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From India to Morocco: How Studying Abroad Influenced Me

Hello, my name is Andreina Santamaria and I graduated from Ramapo College with a BA in International Studies with a minor in Human Rights in May 2016. During my time at Ramapo, I had some of my best experiences that continue to inspire me to this date. When I was a sophomore transfer student, with the help of the International Programs Team, I was able to study abroad in Bangalore, India. During my semester abroad, under the guidance of Ramapo faculty, I conducted a field research project focused on Tibetan youth living in exile in South India. Fast forward to senior year I was accepted into Peace Corps Morocco as a Youth development volunteer and I departed soon after graduation. If it were not for Ramapo, but more specifically Ramapo’s International Center and Team, I would not have been inspired to apply for Peace Corps and continue to live abroad. During my two years of Peace Corps service, I learned the local Moroccan Arabic Dialect and conducted various health and women’s empowerment projects in my rural community while teaching English at the youth center. After finishing my Peace Corps service, I worked with CIEE as a program leader for their new Language & Culture Program in Morocco’s capital Rabat. After seeing the amazing opportunities that studying abroad gave me and the doors it opened I knew I wanted to be able to share the same opportunities with other students. By working in Rabat with CIEE, I helped and guided 28 students in their study abroad journey. Now I’m happy to have accepted a position as a Language & Culture Assistant under the Spanish Ministry of Education for the Spanish school year.

Everyday I’m grateful for Ramapo and their focus on international exchange and their international department. Excited for what’s to come!

-Andreina (’16)

All Things Grow With Love (Bangalore, India)

And so the beginning of the end…begins. During the last full week of our time in India, we split our efforts between two different segments of our “service learning component.” This is where we take our learning experience to the next level and try to apply all of what we’ve taken in so far to new enterprises.

It began with interviewing children from three different schools about a community service project they had been working on. The students ranged from grades 4 to 8 and were all living in or around Bangalore city. We asked them questions like “What does nature mean to you?” and “Are humans a part of nature?” One of my personal favorite answers was “I love nature! Nature is like my best friend” to which I asked for further explanation. The girl told me of how no matter how she was feeling, happy or sad or anything in between, she could always go to her garden and speak to her plants and to a great tree that grows there and find comfort and companionship among her more natural friends. I found this inspiring to say the least. After conducting our interviews, we had to compile all of the information into a presentation for the organizations which had set up the project in the first place.

During the second half of the week we all split into three separate groups to work on different tasks for Pipal Tree, the organization running Fireflies (the ashram where we stayed). By the time we had finished, there was a poster and pamphlet, a lovely new composting site, and a song that ‘shook the roof’. All in all, our week was as successful as the last five had been. Leaving is such sweet sorrow, but what a way to close things.

-Thalia Holst (‘19), International Business & Law and Society

Summer of Firsts (Santiago, Chile)

Interning in Santiago, Chile was a world of firsts for me.

Not all firsts are necessarily great. I cracked a phone screen less than two weeks into my time there, something that people find both weird and impressive that I hadn’t done before. I’ve obviously been late to things in the past, but I had never been as late to as many things as I was in Chile. Thankfully, Chileans are rather laid back about punctuality. I’d never been in a homestay before, and it didn’t turn out to be the utterly life-changing experience many people have with them.

While those firsts could be seen as negative, I undoubtedly learned from them.

I didn’t really learn anything from cracking my phone, but how it happened was pretty funny so I still consider it more of a good story than an unfortunate occurrence. Being late so much taught me how to give myself a break and not stress out. I learned a lot about patience and communications skills from my homestay.

And I only got to learn more from my completely positive experiences.

It wasn’t the first time I had traveled on my own, or studied abroad, or even visited a Spanish-speaking country. However, it was my first time in South America. And while that was something that worried my parents to no end, the only thing about Chile that made the news in the US was a sea lion stopping traffic in the middle of a city. A strange occurrence, but to say I was perfectly safe would be an understatement.

