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2013 Benton Scholars Travel to India

By bentonscholars on April 16, 2013

It is the summer of 2012 and I find myself surrounded by children at a camp I work at back in Colorado. Droplets of sweat accumulate at the nape of my neck and a cacophony of children complaining about the heat is ringing through my ears. It is around ninety-five degrees outside but for some reason the heat and the noise do not faze me. I have become immune to heat. Why, you may ask. India. Rewind to the Spring of 2010. The pilot turns off the fasten seat belt signs and the false sense of cool that existed is turned off along with it. After collecting my single carry-on I make my way through the small aisle to the doorway. Every step I take, my clothes become more unbearable. I take one step out of the small twenty-person propeller plane onto the tarmac. Haley and FriendsBam! A wall of heat and humidity is waiting for me. “India” has physically welcomed me to its borders. Little did I know, this heat would transpire until I returned to that very seat. As our tour guide, Vikki, explained, “there are four seasons in India; monsoon, hot, hotter, and hottest. You are here during hottest.” Although this new “friend” would be with me throughout my journey across India, it seemed to disappear (with a few exceptions). The scents, people, experiences, food, and customs of this country made put the heat on the backburner. There would be times where you would be walking down the streets of Delhi or Chennai and the heat would begin to creep back on to your radar, but once again the fascination of being in India would make it disappear.

The most significant deterrent of the heat was the people of this country. For example, we were given the opportunity to spend a day at a local high school in the state of Kerala. Here, we shared customs and views on each other’s cultures. One of the girl’s that I still email today (her nickname was Kung Fu) made a bet with me. If I sang Jai Ho she would sing Taylor Swift. Just then, we became friends. It was instantaneous. Perhaps the most surprising and comforting realizations I came to on this trip was that we are all very similar despite our geographic locations and cultural differences. Each of us had pre-conceived notions of what the other would be like, and these were immediately disproven.

One of the craziest experiences we had occurred the first day we arrived in India. We were under the impression that we were simply going to tour a television studio. After going through security, however, we were casually informed that we were going to appear on television!! Our fearless leader, Tim Byrnes, was whisked away seconds after we entered the building to get makeup and hair done, while the rest of us had to make our debut on Indian television wearing our own perspiration and our personal characteristics of jet-lag. We were interviewed on how we participate in the governance of our country alongside Indian students who commented on their own political participation in their country. It was one of the most interesting things I have ever had the pleasure of going through.

Although our time in India did include these kinds of crazy pre-planned events, India had the greatest impact on me through the random encounters I made with everyday citizens. One of the moments that defined my trip occurred at the pinnacle of the heat wave of the “hottest” season. Tim, myself, and a small group of students decided to go on an exploration in Mahabaliporum, a historic town in the state of Tamil Nadu. We were taking pictures of one another in front of a “casual” grouping of monkeys when a small Indian family asked if we could take pictures with them. They then asked if the rest of their family could join. Like a scene from a movie, around fifty people soon made their way over to us. We were asked to take pictures with babies, grandma, kids, parents, and even grandpa (who was not very amused). These people were so open and willing to approach us and ask questions about our culture. This one experience left me feeling welcomed in a country where I was and outsider, where I was the minority. Although we were only in India for a short time, I felt that I had made a connection to every facet of the country. The Indian people are what made my experience and made this trip one of the most impactful times of my life.

India group

Haley Mirr
’13 Benton Scholar

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