India: An Experience in Cross Cultural Learning

Last winter I had the opportunity to travel to India on a study abroad trip with the school of social work. Not only was I fortunate enough to go to a new country with fabulous people, I was able to experience first hand cross cultural learning. Thought it was several months ago, I still think about this trip all the time so I thought I would share some of the writing I did after the trip ended.

We started in Mumbai, which is one of the top five largest cities in the world. Though it’s comparable to New York City in size, there are many fewer high rise buildings and several very large, sprawling slums. No matter what time of day or night, the streets were full of people. It was very overwhelming. Going to the Ghandi memorial in Mumbai and meeting with his great grandson, a social activist, was definitely a highlight. We also visited an NGO in the red light district that works with women and children of the sex trade. The children we met there were so enthusiastic and positive despite their upbringing and home life. We then took the train from Mumbai to Pune, a smaller city about 3.5 hours away. They train was quite an experience with people selling chai, food, toys, magazines, etc in the aisles for the duration of the ride. Each car is divided into about 16 or 20 compartments that each hold six people- let’s just say it’s not spacious.

Pune is the student capital of India with many universities and schools. It was much more manageable and were able to venture out on our own more. We stayed in Pune for 5 days, saw 8 agencies, and visited a prestigious university. On New Years Eve, we stayed over night at an agency on a mountain outside of Pune that doubles as an orphanage and elderly home. It was one of the best New Years celebrations we had. From 6pm on we played games, danced, ate and talked with the children and residents. We ended the evening with a bonfire and toasts to 2012. The children at this agency were so joyous and excited to teach us that the language barrier was not noticeable. On the morning of the first, one of our trip leaders lead a yoga class with all of us along with the 60+ children who live there.

We ended the trip with visiting a rural area where we visited one of my favorite agencies of the trip- a comprehensive rural health project. There, we met women who are elected bu their local village to be trained as a rural health workers who prove medical services their community members, deliver babies, teach sex ed, etc. This is very progressive for rural India where women are historically oppressed and not given opportunities to be empowered in such a significant way.

This is just a snippet of the wonderful places we visited and everyone we met was amazingly passionate about their work and their country. Coming back to America was very difficult, which I was expecting. I know that working with families and children in America is what I want to do with my social work degree, but the needs seems somewhat inconsequential after visiting a place where 60% of the country is hungry due to inadequate food distribution processes and where children fight to survive each night.

For more information about studying abroad with the UNC School of Social Work, check out


About Julia Wessel

Hi! I'm Julia Wessel and I am a concentration year student in the full time program. I am focusing on direct practice with an emphasis on child mental health. This year, my field placement is at child outpatient mental health clinic with children and their families. I am also very involved in the Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC) Clinic, a weekly, student-run, free health clinic in the community. I also travelled to India with UNC-CH SSW on a study abroad trip in December 2011. I am originally from Washington, DC and I went to Kenyon College for my undergraduate education. In my free time, I love hiking and yoga and exploring North Carolina.
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