Was it my first time working at a job where I get along with my coworkers and my boss? No. But it was the first time I worked in an office, my first internship, and the first time that I really got to use skills I developed throughout my college classes. I may have a serving job at home, but dealing with strange customers isn’t the type of communications I’m getting a Communication Arts degree for.

It certainly wasn’t my first time putting my Spanish-speaking skills to the test, but it was my first go at Chilean Spanish; cutting off letters on every other word, adding “po” to random words, and using more slang than I could’ve imagined. It was a nightmare to pick up on, but quite fun to use once I started to get a hang of some of the quirks.

All of these first experiences didn’t end with these structural working and living components that make up an international education. I spent my time after work and my weekends with all sorts of adventures that were new to me.

Visiting a desert. Seeing shooting stars and the Milky Way. Sandboarding Swimming in a hot spring. Horseback riding. Snowboarding. Falling on my butt repeatedly while attempting to get the hang of snowboarding. Exploring the Andes. Seeing a double rainbow from end to end. Staying in an Airbnb. Watching a sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

When I knew I had to complete an internship this summer to graduate when I want to, I tried to think of any way that I could make that more exciting then spending my days working at some office not far from school and the same house I’ve lived in for more of my life. And choosing to do it abroad was the best decision I could’ve made.

Because without it my phone screen might look a little better, but I would’ve have missed out on an abundance of incredible firsts that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

An Eco-Friendly Extravaganza (Gudalur, India)

Our longest and most adventurous excursion has just come to an end. After making the day-long trek to Gudalur, we arrived at Gouri Farms, a cozy little getaway tucked away in the high mountain ranges. Once settled, we visited ACCORD (Action for Community Organisation, Rehabilitation and Development), an organization that strives to protect the rights of the adivasis (tribal) communities that have been forced off of their land, having their basic human rights threatened in the process. Stan and Mari, the creators of ACCORD, have undergone great feats to protect the rights of the adivasis, by creating a school for the children, and by partnering with ASHWINI, a hospital run by adivasis, for adivasis. Another organization that Accord works closely with is called Just Change, a grassroots organization that helps to assure the economic rights of adivasis farmers.

One of our days spent in Gudalur consisted of visiting tourist attractions and shops around the town. The best part of that day for me, personally, was our visit to Needle Rock View Point. Looking down from the top revealed the villages of Gudalur, while looking up in the opposite direction showed even more mountain ranges. We all spent some time sitting on some rocks admiring the atmosphere, and if we had the time, we probably could have sat there all day.

Another highlight of this excursion was our visit to Ecoscape, an ecotourism resort run entirely by the adivasis, located even higher up in the mountains than Gouri Farms. As an Environmental Studies major, I was extremely impressed with the way Ecoscape operates. Besides protecting the rights of the adivasis, their biggest concerns are protecting the environment and the wildlife that inhabit it. Along the way to Ecoscape are signs that state that wildlife has the right of way in the jungle. That resonated with me as that way of thinking is not too common in the U.S.

If you are interested in sustainability or nature in general, then this study abroad program is perfect. There is always something to marvel at here in India, whether it be the culture, the people, or the environment. We are only halfway through this experience, but I know I can speak for everyone when I say it is something we will never forget.

– Joseph Pelley (’20), Environmental Studies major

The First Excursion (H.D. Kote, India)

We have made it back to Fireflies from our first excursion — three days spent among tribal villages in the picturesque H.D. Kote. The transition to our temporary home at Blue Waters was made easy by days packed with meeting trailblazing women’s groups and nights spent laying on the roof admiring the milky way.

The primary focus of the trip was to interact with the marginalized tribal communities who had been forced to evacuate their land in the Nagarhole Forest and to gain an understanding for the struggles they face. At Thimmanahesahalli, we got a tour of the village herb garden, which they utilize to make all of their own shampoos, medicines, and salves. Deeper in the forest, the Jenu Kurubas showed us what real, pure honey is supposed to taste like. The women’s group at M.G. Halli taught us a tribal song and dance, and the Dalit women’s farmers group of N. Belathuru showed off their keen eye for differentiating between different types of edible weeds, or uncultivated greens, which we later got to cook into a super healthy green curry.

