Jeremiah, Outbound to India

The Taj Mahal is one of the seven wonders of the world but for me, the real wonder has been this Rotary Youth exchange program.

Everything that has happened this year has helped me grow up and mature so much. Being on my own away from my family, making many of my own decisions, handling my own money, traveling to so many interesting places, being in a huge metropolis, encountering new people every single day. My list of growth opportunities goes on and on. But perhaps one of the things that has pushed my development the most, especially the development of my world view, is is the fact that I came to India -- such an amazing nation and so very different country from my homeland.

India is very different then my home in Florida in a lot of aspects. First of all, the huge crowds in Mumbai. They say the population 22.5 million of those they can count; but everyone acknowledges there are far more people flying under the radar of the census takers. The congestion and density is different than anything I had ever experienced before. After learning how to navigate the crowded trains (and by crowded I mean I have to push the crowd in to make a space for myself), I am confident that I will be able to use any public transportation anywhere in the world. Secondly, the diversity here in India is incredible. Diverse because there are so many different religions, cultures, languages, foods, and festivals. I have been able to enjoy everything that's come my way. The festivals, especially, are such fun and most of them are unique to India.

One of the trips Rotary Youth Exchange in India offers is a north India tour, from which I just returned. On this amazing adventure, I experienced a variety of cultures first hand. In Amritsar, a walled old town, for example, I saw a large population of Sikh people whose heads must be covered in dastaars, or turbans. This headgear is associated with Sikhism and is an important part of the Sikh culture. Among the Sikhs, the dastaar is an article of faith that represents honor, self-respect, courage, spirituality, and piety. It's an important part of the unique Sikh identity. When I needed help tying my own turban in order to see the Golden Temple, several people were more than happy to help. It's fun when strangers jump in to the experience! The gilded Golden Temple is the holiest religious complex of the Sikh religion and I was privileged to have experienced it. When we visited another city, Dharamshala a hillside city that's home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile, we got a great look at Tibetan culture.

I could go on and on about my Rotary Exchange experience but it’s so much better if you experience it yourself. So, if you are a high school student considering going on exchange, my advice would be to just do it. It will be the best year of your life.

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