By Trisha Thadani, Staff Writer

Women collecting water in India/PHOTO VIA Trisha Thadani

While alone in the middle of India, the questions that rang though my head were, “Where am I? Who are these people?” and “What am I doing here?”

I spent a month traveling and writing for a non-governmental organization called Aga Khan, an organization that implements housing and sanitation projects throughout hundreds of villages in India. I traveled to about 30 remote villages and wrote about the condition of the NGO’s projects.

I was quick to learn that even as an 18-year-old sophomore in college, I am still capable of crying. I missed my mom and dad and was unable to sleep without a teddy bear. I learned that “bathroom” typically means a hole and a bucket of water. I also learned that poking a cow with your foot is an unforgivable sin, even if just for a Snapchat.

I found myself in a lot of questionable situations, but these situations also gave me a lot of perspective.

It’s hard to explain the feeling of walking through a destitute slum or the taste of a fresh mango picked right from the tree without actually experiencing it. It’s difficult to grasp the trouble of seeing an 18-year-old girl getting married off to a 30-year-old man against her will. It’s even harder to watch a desperate, frail old woman get denied a home.

Although I will say that there is nothing more humbling than seeing the contentment and gratitude of the people I met in the slums and villages. Before coming to India, I expected to encounter people who were victims of bad luck and oppression. Contrary to what I thought, I managed to meet some of the happiest people.

At times my trip to India was confusing and uncomfortable, but I could not have asked for a more remarkable experience. While staying alone in sketchy hotels and traveling on endless dirt roads to villages and slums, I learned that there is a lot one can learn about the world and themselves in the far corners of world – it just takes a closer look.