The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship is a grant program that helps students with limited financial means to experience the enriching experience of study abroad and help prepare them for work in a global economy. The reflection below describes an experience from a recent Gilman Scholar.
By Mohammad Reza ‘19
My name is Md. Mashfique Reza. I am one of the ten students from the aerospace engineering department who got the opportunity to come to the Indian Institute of technology (IIT) Gandhinagar with departmental professor Dr. Kinra who mentored us throughout and after the program.
I am grateful that I took this trip. As a Bengali American, I spent a lot of my life in the U.S. and my teenage years in Bangladesh. I got a good experience of life in both worlds. I would proudly say that I accept the good and bad in both American and South Asian culture.
When I was nineteen, I moved back to the United States. I had nostalgia for home and struggled with adapting culturally. However, as time passed I adapted myself, while not forgetting my own South Asian cultural principles that I gained in my teenage years.
However, I never realized what American culture had taught me. I never knew that I am a totally different individual than I used to be ten years ago before moving back to U.S. American culture has taught me to be more humane, practice more responsible habits, such as not throwing garbage anywhere on the road, and learn different concepts of good manners, such as waiting in line. U.S. culture removed the social class and pride from my soul.
During the trip each night, I would think about the past me compared to the present me. I can see how sensitive I became to my surroundings. I could see the current me being sensitive to the fact that the past me would not have noticed the racial discrimination with the so-called lower class, such as waiters and cooks having to treat so-called upper class with extra respect. If they were sitting down watching TV when we arrived, they would give up their seat. They would not sit beside us and watch TV because upper-class society would see this as disrespectful.
However, Indian people are generally very friendly. People would go out of their way to help us. Anywhere I went, I did not feel uncomfortable or unsafe asking a random individual on the street for directions or any question. There were a couple of incidents where we were not sure about our destination, and we got local strangers giving going out of their way to show us our destination.
The cultural places we visited were really glorious. This country is rich with monarchs and the architecture of forts and palaces left by them. The gems, stones, and clothing were handcrafted and unique. We visited the fortress of King Jai Singh and the gems and clothing stores in Jaipur. The Dilhi Jami mosque was fascinating. The tour to Akshardham temple with its historical details was mind-boggling.
Another fascinating part of the India tour was the food. Each state has its own way to spice the food and each dish, with different recipes tasting totally different. Parotas, fish, mutton curries, different type of veggie dishes, such as lentils and beans, and appetizers, such as dosas and puris, are some of the unique indian foods that we got to taste. The street food in Delhi is something we do not get to see much in the U.S. It is like a gyro cart in New York City, but it has its own unique Indian set up, with ten times the taste and variety to choose from.
Indian culture is rich with strong family values. People are very hospitable, welcoming, and less alienating to foreigners. It was easy for me to connect with them, as I could speak and understand Hindi. I was able to practice my foreign language skills and interpret for my team while we were navigating and communicating during in trips to Jaipur, the Taj Mahal, and Delhi. I made some good friends in India who I have been in touch with via Facebook. I was also able to create academic exchanges as well, comparing our academics with theirs.
At the end of the day there are good and bad sides in every culture. I am glad that I got a taste of both cultures. This trip to India gave me an opportunity to understand the value of American lifestyle and technology. I was able to reflect on the values I adopted from the US that differs from my culture. This trip also allowed me to cherish the principles of Bengali Indian culture and family values.