What Are You Thankful For?

Me in Bangalore, India.

Me in Bangalore, India (photo by Katelyn Sives)

May 23, 2013

Now that my junior year of college is finally finished, I am filled with relief that my academic commitments are behind me for a few months and that I am able to take in the beautiful nuances of the summertime. As I reflect on my experiences and opportunities, one question continued to burn in my mind: What are you thankful for?

The AAUW National Student Advisory Council ends each monthly conference call with this same question. While concise, this question is a constant reminder of how incredibly lucky I am, especially as a woman, to have the privileges that I take for granted every day. The life-changing experience that I am most grateful for is studying abroad in India.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to study in Bangalore, India, through the Vira I. Heinz Scholarship Program. Having never been abroad nor on a plane before, I was anxious and excited to immerse myself in a different culture and experience many other firsts. I took classes in yoga and sociology, visited a village on the outskirts of Bangalore, and immersed myself in the vibrant colors, sounds, and tastes that India had to offer. However, the most phenomenal aspect was my volunteer experience in a school and meeting a friend in the Rajendra Nagar slum area.

Kids and a young woman sitting in a Bangalore school library

In the library at a school I volunteered at in Bangalore

With a few students from Christ University and a few others from my U.S. cohort, I found myself in a room half the size of an average freshman dorm room, filled with bright-eyed kids of various ages. I worked with the kids at the slum schools, teaching them the “50 Nifty United States” song and Simon Says. I was thoroughly amazed that the kids knew at least two or three languages fluently, and I was humbled by their curiosity about my culture and why I was in Bangalore.

I was also welcomed into the home of a woman named Suganya and her family, where I volunteered my time learning about her, her family, and her culture through my sociology professor. I developed a close relationship with Suganya, a young woman close in age to me with a welcoming smile, and I learned about her life and her struggles. As a teenager, she had faced a lot of sadness and sorrow, and it was heartbreaking to hear that her future was set for her. Despite her aspirations to attain an education past 10th grade, her duties were at home with the children.

Meeting the kids and Suganya and learning about her story was an eye-opening experience; these opportunities shed light on the privileges that I have — I have a choice in my education, my reproductive rights, and my future. I am grateful for many people and the countless opportunities I’ve been granted in my life due to organizations that promote the empowerment of women. Those experiences have been instrumental in my growth as a leader and agent for change. I am thankful for my parents, who see my education as an investment. I am thankful for my mentors, administrators, and coordinators, who want to see me succeed and pass along opportunities for me to do so. So, I guess I am thankful for a lot of things.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Huong Nguyen.

By:   |   May 23, 2013

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