Feeling footloose, fulfilling a dream
Rotary: Exchange program sends Peterborough resident to India
Megan Jones and her host family stop for a photo in Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra.
Chamundi Temple in the city of Mysore in Southern India.
Jones and her second host family including host father, Ramakant Bahurupi and host sisters, Rudrani Bahurupi, 15, and Sasha Bahurupi, 8.
Megan Jones and Marie Fitzner, 17, from Berlin, Germany wearing traditional dress in their host family's house in Bharuch, Gujarat
A male Asiatic lion Jones saw wondering in the Sasan Gir in Gujarat.
Megan Jones, 19, of Peterborough, presents to a class of students at Amity School in Bharuch, Gujarat.
The Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab.
Following her graduation from ConVal High School in 2012, Peterborough resident Megan Jones wanted to go somewhere “very culturally different.”
Jones, 19, opted to pursue a gap year to fulfill her dreams of traveling.
“A friend of mine introduced me to the student cultural exchange program that the Rotary Club runs. I filled out the application and, because I knew a little bit more about India than some of my other choices, I chose it as my destination,” said Jones in an interview Tuesday. Other destinations in Jones’ “top five” included Indonesia, Ecuador, Thailand and Turkey.
“I’m a vegetarian and 90 percent of the people in the area of western India that I chose to go to were, too,” smiled Jones.
Jones traveled through the cultural exchange program ofered by the Monadnock Rotary Club of Dublin.
Kevin McEhinney, youth exchange officer for the Monadnock Rotary Club, spoke more about the Rotary’s exchange program in an interview Wednesday.
“We sponsor one of two kids every year. We recruit kids out of ConVal by talking to foreign language teachers and guidance counselors. Once the kids have filled out the initial application, the parents get involved and a joint interview process takes place.”
Jones was chosen out of six to eight kids, according to McEhinney. “After that initial interview process, the prospective students and parents are interviewed at the district level. In order to obtain a Visa, the students need to provide school and medical records along with teacher recommendations and essays. Megan was an outstanding outbound student and ambassador for Peterborough, the Rotary and the United States.”
The cultural exchange program sends students abroad for 10 months.
“Before this trip, I had never been away from home for more than six weeks,” said Jones, who began her journey on July 28, 2013.
After Jones obtained a one-year student Visa, she spent 24 hours traveling to her destination: the city of Bharuch, India.
Upon her arrival, Jones faced one of the biggest challenges of her trip — navigating her way from the airport to her host family’s house. The Rotary does not permit students to drive while abroad, but one of the first cultural differences Jones noticed had to do with driving. “People honk or flash their lights in order to let you know they are changing lanes. Their is so much congestion and cows, dogs, goats and cats everywhere in the streets.”
During her 10-month stay, Jones was housed by four different host families.
“My host families had maids. The maids were really nice, but it was a different experience. Some of my host families had cooks and drivers as well,” recalled Jones.
Even though the majority of people in India speak English, which is widely used in the country’s education system, Jones opted to take Hindi classes to attempt to learn the language.
Jones attended school for sixth months, studying with an 11th grade class.
“Private schools in India are the majority. Public schools are for the less fortunate. I had 40 kids in my class and we sat for six hours while the teachers rotated. We got to go home for lunch at 1 p.m., but going from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. without food is not easy,” said Jones.
The Rotary club advises exchange students to keep communication with their family back home to a minimum so that they can get immersed into foreign culture.
“I would Skype once a month with my family. Other than that, it was just emailing back and forth. The lack of communication was a surprise to my host families because in India parents are very close with their children,” Jones said.
One of the main ways Jones was able to immerse herself into the Indian culture was through participating in festivals, celebrating traditional Indian holidays. “Their were tons of festivals. The biggest one I participated in was Nauratri; it was nine nights of dancing until 2 a.m.”
Jones wore traditional clothes, ate Indian food, and even took a dance class in preparation for the festival. “There was a big circle of people dancing and watching the dancers. It was my favorite festival,” said Jones, who attended eight Indian festivals.
Some of the challenges were that the food was a little spicier than she would have liked and the toilets did not have toilet paper.
“The trip was the best part of my life so far. I recommend everyone try the Rotary exchange program if they have the chance. It’s mind-blowing to experience how big the world is. I found it awesome that I was able to get along with everyone despite the cultural differences,” Jones said.
Jones will enroll at Northeastern University in Boston in the fall where she will study biology with the goal of one day becoming a veterinarian. Jones hopes to be able to take advantage of Northeastern’s study abroad program during her time at the school.
As for her plans beyond Northeastern, “I want to travel the world, I really want to go to Germany. I would like to one day be able to hit the other places that were in my top five.”
Dylan Fisher can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235, or firstname.lastname@example.org.