Rebecca Lais is an Ambassador who studied abroad in India
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I knew right away that I wanted to study abroad when I came to St. Ben's as a first year. I had heard about the success of the study abroad program here, and I decided that I had to try it out for myself. Plus, I absolutely love traveling and experiencing other cultures so this was perfect.
I admit at first that I was hesitant about India, but the more and more that I heard about the culture and the people from the first group to Sucharita to the internet I became enthralled and captivated with this beautiful country. It is so completely different from any other program, besides China and Japan, and I wanted to truly push and challenge myself. I wanted to grow significantly, and I believed that India was just what I needed.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
One day we went to a mental hospital for men through a program that we were introduced to through Sucharita. A group of us was sitting on mats across from a group of men also sitting on mats, and we had translators helping us communicate. We learned about who they were before their illness; one was a cricket player, another an engineer, and another a father. Their illness and the stereotype of that illness in India took away their basic humanity. Hearing their stories truly opened my eyes to just one aspect of the millions of cultures in India.
One of them had a beautiful singing voice and began singing a Tagore, a famous Indian philosopher and poet, song. I have never felt so incredibly connected to another culture and another human being. It was truly life-changing, and I have never stopped thinking about it.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
I tell everyone that it was nothing that I expected but everything that I needed. There is no way to prepare for India, but that is just the way that anyone traveling there should go into it. My experience was the most incredible, amazing, phenomenal time of my life, seriously. Yes, there were a plethora of challenges and difficult moments, but looking back on those, I can see how I have grown immensely from them. I absolutely loved my group and the family that we became abroad. I'm already planning on going back.
Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?
Oh my goodness, in every single aspect study abroad has deepened and expanded my personal, academic and professional development. Living in another country and culture leads to unsurpassable and insurmountable personal growth. It truly challenges you and pushes you to grow exponentially in all aspects of who you are and what you do. I have an entirely new perspective on my life, and this new lens allows you to use what you've learned while being abroad in all of what you do. Learning about another culture always deepens your understanding of other human beings and their way of living outside of the US. I believe that you see the intricate parts of what makes your society what it is and how we relate to the world after being abroad.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
Please, please, just do it. Do not be afraid of the country or your four year plan or the cost or that your friends aren't going on the same program, etc. There is no way to properly explain the unending trinkets of wisdom and beauty and life experiences that come with studying abroad. CSB/SJU truly cares about the students on these programs and the relationships we hold with the people of these countries, and the Study Abroad Office in intentional about providing authentic experiences. No one will ever regret studying abroad. It's just not possible.