Why did you pick this program?
I've always wanted to go to India! While I was in high school, two of my closest friends were from India. White visiting their houses, their parents would cook the most incredible Indian food and share with me how amazing India is. Because of this, India has always been close to my heart. In addition to this, I've always had a desire to go backpacking, but I wanted there to be a purpose behind it, not just aimless wandering. This program offered both, so it had an immense appeal for me (plus it had the mountains so there was no question).
What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?
I always tell them to do it, and to check out Operation Groundswell if they're thinking of volunteering. Traveling is the best education, and can be made even more magical by making friends with the locals, exploring the not so touristy places, and not living behind a camera lens. I encourage them to take that leap and connect with the global community.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
To go with an open mind. As travelers, we always have preconceived ideas of other countries, which can often get in the way of us having an incredible experience. My advice would be to go with an open mind, take advantage of every opportunity to experience something new, and to embrace the culture as fully and wholeheartedly as you can.
What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?
This is my go-to story every time. A friend and myself befriended a lovely group of locals in Rishikesh during our independent travel time. A couple from this group own a cafe called Bohemian; we used this space to hang out, jam to some incredible music, and sometimes fell asleep in the cafe. On one of the mornings when we woke up there, the whole group of us, eight to be exact, decided that we would take three mopeds and head up the mountain to one of the Holiest Hindu temples in that area. So we set off, three people on two of the mopeds, and two on the other. We hadn't had breakfast at this point, so half way up the mountain, we stopped at a small chai shop that also happens to make chow mein. We sat to eat and drink and simply enjoy the beautiful view around us. After about an hour, we set off again to the temple. While we were driving, the dew from the ground rose, forming into clouds around us, so that we were literally driving through clouds. It was magical! No, magical doesn't even begin to describe it! I felt so alive and so free in those moments. My heart nearly burst from joy! When we arrived at the temple, I decided that I wanted to learn more about the offerings and the worship experience. My lovely friends helped me along, showing me the proper way to give the offering, how to leave the holy place once finished, and the meaning behind it. It was such an enriching and humbling experience, one I'll never forget. I have never felt so connected with people or with a country as I did then.
Talia's Take on Solo Female Travel:
"Is it dangerous for me, as a woman, to travel abroad?" I think as a woman, regardless of where we go, we will always have a slightly harder time feeling safe traveling. Despite that, I've met so many badass women traveling on their own who were totally fine! Bad things can happen anywhere, you just have to be smart about traveling, and be aware of your surroundings. If you're concerned about safety, consider traveling with other backpackers. While it can seem as if bad things happen more often in other areas of the world than in the west, it is important to remember that it's all relative and comes down to perspective: the population of Delhi, India itself is three-quarters of the entire population of Canada. That is just one of the major cities in a country as large and populated as India. It's bound to seem like negative things happen a lot more than it does in Canada, when in reality (taking population into consideration), it's not that way at all. Like I said, these things can happen anywhere. Just be smart and if you feel uncomfortable, travel with others!