GLOBAL OUTLOOK: Mississippi student embarks on adventure of a lifetime
Published 7:00 am Wednesday, February 1, 2017
As the only foreign exchange student from Mississippi last year, Bradley Booth went on a “life-changing trip” to India that expanded his view on life outside of the U.S., Booth said.
Booth learned many life lessons while living in Coimbatore, India, and came back a different, more globalized person, he said.
India is the world’s largest democracy with a population of over one billion people, which is what initially attracted Booth to the culture.
“There are 1.3 billion people that I know very little about, and I wanted to know how they lived their lives,” he said.
For a year, Booth lived with three different host families, each of whom showed him their culture as well as their traditions, but what he learned was an eye-opener for the Mississippian.
“In India, there is a huge wealth gap between the rich and the poor. My host families were some of the wealthiest people I have ever met, but I could walk outside and meet people who were starving,” Booth said. “This wealth gap is a huge problem because the wealthy dominate the Indian culture.”
Also, Booth said he realized that India is currently engaged in a battle with itself because of globalization. The population of India is adjusting to capitalism, Booth said. On the other hand, they have the need to preserve their traditional culture.
“It’s very evident that they want to become part of the world’s stage, but then you will see a Hindu priest completely dressed in traditional Hindu clothing while holding a cellphone, which offset each other,” he said.
One of the most challenging aspects of Indian culture for Booth to adjust to were the customs and mannerisms of the country and how different they are from the U.S. After getting settled into his first host family’s home, Booth went through a crash course of social dos and don’ts.
“If I were to cross my legs while sitting at a table with another person, it was an insult because I am showing them the bottom of my foot,” he said.
Besides exploring a new part of the world, Booth said his favorite part of being an exchange student in India was volunteering at an orphanage for three months. At the orphanage, Booth worked in a class with three disabled children, making sure they were happy, and made friends in the process.
“Volunteering at the orphanage was the most therapeutic thing I have ever done in my lifetime. As my exchange is coming to an end, I am learning more and more that the old me no longer exists, nor the world he lived in,” Booth wrote in a monthly letter to his Rotarian representative. “What will I do, what will I become, what will I study, what will light the passion in me anymore? Sometimes those thoughts can be overwhelming, but when I am at the orphanage, none of that matters. The only thing that matters is giving those kids as much love as I can. It is what truly changed me.”
When exchange students come home from their year-long overseas travel, it becomes difficult to mesh back with the old tradition that they came from. For Booth, it was finding his purpose.
“When I got back, I started to ask myself, ‘Why do I even need to be in school? Why can’t I be in some place like Kenya helping out,’” he said.
However, what Booth took away from the excursion is something that many people have yet to grasp. He said everything he saw and experienced in India helped him build a bigger service-minded heart, which he said was “the greatest thing ever.”
Houston Costolo, the District 6840 Rotary Youth Exchange Program counselor, said that less than one percent of high school students have a global outlook on life.
From volunteering at an orphanage, to hiking through the vast Indian mountain ranges to exploring some of the wonders of the world like the Taj Mahal, Booth’s new outlook on life is already telling him to continue reaching out and travelling.
“My next chapter in life would probably be to visit somewhere else to continue helping others,” Booth said. “My life has forever changed because of my amazing trip to India and I cannot thank the people that made it happen enough.”