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LEAP: Final Thoughts

U.S. Air Force Capt. Krystal Lowder, 33rd Fighter Wing Protocol chief of protocol, celebrates the last day of class with instructors and classmates from the Language Intensive Training Event Sept. 7, 2018, at New Delhi, India. Lowder was accepted into the Air Force's LEAP program. LEAP identifies and cultivates the existing foreign language skills of Airmen for the life of their career. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Krystal Lowder, 33rd Fighter Wing Protocol chief of protocol, celebrates the last day of class with instructors and classmates from the Language Intensive Training Event Sept. 7, 2018, at New Delhi, India. Lowder was accepted into the Air Force's LEAP program. LEAP identifies and cultivates the existing foreign language skills of Airmen for the life of their career. (Courtesy photo)

NEW DELHI --

It’s been a few weeks since I returned stateside from India and it seems as though time hasn’t passed at all. As I get back into my routine, instead of the memories of my trip fading, they are getting clearer and more vivid. I’d be lying if I said being home wasn’t comfortable, easy and relieving. However, after a few weeks back into my cozy, privileged life, I can’t deny the fact that something is missing. The more I think about what that void is, the more I realize it’s much more than a moment, a single memory, or event.

 

Within a month, I was connecting with the locals and developing lasting friendships with some of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever encountered. Despite the numerous barriers in language and culture, we were able to find common ground through life experiences and similar struggles. There was this transparency and vulnerability during every encounter I had with someone which reminded me of that core human need for belongingness.

 

Most of the young women I befriended were educated, driven, and passionate about human rights. It was refreshing to be around people who cared about the future of their community as a whole, and not just their tiny microcosm. I spent a month witnessing extreme poverty, illness and unsustainable population control issues while this is a life-long reality for the people there. I had the chance to escape that world and come back to my blessed life. There is no escape for them. I had the freedom to leave and come back to a country that offered so much more opportunity than anywhere else I had ever been. These people I encountered every day in India were trapped by an illegally implemented caste system which prohibited them from studying what they wanted to study, marry who they wanted to marry, and be who they wanted to be.

 

 

While speaking to my new friends every night after class, my heart would go out to them knowing they didn’t realistically have the same freedom I did to pursue the life they wanted. When I first took my husband to India in 2017, I remember seeing his eyes widen while looking out the window in New Delhi and him saying, “Oh honey, if your parents didn’t come to America, you could have been that girl”, pointing to a young woman, laboring in the heat with nothing but sadness written on her face.

 

Although it’s hard for me to imagine that because of the life my mother gave me here in America, I suppose it is possible that I could have been that child. How lucky am I? I was given the opportunity to do and be whatever I wanted to be while I have friends back in India who are constrained by social and cultural barriers that may not change in their lifetime.

 

As I continued to get to know these young ladies, I realized we weren’t so different after all. We wanted to see the world, experience the wonders of the universe and be known. That’s what was different when I got back home. Back in India, I was able to connect with people who weren’t afraid to be vulnerable about their dreams and who wanted to help the world around them. The truth is, we all have some type of pain in our lives but the coolest thing about these young women was that they didn’t let each other feel alone. When I came back home I was rudely awakened to the reality that our culture just isn’t framed around collectivism or community. Honestly, we focus on being the best and doing what we can to be number one and sometimes forget that it takes a community and support-system to get there.

 

Yes, at the end of 4 weeks I saw some incredible historical sites, I was able to get around one of the most populated cities in India and I learned how to read, write and sort of speak two different languages. The immersion was a success. I left India feeling much more confident in a few of their many languages and a bit more comfortable with the culture. However, I’d say the biggest and most lasting success of the trip was being connected to some of the kindest and most positive people I’ve ever met in my life. I was reminded of how important it is to show love wherever you go because you never know when you can change someone’s life simply by being there for them.