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Embracing Online Learning

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By Beatrice L., 2020-2021 Virtual YES Abroad India

During our summer cultural training, the phrase “not better, not worse, just different” was frequently mentioned. At the time, I remember thinking that it seemed obvious, as I was participating in virtual programming, since I was not able to travel to India during the pandemic. India seemed so different from my life in America that the comparison seemed out of the question. Now that I am midway through my virtual exchange, this phrase about perspective is one I think about constantly, but not in the most obvious ways. 

Of course, a virtual exchange is not the same, and never will be the same, as one in person and I have to constantly remind myself of that fact. A virtual exchange is just different than a live one --not worse and not better-- and I also remind myself what an amazing opportunity being a part of a cultural exchange program is, even though it is not the way I would have imagined the program (in-person) when I applied. Although I am not physically living with a host family in India, and I am not fully immersed in the culture in the traditional sense, I have still been able to learn about the culture of India through the unique virtual format. Through my virtual exchange, I have had the opportunity to talk to people from all around India and to learn about their language and culture. I have even participated in activities that I never would have experienced or tried in the U.S., such as traditional Indian dances, drawing in new formats, and learning yoga! I have even been leaning Hindi, and I am very proud of my progress, as now I can begin to form my own sentences! I would have been able to experience some of these activities if I went to India, but the virtual program has made it possible to experience a range of India’s rich and diverse culture, which I might not have had time to experience in-person.

Throughout the virtual activities for my program to India, I have been continuing to go to school in the United States, so I have been able to live my life as normal. At the same time, I have been learning new things about India each week. My favorite part about melding these worlds is getting to share my experience and knowledge about India with my family and friends here in the United States: after learning how to bake traditional Indian desserts, I baked some for my family and friends; after learning Hindi phrases, I have attempted to teach some to my family and friends! Participating in virtual exchange activities has provided me with so many more experiences then I could have imagined, and it is incredible to think about what I have left to learn.