This summer I was lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to visit the University of Madras and travel throughout the south of India, alongside nine other University of Edinburgh students from various degree backgrounds.
In our first week in Chennai, we went to lectures at the University of Madras. Each guest lecturer gave us insight into their respective disciples, and I learned about everything from the position of women in India and its caste system, to the evolution of science.
That said, my focus was to gain an insight into the media industry. Journalism documents and influences everyday society and culture in numerous ways and languages, and thus it seemed essential to me to explore it as I intended to grasp an understanding of life in India.
Perhaps the most valuable experience, though, was being able to personally interact with fellow students, as well as group leaders, from both from the University of Madras and University of Edinburgh, and learn from them, about their lives, culture and individual opinions.
Admittedly, my main apprehension before travelling to India food, as I am a vegan. I thought that I would find eating in India extremely difficult, however I quickly came to learn that eating vegan food is far easier than it is in Scotland, and is much more accepted. In fact, a large proportion of the Indian population is strictly vegetarian, and thus most places I ate were so, giving me plenty of options.
My time at the Garden of Peace was the highlight of my trip to India, and one of the best times of my life. The Garden of Peace is a learning community that is primarily a school for young children. It is self-fulfilling, with parents taking part in the running of the school, and teachers being from local villages. Its purpose is to help the development of people from local surrounding villages. Professor Manuvanan, who taught us at the Universtiy of Madras, leads and funds the community.
To see how places like the Garden of Peace function, with everyone from parents to university students pitching in is heart-warming. Everything that happens at is for the benefit of those that participate. From sleeping on the roof at night, getting up at 6am to practice yoga, playing football, and helping to serve the community meals, everything was, frankly, quite magical. Further, celebrating Independence Day at the Garden of Peace was special, with a beautiful ceremony from pupils, and allowed me to understand the importance of it, as well as engage in cultural performance.
Throughout my journey, I learned and experienced an incredible amount, which I will undoubtedly stay with me throughout university, after graduate, and beyond. I took myself far outside my comfort zone, gained an understanding of a completely different culture, met great people, and, importantly, developed individually.