…by Rachel / from Scotland / studies Theology / 4th Year (UG)
So you’re interested in studying abroad? Good choice! It might just be one of the best experiences of your university career – and you never know where you could end up.
During the third year of my Theology MA degree course I spent three and a half months studying in Bangalore, India. I should say I’ve never been much of a globetrotter – but studying in South India? When would I get the chance to do that again? And being a student abroad is so different from simply travelling. Tourists just “pass through” wherever they visit – but when you’re part of a college or university community, it’s more like having a new home for a few months. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. The necessary arrangements were duly made (remembering to leave plenty of time between obtaining an Indian visa and the departure date!) and before I knew it, I was arriving bleary-eyed at the campus gates.
United Theological College is a leafy haven, set apart from the madness of the rest of the city by its relative calm and spaciousness. I was housed in the Women’s Hostel with thirty or so others about my age. The hallways were always full of noise, as names and requests and jokes were hollered from one end to the other. I was immediately taken in as part of the community even though I felt like a total fish out of water. Even before classes began, I was asked to take part in a special group dance to celebrate the festival of Pongal (kind of a Tamil version of Thanksgiving). Little did I know this would become a regular thing, and that I would be called upon to take part in more dances, songs, readings and even Sports Day competitions! All this involvement in college life helped to enrich my experience far beyond simply attending classes and reading in the library. Keeping an open mind (and being prepared to make a fool of myself occasionally) helped enormously with making friends, entering into new situations, and generally having a good time.
Virtually everyone on campus is Indian by nationality, which made for a very “authentic” Indian experience, right down to the South Indian cooking which I grew to adore (as my tolerance for hot spices increased). It also meant that I was hit with what I think was the first real culture shock of my life, where absolutely everything seemed strange and unfamiliar. This inevitably brought on bouts of homesickness, but I knew there was always someone I could talk to; most students were far from home themselves, India being the world’s seventh largest country. Often, I was too busy for homesickness to take hold. There was a whole city to explore, and thankfully I had some streetwise friends by my side to (literally) hold my hand when crossing the crazy Bangalore streets, or to pull me out of a taxi when they knew the driver wanted to overcharge.
Studying abroad has absolutely been one of the highlights of university for me. I learned so much more than I could have imagined, tried so many new things, met fantastic people – I even rode a motorbike for the first time! In sum: highly recommended.