Alumni Spotlight: Marc Unger

Marc is a sack of space dust floating around a blue-green marble. He has been to Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, India, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, and Switzerland. Sometimes he visits the United States, when he feels like doing some laundry. An undergraduate of Political Science at Elizabethtown College, he recently studied abroad in Chennai, India through BCA in the Fall semester of 2017.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose to spend a semester in India because my time throughout Europe was already so familiar. Chennai was on a continent that I have yet to trek to and I wanted to challenge myself and my cultural conceptions.

A simpler answer to that question is my fascination with Indian music and dance, as well as seeing my department available at the college.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Their assistance financially was paramount in the months spent away. Scholarships, and contract-employment positions always kept my spending budget intact. I participated in BCA's Storyteller Program, which gives potential students a block of media, including photos, videos, and blogs from my time abroad for which I was paid.

As for self-organized entities, it is up to the individual students to immerse themselves in college life and social outings not organized by the program director. Students are given an excellent path to thrive in Chennai, but it is up to them how involved they are.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

The only piece of advice I was given by 5-minute experts on my travels was to not drink the water. I can attest that the water in Chennai is drinkable, however, my advice is to ween the body onto the notorious nourishment.

It takes about two weeks before the body is ready to switch to local tap, whether it's restaurant drinking water or fresh juices. There is also a confidence factor, this goes for Indian food as well, meaning that the more confident one is in their digestive choices, the less time they will spend sitting in the restroom during the program.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Students are either a part of the morning (8:30-13:30) college or evening (13:30-18:30) college, which will affect daily social activities. BCA students usually take between 2-3 courses and an optional internship with their department, plus a weekly get-together with the program director and a few scheduled lessons of Tamil, the local language, every week.

Given there are only 2-3 courses, called "papers" there, the schedule is cherry-picked throughout the cycle of six days, and is subject to rearrangement in the middle of the semester without proper notice. The college is beautifully chaotic, to say the least.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

Knowing that I was the lone student in my semester program, I felt quite nervous about social interaction and having a support system. However, upon arrival, the program director and I gained an excellent rapport and making friends on campus was easier than first expected.

The issue took a shift in perspective when I stumbled upon two applications called Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp as ways of keeping in touch with home base, and when I became a founding member of a tight-knit friend group that formed off campus, which I still miss dearly. Social aspects come naturally to those who take the initiative of conversation.

The weather is better, the food and water are not dangerous, you've been there before; so once again, why India over somewhere like Europe?

This is a question that I faced by many puzzled friends and reluctant family. I believe that studying abroad is all about questioning inner cultural perceptions and starting adult life with a perspective outside the home bubble. That perspective really smacks the face of Indian newcomers, with chaotic traffic, fiery food, dangerously-relaxed departments, and living in one culture surrounded by infinite others.

India is known for their diversity, but some challenges are universal. Although that is exactly the point, it is a challenge. Students are well supported and are given as many amenities as possible, but at the end of the day, a program like BCA Chennai builds character and resolve, while giving students an opportunity to live in the most chaotically-functional diverse democracy on the planet.

However bleak the day may look, a handful of Dosa bread and a tumbler of Chai can fix just about anything.