Hannah Goes to India, Part 2

Passport stamps

By Hannah Etchison

Hannah Etchison, a graduating senior majoring in Religious Studies with a minor in Asian Studies, is spending six weeks of this fall in India, staying primarily at a monastery where she will learn from the women and help them with their English. This is her second post about that experience. See her first post.

It has been suggested to me that others may be interested in how my opportunity came about. I am here to explain, in everyone’s favorite format (the numbered list!), how I ended up in a remote women’s monastery in the Indian Himalayas, teaching English and seeing India for 6 weeks.

How to get to India:

Step 1: Sever attachments

In keeping with Buddhist tradition, it is impossible to hold on to worldly attachments and achieve the ultimate goal. Of course, The Enlightened One was talking about nirvana (the state of escaping samsara, not the grunge band), but the same principle applies when travelling out of the country for six weeks to volunteer. Give up your job. Give up your family. Give up your lifestyle. The impermanence of all things will sometimes urge you in this direction without your consent. In my case, it came as a devastating divorce. But unattachment from my husband allowed freedom for travel and adventure and fulfilling my ultimate goals. Sometimes that’s what a person needs. Or you can just schedule it for the summer break.

Step 2: Get a contact

My contact was the volunteer coordinator for Jamyang Foundation, an organization promoting equal education in areas with special need. A kind professor pointed me toward this organization, and my contact told me what opportunities were available. I could come and stay there, but it was up to me to get there.

Step 3: Get a Visa

Good luck.

But really, make sure you have about 3 copies of everything, a proper proof of address, an unexpired application, a pre-paid envelope, passport picture, an appointment, and patience. Lots of patience. Bring at least 3 jars of patience, because it will take your whole day in Atlanta (or whichever outsourced Indian Visa processing company you apply with).

Step 4: Buy tickets

Remember how you aren’t attached to your job anymore? Well, either get unattached to your car or other valuables too, or else re-attach yourself to a wealthy and charitable person who wants you to fulfill your dreams and also to leave the country. I somehow ended up with the latter. I try not to question my karma (or my friendships).

Step 5: Fly, drive, ride, and hike

Get to where you’re going. Make friends along the way. Let them help you carry your luggage. Don’t let them steal it.

Step 6: Use it all to your advantage

Either publish a book, complete a school project, or get a really cool blog going. If nothing else, you’ve got amazing answers for every job interview you ever take from now on.

Other notes:

Pack light. Not everyone is good at making friends, and not all your friends want to carry your luggage.

Pack warm. The Himalayas are a chilly place. Even the abominable snowman has a thick coat of fur.

Buy stuff. Can’t beat third world prices.

Try the tea. Goes without saying.


[Photo by tiffini (originally posted to Flickr as Passport) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]