As part of the Alliance program in Varanasi, India, students get to choose a topic for their culture in practice component.  Between yoga and sitar (among others), I couldn’t decide.  Somehow I ended up checking “textiles” on the form – and I don’t regret it one bit.  Three days a week Taylor (my fellow classmate) and I biked through the streets (on one bicycle, mind you) to our textile teacher’s house.  There we learned the history of Indian textiles, as well practiced spinning cotton, weaving, block printing, natural dyes, batik – and the list goes on.  Not only was it a nice break from the normal pace of classes, but we were able to tangibly experience an important aspect of Indian culture.
Sipping chai and munching on the numkeen (snacks) our teacher always provided, we received a break from the normal grind of classes and worked with our hands.  We would listen to Hindi music or mantras or chat with Sushma-ji, our incredibly skilled and giving teacher, while taking part in embodied Indian culture and history.  Little did I know that I would carry these skills back with me to the US.
In my last semester of college, as I am trying to process India while saying goodbyes and finishing papers, I find myself turning to applique, to the textiles I learned about while abroad.  In fact, I realize that working with textiles something that I want to “do” with my life.  While I’m not sure in what regard, I do know that I have a felting apprenticeship lined up after I graduate and that I look forward to creating more pieces with the plethora of Indian fabric I stuffed into my suitcase.  Not to mention that Sushma-ji continues to stay in-touch and remains a go-to source for questions, feedback, and inspiration on projects.  There is no way I could have foreseen this turn of events when I checked that box for Culture in Practice, but I am grateful for a way to incorporate this influential experience of studying abroad, as well as a unique aspect of Indian culture, into my everyday life.
The Culture in Practice aspect of Varanasi program is unique and not found in many other study abroad programs.  It provided space for me to tangibly explore a new culture and inspired me to include textiles in my future goals – something I had never considered before.  Studying abroad gave me the opportunity for experiential learning that helped to hone my interests and goals. That being said, if you are on the fence about studying abroad (or even just beginning to consider) – do it.  You won’t regret it.  Studying abroad is one of those experiences that, years after you’ve finished the program, will keep giving and the lessons you learned will slowly reveal themselves in time.  Try something new.  Who knows, maybe it will introduce something you will continue to do for the rest of your life.  Either way, you really can’t lose.
(Below are the two pieces I made since arriving back in the States after my semester abroad in Varanasi, India.)
Bird - Varanasi Program Varanasi Program
Judith Marklin was an International development major at Houghton and studied abroad with IFSA on the The City, The River, the Sacred program in Varanasi, India in Fall 2016. She served as an alumni ambassador for IFSA.