M-L grad travels to India

2011 Montgomery-Lonsdale graduate, Aimée Fisher, visited India and the Taj Mahal during the January term, 2013 of Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Submitted Photo)


During the break between college semesters, Aimée Fisher wanted extreme culture shock and to get out of her comfort zone.
That’s exactly what this 2011 Montgomery-Lonsdale High School graduate received when she took a trip to India last month.
Fisher, the daughter of Jim Fisher and Rebecca Carson, attends Augustana College, Sioux Falls, S.D. She is a second year junior, double majoring in art and all-grade education, with an emphasis in graphic design. She used the time off between the first and second semesters (called J-term)  to travel abroad to northern India for the class, Dharma: Music, Literature, and Culture in Modern India.
“I chose the class because two of the most esteemed professors were leading it, and I wanted to experience an extreme culture shock, get out of my comfort zone, and travel where my mother, Rebecca Carson, did while she attended Carleton College,” Fisher said. “I took this trip with five fellow Augustana students, two women from Sioux Falls, and our two professors.”  
The trip began on the January 9 and they arrived in Delhi after two eight-hour flights and 10 hours of layovers. 
In Delhi, their tour guide, Sushil Bansal, took them to the Gandhi memorial sites and a mosque. Fisher said they didn't get to spend as much time on the streets interacting with people there, but even from inside the bus, they were stared at. 
“Caucasian females, especially when one of the girls on the trip had blonde hair, are the minority in India, a role many Americans are not used to,” she said. 
After touring Delhi they went to Rishikesh and Haridwar, in the foothills of the Himalayas, near the beginning of the Ganges River.  She said driving in India is a completely different experience than in the United States.
“First, they drive on the left side of the road, and there is a continuous honking of horns (many of which are crazy little songs like in Arabic countries) and people pass on whatever side of the road they like,” she said. “If you are the bigger vehicle, you win.  You don't have an exact amount of time a trip will take because it depends on how busy the roads are, which are filled with potholes.”  
She also said freeways are a releatively new in India. She said their driver didn't even know where the entrance to their highway was. She said they wound up driving next to the interstate for two hours before their road ended in a field, forcing them to turn around. 
Fisher said Rishikesh was her favorite city because they were in a more rural area and the mountainous environment was breathtaking.  
“We got our first chances to begin bartering here with the local shop owners who wanted to sell us their various scarves, statues, bindis, you name it,” she said. “We took yoga classes each morning and music lessons.  I now know how to sing the raga and the Gayatri Mantra. We also took a picnic on the shore of the Ganges River in the Himalayas. With the sun glistening as the water rushed through small rapids here, and the mountains standing misty around us, I think this was one of the most peaceful places I have ever been.” 
Fisher added that they also visited villages where people had never seen a caucasian person. They also visited an orphanage, Varanasi, the most holy city in India, and the famous Taj Mahal and Agra Red Fort.  She said the Taj was breathtaking, but the Agra Fort was just as magnificent!
One part of India that became prominent was the polarization of Indian culture. 
“There are so many sacred moments that can be interrupted in a moment by someone who wants to sell you something or ask for money,” she said. “The very rich and the very poor are all over. I saw many people in need. It was hard to keep walking, but there is not enough money to help everyone. I gave money to a leper with no hands or feet and the smile on his face told me I had made his day.”   Fisher also experienced a wedding in Delhi that they were personally invited to, where the bride rode in on a giant sea shell in a dress valued at $10,000. 
She said she learned a lot about herself during the trip, and realized how lucky she is to live in the United States.  
“There are women's rights and personal freedoms that many do not have in India.  The police (in U.S.) are not corrupt, and we have amenities that many are not so fortunate to have,” she said. “No words can do justice to how wonderful India is. India is auspicious.”
After her experience, Fisher clarifies India’s reputation as a stinky country.
“When people first heard I was going to India, many asked why. They have this idea that it stinks there and is dirty.  Let me clear this up. It does not stink there and there are both beautiful and sad aspects to the country, something I encountered many times throughout the trip,” she said. 
In addition to the experience and memories, Fisher also received three credits for taking the J-term abroad.  It wasn’t just about sight seeing. She was also required to do readings from Indian authors, take quizzes and write reaction essays.