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Study Abroad Feature: India and Social Justice

Have you had any desire to travel during your time here at Virginia Tech? Do you dream about studying abroad for a full semester, or even part of a semester? I had the privilege of studying abroad during the winter semester of my sophomore year and it was the best experience I have had in my college career.

When I received the news that I had been accepted to spend three weeks in India studying social justice issues, I was beyond ecstatic. I had always wanted to travel to India but I didn’t really know when would be the best time, that is until I heard about this program. I saw this opportunity and immediately looked into it and applied. Now, I am majoring in Business Information Technology, so you might wonder why I was interested in a humanities focused program. What could this possibility do for my major? How could it enhance my learning here at Virginia Tech? Well it turns out that I learned a lot through this specific program and my experiences helped shape the way I view the business field.

We spent three weeks in India and each week was roughly split up between Kadapa, Hyderabad, and Delhi. The name of the course was Social Justice in India, so during our time here we met with different organizations that focused on helping women and children. During our first week, we stayed at Aarti Home and this was probably my favorite part of the study abroad. Aarti Home is an organization that houses orphans, but they also built a school for the kids that they take in. Aarti Home was founded almost three decades ago and their goal is to foster and support abandoned girls in the nearby area. Through Aarti’s efforts they found that roughly 90% of abandoned children in India are girls. Aarti Home, aka Aarti for Girls, strives to educate and empower women through their training and advocacy programs.

During our time here, we had meetings with the founders to learn more about the beginning of the organization. We also took a trip to the Aarti school to meet more kids and interact with them throughout their school day. On one particular day at our visit to the school, we had a meeting with some of the children’s parents. I mentioned before that the children at Aarti Home are mainly orphans, but Aarti Home doesn’t close its doors to anyone, so some parents drop their kids off at this orphanage because they cannot provide for them themselves. It was very emotional listening to these parents explaining about how much they wanted for their kids and that’s why they live at Aarti home instead of at home with them.

Fortunately, we celebrated the new years with all of the girls. This night was such a fun and eye-opening experience. They taught us different dances and made sure we stayed up until midnight despite all of us still having jet lag! We learned a new year's tradition from them and that was smashing cake on you and your friends' faces once the clock strikes midnight!

While also in Kadapa, we visited local colleges and on occasion we presented a bystander presentation to the women population at the college. This presentation discussed the importance of bystanders in different scenarios, and it was an interesting experience because of the language barrier between us and the people we were presenting to. Regardless of this challenge, it was a great experience being able to present helpful information.

Our next stop was Hyderabad, and here we went to the University of Hyderabad everyday to meet with different professors and learn about different social issues. We were told that The University of Hyderabad has the nickname of “the Harvard of India,” so it was awesome to be able to meet these esteemed professors and get to talk with them! We also met with an organization called Voice4Girls who works with young girls to educate them about life skills. Their hope is to make these young girls aware of the importance of speaking up, so they can have a voice for themselves and hopefully lead a successful life.

Our last week was spent in Delhi. I remember being very excited to visit this city because of its size! It has a population of 25 million people, so compared to cities in the US, it was massive! During our time here, we met with local colleges and presented our bystander training to students. We were also lucky enough to be able to take a day trip to Agra in order to see the Taj Mahal. This was a nice treat and felt like one last hoorah before we all had to go home.

As I mentioned before, it may have seemed like this kind of study abroad trip would not be suitable for a business major, but I was able to work on skills that are pertinent to the business world. Business is about the people who you work with and for, and on this trip I met all different kinds of people with different stories and backgrounds. The experiences I had on this study abroad has translated over to my college career in the sense that I find it easier to connect with people I don’t know or have recently met. This trip had me thinking each day of what other people’s perspectives would be, and having a soft skill like this is transferrable from your college career to your professional career because it is important to be able to look at things from different views than your own.

I felt that I learned so much and I encourage you to look into different study abroad programs Virginia Tech offers and don’t just look at programs that pertain to your major! This particular program caught my attention because social justice issues, specifically women’s rights, is something I am passionate about so I was so grateful I was able to go to India and meet with these wonderful organizations that are making differences in young girls’ lives. If studying abroad sounds like something you would be interested in, Virginia Tech’s Global Education Office has many resources and information to aid you in your choice of a program! Don’t limit your options and choose what sounds best for you!

By: Ashley Mattson

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