India is a country that has always been close to my heart. My parents used to tell me tales of their adventures on the subcontinent in the 1980s. Their stories painted colourful imagery in my young mind, along with the budding desire to one day experience India for myself. In 2015, I bought a plane ticket and spent the next three months gallivanting across the country, falling in love with her diverse people, cultures and beauty. India was everything I imagined and more.
One day in 2017, a friend told me that Griffith University Tourism faculty was offering a trip to Northern India. My heart leapt at the chance to return to the country that had so shaped my worldview. Funded by the New Colombo Plan, this field study presented the opportunity to study community-based ecotourism in the foothills of the Himalayas. I have a large desire to see rural communities in developing nations succeed, and this course would shed light on the tourism industry in such communities. The New Colombo Plan funding completely paid for the trip, making it economically possible for me to go.
I hurriedly filled out the brief application form, attended an interview with the leading professor, and helped film some promotional videos explaining why I was interested in going. Before I knew it, I had a letter of acceptance in my hand, and I was on my way to India!
It was a completely new experience for me to study abroad with other students whom I hadn’t met before. I felt nervous, worried I wouldn’t meet anyone I clicked with, yet incredibly excited for what was ahead. After a month of reading through my course reading list, buying winter clothing for the cold climate of Northern India, and packing as much into my backpack as I could, I was ready to go! Soon I was flying out of Brisbane, ready for an adventure.
Friendships quickly formed, and by the time I reached India, I had heard my fellow students’ life stories, memorised their favourite types of tea, had seen multiple photos of their pets, and formed budding friendships. This was such a beautiful experience for me, to meet people who are unique, outside of my own personal university bubble. Every person on the trip presented a new dimension, creating a group that was full of interesting facts and diverse ways of seeing the world.
Upon arrival in Delhi, India, we bussed for 10 hours through the frantic Indian traffic. My eyes were glued to the window most of the trip, where everything from massive logging trucks to horse drawn carriages roamed the roads. Motorbikes and scooters whizzed all around, almost crashing every few seconds, yet somehow managing to stay upright. Indian roads are a feast for the eyes. People everywhere, buying, selling, talking, laughing, yelling, sleeping. There were children begging at the stop lights, merchants selling fruit amongst the chaos.
Eventually, we arrived at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in Dehradun. Quiet peacefulness greeted us the moment we entered through the gates. The WII houses some of the most important forestry officers and researchers in India. It is a place where students from all over Southern Asia come to study certain species within the plant and animal kingdoms.
For the next week we stayed in this quiet oasis, attending lectures on the many aspects of the tourism industry. This phase of the trip I found incredibly interesting. To have the opportunity to listen to some of the top researchers in India talk about the flora and fauna of India and environmental issues in the country was truly enlightening.
I thoroughly enjoyed studying one subject intensively during this time. Contrasted to a normal trimester in Australia, where you study multiple subjects over a longer period of time, a short, yet intense time spent on one subject was so beneficial to my learning outcomes. Living with my fellow students provided opportunities to discuss the new theories we were being taught, collaborate on ideas and verbally process the contrasts we were seeing in India. After our daily lectures, we would leave WII to explore the surrounding area, meet with women’s groups, go shopping in the markets, or attend yoga sessions up in the mountains.
Our next stop on the itinerary was the Jim Corbett National Park, a world-renowned, untouched forest famous for its Bengal tiger population. This was one of the highlights of my trip. We spent three days in safari jeeps, searching for tigers and elephants. Our nights were spent sleeping in beautiful lodges overlooking a watering plain where elephants grazed at dusk. On the second day, my dreams came true and a large, female tiger pranced right in front of my jeep. Her bright colouring and shining green eyes seemed almost too beautiful to be true. Watching her walk down the path towards our jeep was one of the most breathtaking moments I have ever experienced. Tigers are phenomenal creatures.
After spotting tigers and visiting eco-friendly resorts, the group split up to head out for our field placement. I was placed in a small village called Chhoti Haldwani with two of my fellow students. We stayed with a local family in the village and spent the next five days researching the village’s tourism business. This time was incredibly educational, as we saw first-hand the results of community-based ecotourism. I asked questions, held interviews, drank chai with villagers, visited the local school, played volleyball with the teens, and toured the Jim Corbett museum. Having all the tourism theories and ideas fresh in my mind was extremely helpful. Together, we took a deeper look into the effects of tourism on a small village, specifically noticing who was being empowered or disempowered.
After completing our placements, the group joyously reunited and continued our tour of the region. We visited the beautiful temples of Rishikesh, walked the scenic trails of Mussorie, and explored the Beatles’ Ashram where much of their work was written. What a fabulous time I had, deeping my understanding of tourism and enjoying the beauty of the world around me.
Eventually, we ended up back at the Wildlife Institute where we completed our final assessment pieces for the course, thus concluding our time in India.
Walking back through the airport in Delhi, where our adventure began, filled me with a feeling of accomplishment and gratitude. I had achieved so much in this country. I had developed a much deeper and broader understanding of tourism and its effects on communities, learning with a group of previous strangers who had become true friends. I was sad to leave India that day, but very excited for the hot showers and warm air of Australia.
If I had to give advice to anyone who was considering studying abroad, I would say 100% do it. Here are 3 tips that really helped me have a brilliant time abroad:
- Be prepared
I spent a lot of time researching the locations I was going to, buying appropriate clothing for the weather, and reading through my course reading list. I also made sure to pack the little things that made me feel at home, like a jar of peanut butter and my favourite travel mug. This really helped me to make the most of my time in country!
- Take risks and apply!
Initially, I didn’t think I was going to qualify for this trip, as I am not studying tourism. Yet I took the risk to apply! It would have been so easy to make excuses and brush it off as I didn’t seem to be the obvious pick. Yet I took the risk and got a free trip to India out of it!
- Be flexible
One of the most difficult parts of travelling in India with a large group is the way plans just always seem to change. If you go into your trip with the ability to go with the flow, make the most of opportunities, and have fun no matter where you are, you’ll have a great time!
Overall, my trip to India with Griffith University was an absolute success. I made incredible friends, saw sights I never would have seen on my own, and learnt an incredible amount about tourism in a short time. India continues to challenge my Western worldview. It is a country of extremes and contradictions. Indian people are kind and extremely hospitable. I will forever value my times spent in India, and the connections I made along the way.
Griffith University’s Community Based Ecotourism Field Study (3310THS) course is being offered again in Trimester 3, 2018! This means that you could experience for yourself some of the events I described above.