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Opinion

In India, a short-term stay can have long-term effects

An experiment of travel and study in a foreign land yields friendship, reflectiveness and renewed purpose

We finally landed after 15 hours, friendly strangers stirred by little more than introductions and a readiness to discover India. As time progressed and we grew close, muffled beneath the buzzing of our group dynamic, a few of us poked at a reckless if not exhausted cliche; on this day and the next, how will we change the world? A few fumbled, myself included. The rest did not bother to entertain what appeared to be empty sarcasm.

Bonded by two of the most educational, challenging, emotional, spiritual, reflective, celebratory, inspirational … unforgettable weeks of our college years, cohesion lifted the natural high. Yet as our memory is distanced by the cadence of routine, a few will leave and more will follow, staying in touch when time permits, like all good things that come to an end.

But there is no pause to the lasting adventure of a diverging path, each of us riding along the amusing churn of an indefinite stretch. Driven by those who bring meaning to our lives, alone we gaze fondly out the perpetual reel of the window, all the while remembering the bus that housed the canvas.

Though we may have fallen short by nothing less than mortality, I will always believe we made the world — our world, the only world we know — a better place.

While I may touch the surface of our stay, there is so much that cannot be expressed by a column, an essay or a verbal recount. Not even the swaths of photos and videos consuming our Facebook pages can describe the subtext of study abroad. I can only begin to give credence to the fun, insightful and beautiful people who made my winter break remarkable. Please take this as a humble token of my gratitude.

India taught me that the best education is the education that brings you back to yourself, that attachment to life is the essence of fear and that even the most intractable circumstance can be overcome with the courage of conviction. And in response, there is no such thing as vision without first realizing the dream. Reaching for inspiration with a diffused mind is to carry out that dream.

India reminded me of the inherent dignity of a personal account, the intricate reward of immersing oneself in the vast diversity of time, place and setting. Because there is no mantra to replace the world we unveil to ourselves. By interacting with anyone and everyone, I observed the greatness in simplicity; how capable we are to care about others through the simplest acts of kindness and that a smile from the heart is the greatest gift of our shared experience.

India gave me confidence. It is in India that I found the strength to let go, to step further outside my comfort zone. It is in India that I developed a deep appreciation for the unadulterated learning that comes from being a 21-year-old adult in an ancient civilization. It is in India that a tour about business, culture and modern history transformed into lessons on laughter and spontaneity.

On our way through Old Delhi for a quick bite, the group navigated traffic in a surreal game of Frogger, each step more captive than the last. Stop and start in fractions of a second, turned to shuffle like a spy on the ledge of a balcony as motorcycles accelerated between mid-sentence directions. In these moments drawn out by coursing adrenaline, the five senses came to life.

But it was Bhangra dancing until my feet would blister, the overwhelming hospitality of an entire people and the awakened smiles of an orphanage in Rajasthan that set that bustling panoramic moment into an unlikely moment of serenity. What I felt throughout India is a human spirituality that comes from being connected to the world we perceive, the only world we know. It is a synergy of the senses bright as a flashbulb, the sixth sense of love.

Thank you to the students, faculty, staff members of the Office of International Programs and the country of India for helping renew this love within me and the learning it made possible. In the words of our friend Surat Singh, “May eternal learning stand for eternal progress.” And in the eternal wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi, “He who strives never perishes.”

May we all strive to make our world, the only world we know, a better place. And in our mortality, we may learn what it is to never perish.

Views expressed in the opinion pages represent the opinions of the columnists.