Enlightening and enriching experience


By MARIAM MUNANG

JUST over five months ago, I had to make a life-changing decision. It was a choice between continuing to live in the comfort and familiarity of home or leaping into something strange, new, exciting, even scary. I decided to venture into the “unknown”. 

Coming to India is the best thing that ever happened to me and I’ve not looked back since. Not only have I the chance to experience an entirely different culture, the United World College International Baccalaureate (IB) programme is in itself an experience. 

Studying in a community of about 70 nationalities in the Mahindra United World College of India (MUWCI) has been enlightening. My interaction with people of different religious, cultural and political backgrounds is full of wonder and surprise – from learning to dance the salsa and the merengue to walking in klumps (wooden Dutch shoes), spending a weekend with a Jain family and listening to an Israeli tell you about her country. These are things you simply cannot get from books. 

Although there are apparent differences between us, we are basically all the same. Being young and full of life, we all have a passion to learn. The IB aside, we take a keen interest in global issues, for the sole reason that we feel personally involved.  

Going native: The writer (left) making new and colourful friends during orientation.

Before, the India-Pakistan war was just another conflict in a faraway land, and the guerrillas in Colombia had nothing to do with me. The United States’ policies on Latin America and the AIDS epidemic in South Africa were none of my concerns. I could slap myself for thinking this way because talking to people who are directly affected has rudely awakened me to the ugly realities  

The world is not a happy place and is not at all about acquiring the latest gadgets or wondering what dress to wear for the night’s party. There are things happening all around us, and because none of us live in isolation, we are all very much involved.  

The amazing thing is that because we all come from different backgrounds and circumstances, room for discussion is great. I am very much impressed by how different each person’s point of view is, and how all our ideas can come together as one strong voice. 

Doing all this in a wonderful country like India has been simply amazing. Its conflicts with Pakistan aside, India is a land of rich cultural diversity where one can expect the unexpected.  

When someone asks me, “So how’s India?’, I don’t know where to begin; there is so much to talk about, so much to feel for, so much to appreciate. Students at the Mahindra United World College of India (MUWCI) get the chance to discover India first-hand during Project Week (held every term). We all look forward to this special week because for 10 days we get together with friends, travel to strange places and have the time of our lives.  

For me, the best part of the adventure is the train rides – you spend 32 hours in a second class coach with people who in one way or another will impact you, whether you realise it or not. 

On my last project week, on the way to Madhurai, I walked the entire length of the train from our coach (which was the lowest class) to the first-class air-conditioned end. That five-minute walk affected me so deeply, humbled me and forced me to question the world I live in. 

There is so much poverty in the world. Why does its wealth go to a select community? How can one person live in such comfort, while another is sharing his sleeping berth with his wife, two little children and two adult relatives? These are difficult questions to answer and most probably my children would one day have to face them too. 

Being here at MUWCI not only allows me to experience other cultures but also opens my mind to a lot of questions. All these combine to enrich my life and ultimately make me more humane. It is here that I learn and grow. There is no other place I would rather be. 

Enlightening and enriching, says Mariam Munang Game for the challenge, writes Elaine Khoo A living portrait of life, says Khoo Mei Ai  

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