India Volunteers Trip Participants look at the Taj Mahal

First Impressions on My Gap Year

by | Sep 23, 2021 | 0 comments

I got off the plane that I had been on for eight hours to start the WorldStamp Gap Year Program, and with the little sleep that occurred, those eight hours felt quite long for my restless brain. Somewhat tired, extremely hungry, but entirely excited, I was immediately wishing I could capture every aspect of this newness so I would never forget this first impression. I was in awe; many eyes were on me as I marched through the airport, an over-packed suitcase being dragged behind me as I struggled to carry my ukulele and backpack on my shoulder. I smiled at almost everyone I made eye contact with, as I very often do, and a majority of them smiled right back. How odd, I thought, that everyone was so quick to smile, even at an airport near midnight. I went to the bathroom, and a woman decorated with intricate henna and sparkling jewelry grabbed me with her soft hands and said, with a thick Indian accent, “You are beautiful.” I swelled with joy and I knew, then and there, that India would be even better than my already high expectations. Everything was so exciting and new and I couldn’t wait to see outside the walls of this gorgeous Indian airport.
Since that night, I have learned more things than I can keep track of. First and foremost, I have realized that India is beautiful in so many different ways; from the architecture and food (which I’m starting to get used to) to the people and music, I have fallen in love with this amazing culture. I made sure to start this trip with an open mind, trying my best to leave all preconceptions in America. Does India have trash on the sides of the road? Yes, but there’s so much beauty surrounding it and the culture of it is accepted, so it’s not as ‘gross’ as the stereotypes make it seem. Are the people poor? I suppose, by America’s standards of ‘poor’, they are. Family income is pretty low and we’ve met children and families that only eat one meal a day.
However, I have never experienced such genuine happiness from such a large population of people. Everywhere we go, people are smiling, waving, and starting conversations with our group. It was overwhelming at first, especially when we were at the Red Fort in New Delhi and a group of Indian strangers asked to take their picture with a girl from our group. However, after some reflection, I’ve realized that these people are just happy. They’re happy and outgoing. They’re happy and they’re fun to be around and they don’t care about Netflix or iPhones or Kim Kardashian, they care about being happy and making people happy. Even the vendors, the ones that I’ve always been warned to ‘stay away from because ‘they’re just going to bother you and harass you until you buy something,’ are nicer than most people I’d experience on a daily basis in the United States.
I’ve learned that it’s easy to be happy. I’ve learned to take chances. I’ve learned to take every situation and make it the best it can possibly be. This, and many more lessons I’ve been taught in just this first week, have been life-changing. Never having left the United States before, I was unsure what I would think about such a drastically different country. I’ve realized, first of all, that it isn’t too different. People are still people, food is still food, and happiness is still happy. I’ve also realized that I know myself better than I thought I did. When distracted by the societal “important things” back in the US, I’m confused on who I am. But leaving my family and friends and job that had all consumed me more than I imagined, so much has cleared up about who I am.

I’m looking forward to seeing growth. Growth of my students at Elephant Village where we are volunteering, growth of the WorldStamp group, and the growth of myself. My brain refuses to believe it’s only been a week, because it’s experienced so much more in 168 hours than it did for 8 hours of school every day, every week for my 4 years of high school.

India, thanks for being so great. Kelly, thanks for doing this gap year program. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for the next 8 months.

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