Adjusting to unknown worlds through travel

Former SPU student recalls cultural eye-opening experiences during study abroad internship in India

Trayton Pike, Staff Writer

Jesse Jorgensen reads with children in India. (Courtesy of Jesse Jorgensen)

At many colleges, including Seattle Pacific University, students are allowed to travel to foreign countries all around the globe as a part of the study abroad program. This is an experience that has allowed many students to see the world and gain unique experiences, but at the same time, it can be a difficult path to adjust to. 

With changes in culture, possible language gaps and the difficulty of navigating new environments piled onto the already stressful responsibilities of being a college student, being abroad could become overwhelming. However, many people who have partaken in the study abroad program have incredible stories to share from their experience, such as Jesse Jorgenson. 

Jorgenson is a former SPU student who traveled to India in November 2022 as a part of the dietetics internship program. For her, the experience was unforgettable. 

“The dietetics internship is fairly new, but this was the first opportunity since the pandemic to actually go to India. I’d always wanted to travel to India, so I thought ‘what better opportunity to travel to India, but also to visit international hospitals and see how their healthcare systems work?’ I should mention that less than five people get an international rotation, so it was a unique experience,” Jorgenson said. 

Despite how amazing the experience was, Jorgenson expressed that there were a few noticeable things that she had to get used to when she first began her time in India. 

“The number of people was a big adjustment. You don’t have a lot of personal space, which we’re used to here,” Jorgenson said. “Another big adjustment was the food. When you first come, you’re expected to have some sort of gastrointestinal upset since you’re not used to the level of spices and types of food.” 

Despite those differences, Jorgenson stated that the biggest challenge was not anything she went through but watching what some in India had to endure. 

“The poverty was pretty hard to see, and there was a lot of trash everywhere. I saw a lot of malnourished people. I’m doing this internship to be a dietician, and I’m able to give them information, but if they can’t even get the food their body needs, that’s a completely different ballgame. Many of their bodies didn’t have certain minerals they needed, and it’s really hard to see because there’s nothing you can do,” Jorgenson said. 

Although Jorgenson acknowledged that she was not properly equipped to help every person in need that she encountered due to her lack of training beyond dietetics, she continued to actively engage with them, providing information to those that she could. 

During this process, she learned valuable lessons from her interactions with the communities of India. 

“One of the highlights was that we went out to a rural community and visited the schoolhouses, farms and family homes. The students there have never met Americans before, so it was really interesting,” Jorgenson said. “I got to teach them some English, and they got to teach me some Hindi, so it was a really special experience. The family we met prepared us food that was about 95% made from their land, and watching them prepare the food and farm was really unique since you don’t really see that in America.”

Overall, traveling and studying abroad provides students with an unforgettable experience that cannot be replicated in any other way. It allows students to see the lives of people in other nations and experience those lives for themselves.  

Despite the unknowns and anxieties of being in a new country, Jorgenson expressed that students considering studying abroad should do so. Studying abroad changed her life for the better, and Jorgenson believes it could do the same for other students. 

“I highly recommend studying abroad, and I think everyone should try visiting an economically developing country to get a grasp on how the world can be very different compared to where you are,” Jorgenson said. “It’s also really great because traveling with people together brings you really close and you learn more about people that way. Being uncomfortable and being somewhere where you’re not in your element helps you grow the most, learn about yourself and develop the most.”