Sometime around the beginning of 2011, I learnt that I was selected to be part of the group that was participating in that year’s exchange programme with Germany. The programme was a cultural as well as scientific one and the goal was to conduct research on the various uses and implications of spices in different cultures. At the same time, through a three-week home stay with a German host family, we were to learn about their culture and ways of life. Without thinking twice, I accepted the offer and it was a decision which I have not even once regretted.
In the month of April that year, we conducted research on spices; spending two weeks visiting various research centres and institutes in Bangalore to understand the ways spices are used in our culture. We ended up learning a lot more than we expected and the next step was to document our research in a way that could be presented at the partner school in Germany. We were divided into groups and were asked to create a PowerPoint presentation on the topic we had been assigned. My group was to create a presentation documenting the use of spices in different cuisines and my teammates and I spent about a month’s time reading and learning about the same, while creating the presentation together.
However, the major part of the journey started when we landed at Frankfurt on the 29th of June. We boarded a bus to the town our partner school was situated in – Lauf a.d. Pegnitz – and it was there I met my exchange partner and his family for the first time. Living away from my family and staying with another one in another country was something I hadn’t ever imagined myself doing! The prospect of living with a family I had never met before was very scary at first, but eventually we developed a strong relationship and I started counting my remaining days there.
The new surroundings were very strange at first. I had to get adjusted to a new time zone, new people, a new school, new food and a new house all at the same time! My host family was very welcoming and that made a lot of difference to the way I adjusted there. I made a lot of new friends and through the many conversations I had with them, I realised that everywhere, there are so many different opinions and thoughts! It was also very surprising to see that even in a different country 7000 kilometres away, all of us thought in very similar ways and had very similar moral grounds. I realised that even in different cultures the underlying thoughts and ideas are the same but we all just express them in different ways.
The German part of the project involved the 42 of us (21 Indian students and 21 German students) attending school as well as travelling to various places in Germany to learn about spices from a different perspective. At the same time, I was experiencing a new culture and a new lifestyle. School there was quite different from what I was used to back at home, and it took a while to get used to. Concurrently I was learning to be independent. I started developing a new interest in learning about things and made every effort to grasp as much as I could during my time there. I became very interested in travelling – and our group’s excursions to different towns only fuelled that desire further. I became globalised and ready to take on any challenge thrown at me.
I understood that in this day and age of immense competition and globalisation, without having a can-do attitude and being able to adjust to any environment, it is difficult to gain success. After the exchange programme got over, I found a completely new me – ready to adjust anywhere and also ready to make strong relationships with people I can connect with. I also started travelling a lot; visiting my host family in Germany, going to France and exploring the North Indian countryside in 2012 and visiting Italy in 2013. Everywhere I go now, I look at things in new light. Every situation and place has now become a new opportunity to learn.