Rosalie Kenward reflects on her time in India

After two months in India, my exchange has finally come to an end.  It seems strange to think that I have come full circle and write this while sitting by my fireplace, exactly where I was two months before my journey started.

Traveling to India this spring was the most transformative and life-changing decision I have ever made in my entire life. Going into the experience, I based this decision on logic, presuming that exchange would benefit me in a number of ways. I would gain independence, learn responsibility, and learn more about the world outside of the bubble I had been raised in. I knew going into the experience that I wouldn’t return home the same person I had formerly been upon my departure—and I couldn’t wait to see who I was going to become. And yet, although I knew I would be forever impacted by the experience, I couldn’t possibly imagine the extent of the transformation I was about to undergo. Now that my journey has come to an end and I am reunited with my community and my former life, I know that my perspective on the world around me, and on myself, has been shifted beyond what I could ever have anticipated.

My experience on exchange was intense to say the least. It was the first time I had ever been separated from my family. Prior to exchange, any experience I’d had with traveling involved me staying with an adult I knew well. As soon as I passed through airport security, I was hit with the realization that, suddenly, I was my own responsibility. It wasn’t something I had ever had to deal with before. Before, I had always had someone to look to for directions or advice, whether it was a family member or even a friend my own age. Now it was up to me to take care of myself.  The responsibility was thrust upon me before I was even fully aware it was happening. It was daunting and disorienting.

Throughout my exchange, this was the thing I struggled with the most: learning to be responsible for myself in an unfamiliar environment. How to take care of myself, not only physically but also emotionally, when things began to feel outside of my control. While it was one of the most difficult aspects of my exchange experience, it was also one of the most valuable lessons I took away from it. Being thrust into the unknown is never easy and never comfortable, but it’s the only way to grow and to develop a strong and healthy relationship with yourself. It tests you in more ways than you imagine. It teaches you more about yourself than you previously thought would be possible. It will benefit you more than you can possibly foresee.

On my exchange, I had experiences that were amazing and fun, and others that were difficult or even painful. Now that I have come full circle and am reflecting back on my experience, I am grateful for all of it, for every single challenge I faced. Because it is the challenge we encounter that forces us to look within ourselves and discover the strength we have within each of us. It’s the only way to truly get to know ourselves and the people we are becoming, as we step outside of our routine and force ourselves to discover more.

If exchange were simply easy, there would be no benefit in the experience. In reality, it’s more than just a fun vacation where you meet nice people that you’ll reflect on pleasantly in the years to come. It’s a period of self discovery, where you are forced to step outside of your comfort zone and see the world outside of what you are familiar with.

It’s one thing to read or watch about the outside world in the media, but nothing compares to immersing yourself firsthand. It can be a daunting prospect to be alone amongst a community of people who share a common culture you are unfamiliar with and may even at times feel isolated within. However, it is the most effective way to gain a more accurate perspective on your own culture and community. We become so comfortable within our natural habitats that we often begin to take it for granted and complain needlessly. Once we take a step back, we can view our lives more clearly and accurately. We can see the aspects we are most grateful for that we had overlooked, the aspects we disagree with and desire to change, and the small blessings we never fully appreciated until we were deprived of them.

Upon my return, I experienced a bittersweet influx of emotion. I was, of course, devastated to say goodbye to all the wonderful people I had come to know in India, and all the beauty I had been introduced to in my new community; however, I was simultaneously filled with appreciation for my own community that I had been separated from and all the wonderful people in my life who make up both my literal family and the one I have created for myself, who support me through every challenge and mistake, and who make me feel loved each and every day.