By Mary Jantsch
Class of 2013
SPOKANE, Wash. – Nearly three months ago, I found myself walking among mountains of incredible height and through villages unknown to tourists in the mythical region of India where the Himalaya Mountains shoot out of the earth to peaks so spectacular they leave you breathless.
My 15 course-mates and I stumbled upon a cluster of crumbling buildings and began to wind through the maze of overturned stone into the heart of what used to be a flourishing mountain town. A giggle echoed off the walls – even more out of place than us – and the first sign of life in this out-of-the-way village exposed itself.
Turning the corner, we placed it. Sporting a purple-and-orange striped sweater, the little boy’s hair covered his head like a lion’s mane and blew wildly in the wind. His eyes, much too big for his face, looked right back into ours and we all understood this to mean we should follow him.
He led us to his backyard where his mother and grandmother were sitting. They looked up to see our group of 15 American college students entering into their home and with a look of shock that transitioned into a shrug, it was clear we were welcome.
We sat down in the grass with them. After riding our few Hindi phrases for as far as they would take us, silence overcame us. The boy’s grandmother reached over and pulled the sunglasses off one of the members of our group. She put them on her face and began to laugh until we joined in. Besides the physical lenses being shared, a new perspective was placed in front of us. Two hours went by as the language barrier was crushed, beaten down and destroyed. Words turned out to be just that – words. Nevertheless, we had wonderful, meaningful conversation.
As I sat in the grass of a village more than 6,000 miles away from Spokane, I found my mind making the long trek back to Gonzaga. Studying abroad is among the best tools Gonzaga has to implement its mission. Two sentences of the Gonzaga Mission Statement seem particularly appropriate:
“We also believe that a knowledge of traditions and cultures different from our own draws us closer to the human family of which we are a part and makes us more aware of both the possibilities and limitations of our own heritage. Therefore, in addition to our primary emphasis on Western culture, we seek to provide for our students some opportunity to become familiar with a variety of human cultures.”
Living and traveling in India for three months did exactly that for me. Not only did I increase my realm of self-awareness, I expanded my human family. Sitting in the dirt with a family in rural India swapping smiles and communicating without words is one of the best classrooms Gonzaga can offer.
Click the image below to view a slideshow of the experience:
Gonzaga’s Study Abroad office exists to help students experience the world while gaining academic credit.