At the end of February, I was given a tremendous opportunity. An opportunity I had fretted over. Prepared for. Saved for. Converted currency for. An opportunity I had under packed for. (Yes, I said under packed.) And what an opportunity it was.
On a bleak Saturday afternoon in Chicago, I and thirty of my closest friends boarded the first of what would be many flights over thirteen days. Despite a sixteen hour flight halfway around the globe very few things could dampen our excitement and ultimately our desire to get out and explore.
Even though we spent five days between Hong Kong, mainland China and Beijing it wasn’t China and its expansive roads, rolling power outages, death defying drivers, or boned-in delicacies that touched me but India.
India which is home to about fifteen percent of the world’s population- second only to China- in a space a third of the size of the United States. India, whose terrain ranges from the Himalayan Mountains in the north, to flat river valleys to deserts and whose climate goes from alpine to temperate to subtropical monsoon. India, which is geographically half a world away but in culture, history and lifestyle is an entire world away.
Unlike the Chinese who embrace every opportunity for advancement and wealth thus freedom, the Indian population is already largely unregulated and laid back. As we traveled through the capital city the contrast between India and China was startlingly apparent. Most Indian homes were dilapidated concrete and brick structures situated almost everywhere. Perhaps it’s the heat or the lack of rain but almost no homes featured a door. Animals of almost every species wandered. Security was crazy tight with metal detectors and searches as you enter hotels or shopping centers. And the contrast between the “haves” and “have not’s” was glaring and heart breaking.
On our first full day in India we traveled to a rural village. As our bus churned through New Delhi and its streets clogged with 12.8 million people we quickly saw the need for fresh water, sanitation and (deep breath) regulation. During our journey we saw vehicles loaded with people, animal drawn carts and motorcycles galore. It wasn’t the striking contrast between India and the United States that is so vividly emblazoned in my memory but the greeting we received at the rural school. Students, teachers, administrators and parents welcomed us into their school on a Sunday afternoon and after a short presentation the students asked us how they could become doctors, astronauts and take part in the United States’ education system. To the students we were super heroes- but we were humbled. There’s part of me that is still ashamed because I’ve grown to take so much for granted- that I would attend college, graduate, get a job and become successful. These students wanted the same …
I suspect that I should’ve returned from overseas talking about the size of the container ports or the incredible amount of business that John Deere does overseas but instead I keep wondering what I can do for that rural school … how I can make a difference. Our trip to the rural school was part of just one day … we spent seven days in India.
Our final evening in India had a bittersweet under currant- not just because it was the end of a thirteen day journey across two countries but because it was clear that our time as a thirty-one member family who had changed and grown together was drawing to a close. We graduate in August.
I want to extend a tremendous thank you to the Illinois Agricultural Leadership Foundation for first accepting me into the Class of 2012 and for planning an incredible, life changing experience. I also want to thank the Cook County Farm Bureau Board of Directors for their support and understanding during my thirteen days overseas. Finally, to my husband and family, thank you for your support, tolerance and humor during the days and events prior to the seminar and while I was away.
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