In addition to the irreplicable experience of being welcomed into these tribal women’s daily lives, the most memorable time spent in H.D. Kote was with the kids. Countless hours passed with three different groups of children, all facing the same conflict of staying in school versus dropping out to help provide for their families. From spontaneous Bollywood dance parties to an intense game of dodge ball that will put your middle school memories to shame, I can honestly say I’ve never felt more simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated – nor have I ever gotten that much exercise.

If you’ve forgotten what it is like to feel like a kid again, all you need is a day spent with the liveliest children I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. To find out more about the realities of India is to, well, come to India.

– GIanna Limeri (’18), Psychology major / Criminology minor

The Adventure Begins (Bangalore, India)

…and here we are. After a grueling 24 hour trip we landed in a brave new world of sights and sounds destined to forever change us, and after short and vaguely terrifying car ride, we reached our new home. Despite our week of preparation, I think I’m not alone in saying that nothing could have prepared us for how truly gorgeous this place is. Living at the Fireflies Intercultural Centre feels like living in a magical forest. It roots us here and makes it so rather than being tourists looking at a strange land, we’re visitors living inside of it. The staff here, and frankly everyone in India, is so kind and friendly. The people wave and smile, and sit there like saints as we stumble through our nascent Kannada (the local language), doing the best they can to help us. Upon our arrival, the staff at Fireflies threw us a welcome ceremony where we were introduced to the staff and the Fireflies way of life. We all worked together to create a beautiful mandala made of flowers (see photo). The food is incredible. Personally, I might be eating healthy for the first time in my life. Our fears of homesickness have been replaced by new ones of ever having to leave.

Our days here are full to bursting with new experiences, more than I have space to enumerate here. A quick highlight reel: we’ve planted trees and shopped at bazaars and clothing shops. We’ve learned about caste and tribal rights in forests. We’ve been taught some basic Kannada and had our world graced with the presence of an alternative Nobel prize winner who brought a few of us to tears. We’ve pet cows, played badminton and watched Bollywood films with our den mother Ruma (one of our Ramapo College Professors). One of us even had an impromptu naming ceremony. All while trying to absorb the constant stimulation of the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.

I’ll end with a piece of advice I was given before I left: you’ll get out of this experience what you put in. Every great moment thus far has come from following that mantra. As scary as it can be, if you can engage with the world around you, the world will return the favor in kind.

– Kathrine Kisor (’20),International Studies major

Only the Beginning (USA to India)

So this is it… We are about to go “live” in India…Just a couple of more days until we land in Bangalore. My name is Anastasia Caulfield – I’ll be one of the students going on the first summer program to India. A group of seven students will embark on a journey for six weeks. This will be an experience/journey of a lifetime. We have our bags, each other, and our hopes… this is going to be “wild”. We all are so excited to see what the near future has in store…

The prep work for this study abroad program lasted one week residing at Ramapo College and has allowed us to begin to absorb the rich differences in culture when compared to our own. We have learned about India as a “state” versus India as a “nation”. We learned that the collective is more important than the individual (a big difference in philosophy). Amid all the learning/absorbing, we get to know each other- and a little about our professors. To top off one of the lessons- we listened to popular music and India’s growing rap scene.

The preparatory week culminated in a fun but enriching experience- visiting an Indian-American community in Jackson Heights, New York. You haven’t lived if you have not tried Indian cuisine- (thanks Ruma and Ben) we all LOVED it! I am happy to say- we have become close in the few days that we have spent together. The sights and sounds transported us to a world that would soon become familiar to us. We are on our way- watch out India!

– Anastasia Caulfield (’18), International Studies major