This past fall, I had the amazing privilege of spending my semester across the globe, living, learning, and growing in the North Indian state of Uttarkhand with the National Outdoor Leadership School (usually called NOLS). With NOLS, myself and nine other students learned about the culture, history, ecology, and geography of India, all while backpacking, whitewater rafting, and experiencing the natural beauty the country has to offer. With NOLS, I earned twelve hours of college credit in Anthropology, Environmental Science, and Outdoor Recreation, and became certified in Wilderness Advanced First Aid, but most of the teaching didn’t come from a teacher standing at a whiteboard in a classroom. Of course, there were elements of that, particularly during the cultural home stay, but the true learning came from the
hands-on immersion experienced while in the field.

There’s no better way to learn about the culture and ecology of a region than by living in its towns, working with its people, and walking through its mountains. On our 45 day backpack, I learned about the agricultural systems, touchy political topics (China), family dynamics, daily lives, education systems, religious ceremonies, joys, and hardships of the Himalayan Kumaoni and Garwhali people, simply by existing alongside them. On the 14 day whitewater expedition, I learned about rivers and their significance to the region, both through their religious symbolism of renewal and growth, and through their economic value and political importance. We floated past future dam sites, and visited towns of people who will soon be displaced by the following floods. I visited the temples dedicated to the Gods and Goddesses that inhabit the river, and met the Sadhu’s (Hindu Ascetics) that live in them. During the home stay, I learned about Himalayan agriculture by helping my family till the fields, carry huge bundles of grass, and move manure for fertilizer. I learned about the struggle of women in the region, and their movements for equality by participating in the town’s Women’s Action Collective, an organization by women to empower women, who have traditionally been overlooked and overpowered in the Indian Himalayas.

This knowledge and these experiences have forever ingrained themselves into my memory. Being able to challenge myself physically, academically, and emotionally has changed my perspective on my education, my lifestyle, and the way I approach my relationships. I feel refreshed, renewed, and ready to pursue my goals with excitement and vigor. Studying abroad has been one of the most challenging, exhausting, and rewarding experiences of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Ellie Bixler is majoring in Anthropology with minors in Environmental Science and Spanish. She spent a semester studying abroad in  India through the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Ellie had the following to say about her time abroad, “New experiences, lifelong memories, and a different culture, India is for the adventurous.”Studying abroad is one of the hardest, most fulfilling things you can do during your college career. My advice is to go somewhere that will challenge and excite you, and push you out of your comfort zone. It’s surprising the places you’ll learn to love and call home.”

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