Princeton University has launched a new program called the Bridge Year Program. It places students in a foreign country for a year and pays their core expenses. Anchor Marco Werman speaks with one of those students, Lizzie Martin, who’s says her time in India so far this year has been quite a change.
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MARCO WERMAN: We’d like you to meet a Princeton University student who won’t have to worry about any quizzes for a while. That’s because Lizzie Martin is delaying her freshman year while she undertakes a year of social service abroad and she’s doing it on Princeton’s dime. Martin is part of the university’s new Bridge Year program. The program has placed five students in each of four countries and it’s paying the students’ core expenses. Lizzie Martin is in India and it’s been quite a change.
LIZZIE MARTIN: I’m from Louisville, North Carolina, which is a pretty small town and in India, right now I’m living in Varanasi which is one of the holiest Hindu cities in India. It’s also a very large city. I have never been in a traffic jam that’s just people before and now I have. And I have never had to take a different route to work or school because there are cows in the alley but now I have. But Varanasi is just a beautiful place and it’s such an old place and to live in a place with so much history and you’re you know, walking around or drinking your coffee or whatever here, it’s just incredible. We also have done a little bit of traveling around India. We spent a month in the mountains. We helped a man build a house so that was exciting.
WERMAN: I imagine Varanasi is quite different from Louisville, North Carolina. What’s been the toughest part about your experience so far?
MARTIN: Hm, I think the thing about India is that their idea of space is very different. In America, we like to have a certain amount of distance from a lot of things, whether that’s you know, animals or insects or illness and hardship and poverty. And in India you’re forced to be very close to things like that, maybe it’s walking past a cow on your way to work or a herd of water buffalo. Maybe it’s the beggars and the little children who are you know, tugging on your clothing [INDISCERNIBLE] so where everyday we’re brought really close to these situations that are hard for me to deal with because in America I have a distance and so things that seem really frightening because of the distance that we keep them at, are suddenly not so terrifying and we can find ways to deal with them.
WERMAN: You write about that distance between people in your blog, which by the way, is just wonderfully written, especially your little comments on meditation and just how hard it is to do. Now Princeton is picking up basically the entire tab for the five of you in the Bridge Year Program over there in India. Do you think that there are many people your age who’d want to do this?
MARTIN: I’m not sure how many kids my age would want to do this but I think that those who would say that they don’t want to do it, would want to do it if they knew how incredible it is. We really, we live in a global culture now where it’s important for us to understand people from different countries and I think there’s no better way to understand another culture than to really become a part of it and so that’s what we’re doing and I think it’s incredibly powerful and it’s incredibly empowering. We’ve done things that you know, four months ago, if you told me I was going to do these things, I would say no way, I can’t possibly organize a rickshaw trip from a train station to a hotel.
WERMAN: Sure you can.
MARTIN: I can’t possibly build a house out of stones at the top of a mountain. I don’t know. We’ve done all these things that are just very empowering, really exciting for me.
WERMAN: Well just remember that when you’re meditating, don’t think about what you’re going to be doing when you grow up.
WERMAN: Lizzie Martin in Varanasi is spending a year in India as part of Princeton’s new International Bridge Year Program. We’ve got a link to her blog at TheWorld.org. Lizzie, thank you very much for speaking with us.
MARTIN: Thank you so much.
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