This reflection was written by a NSLI-Y Alumni featuring her first-prize submission to the Nicholas Sparks Foundation’s 2015 Student Travel Photography Competition.

By Joelle, NSLI-Y Hindi, Summer 2015, PuneI found out about the Nicholas Sparks Foundation competition because it was posted on the NSLI-Y Alumni page.

I vividly remember the moment I took this photo. I was about 15 miles into the pilgrimage, and I was extremely sore and tired. I looked up and saw this man, who was much older than me. He had only the bare necessities with him. Even though it was obviously harder for him than me, he still continued with joy and devotion. At that moment, I realized the sense of equality that the Palki creates, so when I saw the contest and its theme "equality", I knew that this photo would be perfect.

image of a man in white garb and a pink turban walking

My submission to the Nicholas Sparks Foundation's 2015 Student Travel Photography Competition of a man walking the Palki Pilgrimage.

The biggest highlight of my NSLI-Y experience was my host family. Living with a host family allowed me to truly experience Indian culture and way of life. With my host mom, I would spend hours learning how to cook traditional Indian dishes, and my host father and I would compare Indian and American politics and social structure. The time I spent with my sisters taught me that the lives of teenagers around the world are not so different.

On the weekends, my family would take me to many amazing places and events. One of the most memorable activities was the Palki Pilgrimage. It is an annual 200 km pilgrimage that attract over half a million people. My family took me to see this pilgrimage, and along with another NSLI-Y student, I completed 30 km (21 miles) of the pilgrimage. My family members were some of the kindest people that I have ever met, and their kindness and love helped me to have a wonderful NSLI-Y experience. They helped me to learn so much more about India, and they truly became part of my family.

Living in a very rural area, I had experienced little diversity before my NSLI-Y trip. NSLI-Y helped to open my eyes to the extremely diverse world. India was completely different from anything that I had ever experienced before. NSLI-Y challenged me and helped me to become more confident in myself. It not only sparked my interest in learning languages, but it also encouraged me to set larger goals and to dream bigger.

NSLI-Y also affected my activities and plans. After learning about the diversity of India, I desired to share some of that knowledge with my community. I am currently in the process of planning a series of presentations about my NSLI-Y experience. I hope that by sharing my experiences, I can help to bring knowledge of diversity to others. My new found passion for languages inspired me to start a Spanish club in my school. NSLI-Y opened my eyes to the world, and it challenged me to explore different career paths. Instead of going into the business field like I had originally planned, I decided that I wanted to put my linguistic and cultural knowledge towards helping to improve the lives of people and the cooperation between nations.