Challenging but wouldn't trade SITA semester for anything, in hindsight Past Review

By (Colorado College) - abroad from 08/15/2016 to 11/23/2016 with

South India Term Abroad - SITA

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
This experience was beyond worthwhile. It sounds cheesy and cliche, but in hindsight, this semester was life-changing. I learned to better adapt to obstacles and frustrations, I learned how to feel comfortable asking seemingly-stupid questions, I learned to communicate with very little verbal language, and I learned that I'm capable of taking better care of myself than I thought possible. I also learned community is the most important thing in life, for me, and that community can be found anywhere. I learned that it's possible to have a home and a family in more than one space, and I learned that life can look a lot of ways.

Review Photos

South India Term Abroad - SITA Photo South India Term Abroad - SITA Photo South India Term Abroad - SITA Photo South India Term Abroad - SITA Photo

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 0-2 weeks

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

The opportunity to conduct independent research/create an independent project is incredible. The Tamil class is also extremely useful. There is a lot of room for independence in classes at SITA; you always have the opportunity to do more.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The administrators are wonderful. They quickly become friends.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

My host family was, without a doubt, the best and most challenging aspect of my experience. I learned more from them about language and culture than anyone else. They were also my best friends and support system in Madurai, and I miss them (and my ammaa's incredible cooking) every single day.

* Food:

If nothing else, go to South India for the food. I think I would give a limb right now for egg dosai with red pepper chutney, sambar, and a goa on the side. I will forever be craving the meals my ammaa cooked for me.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

I had a difficult time befriending locals who were my age. I wish I had visited the local colleges earlier on in the program, because it was difficult to befriend people on the street. I struggled with feeling glorified for having white skin, being tall, and having blonde hair and blue eyes. I found my closest connections to local culture and to the community through my host parents.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I never had any health problems. I did get vaccinated before going, but I wasn't taking Malaria meds like everyone else on the program (my doctor told me they were unnecessary), and despite the incredible number of mosquito bites throughout my time in Maduari, I returned home Malaria-free! Woo!

* Safety:

I felt very safe in Madurai. I often felt uncomfortable from being cat-called or stared at, but never unsafe.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

There were lots of ups and downs. But I became at least 10 times as self-reliant as I had ever been in my life. I developed memories with my host parents that I know I will never forget. I ate the most delicious, nutritious food I've ever consumed. I made friends who I now relish skypeing with. I came back to the U.S. feeling more grounded in myself than ever before and more able to question ideological norms in the West than ever before. My world, both metaphorically and literally, got so much bigger. SITA is by no means a perfect program; there were challenges. But entering the experiences with no expectations OTHER than the expectation that I would be challenged enabled me to appreciate all of the (daily) incredible opportunities being presented to me, rather than (daily) setbacks or frustrations.


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

SITA's stipend covered my necessary expenses. I did spend extra money on gifts to bring home (spices and tapestries!).

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $1-$2
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Have a host mom who forcibly overfeeds you at breakfast :) And then if you are hungry, get a 15 rupee egg puff down the street from SITA.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

We were strongly encouraged to speak Tamil whenever we could; we didn't always enforce this rule among ourselves, but that was on us. I wish I had pushed myself to speak more Tamil with my host parents.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Beginner
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? None
How many hours per day did you use the language? 0

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • The love I experienced from my host parents, the community, and SITA
  • The opportunity to independently work on a fulfilling project
  • The FOOD (really this is number 1)
* What could be improved?
  • Course organization
  • Orientation week (needed a day to adjust before diving into Tamil)
  • Earlier meetings with students at local colleges to provide opportunities for longer friendships
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I wish I had known that being overfed throughout my first week with my host family would NOT kill me (as I thought it would when I journaled about it, tears streaming down my face). I wish I had known to invest in a mosquito bat first thing when I arrived. I wish I had better been able to remember to trust the process throughout the first month. I wish I had known to bring cases that would have protected my external hard drives from the bumping around and being dropped from top bunks of night trains. Other than that, I am so, so happy that my mindset going in was one of no expectations; in particular, I was not expecting to be happy in India. I was expecting to learn and to be challenged, and that's exactly what happened. The moments of sheer happiness and connection were all the more sweet for not having had expected them.