a jungle, literally. It is covered with greenery, trees, trails, lakes, and so many different animals. I saw my first peacock, some very large pigs that I think are called boars, and the most beautiful deer I’d ever seen.
Our daily routine has consisted of 6:30 a.m. tea and a walk with Dr. K around the campus. 7:30 a.m. breakfast, 10:00 a.m. tea, 12:30 p.m. lunch, 4:00 p.m. tea, and 7:30 p.m dinner. Before the program starts, we’ve been taking a lot of walks, and a lot of naps, which has made it difficult to get over the jet lag. We’ve been able to contact our parents, but we are nine and a half hours ahead, so finding the right time has proven to be a challenge. I was able to Skype my parents for a good thirty minutes though so that was nice.
Today was the first day we got to go out of the campus. Hannah and I were invited to accompany Dr. K to SOS Children’s Village of Chennai to meet with the Executive Director before the whole group goes back Saturday. It was a short, but interesting, rickshaw ride right outside of the campus walls. The rickshaw has three wheels and the driver simply honks and other cars, pedestrians and mopeds just move out of the way…an interesting concept in comparison to how we drive in the U.S. I think there would be many, many more accidents with the amount of unaware and distracted drivers.
After meeting the Executive Director at SOS Children’s Village and saying hello to some of the children, we stopped by the ATM for me to get some Rupees. It is about 55 Rupees to the U.S. Dollar, which confused me at first so I ended up getting way less than I should have, but I still have some Euros left over from my trip to France right before coming to Chennai that will get me through though. We went shopping after 4:00 tea with six students from the college. They were all so nice and helpful and looked out for us as we ventured into the first real crowds of people that we’d seen.
My first impression of the city outside of the campus was chaotic. There are people in every direction you look, and where there aren’t people, there are cars, mopeds, bicycles, scooters and rickshaws. A few of us bought “kurtas,” which are the longer women’s shirts worn with pants as a more casual appropriate attire for us to wear while we are visiting students and professors on campus, starting tomorrow. The students helped us pick out what we were looking for, and gave us advice on what was good material, or too expensive, or wear we would find something better. I’m so grateful for them for helping us, showing us part of their culture to accommodate their guests, proving what past UF in India students have told us.
We came back in time for dinner, and one of the funniest moments of the trip happened. While the kitchen staff had finishing bringing out our food, they were listening to “Yeah” by Usher in the kitchen, a song many of us know from our middle school days. We all start singing along, and next thing we know, Nagu (one of the main people helping the group) brings the music out and plays it on the speakers in the dining room! We all start singing and dancing even more enthusiastically as we eat dinner, and Nagu and the rest of the staff just starts laughing along with us! We’ll have to get them to sing and dance with us next time.