To most people, India is an exotic, beautiful and frustrating mix of contrasts – for 14 ACU students on a recent immersion experience, it was all that and more.
India is an ancient and contrasting land, home to snow-capped mountains, sun-scorched desert, overwhelming poverty and incredible beauty.
This year, 14 ACU nursing and education students travelled to the country for a three-week immersion experience, designed to deepen their understanding of the principles and aspirations of a people who live simply, with an economy, society and culture vastly different to our own.
Annabel Taylor, who is completing a Bachelor of Nursing, attended the trip and hopes to return to India.
"This trip has been the most amazing thing I've ever done. I have fallen in love with this country and the people who make it what it is," said the 21-year-old.
The experience gave students the opportunity to live and work with children and adults in local primary schools, where formal education is limited.
Nursing students were able to work in health clinics administered by the Servite Sisters, who treat poverty-stricken people suffering from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and leprosy.
"One of my most amazing memories was when we visited the Holy Cross Sisters pre-primary teacher training college," said Annabel.
"One girl in particular linked arms with me as we talked. In the space of about five minutes there was a bond between us.
"It was a great reminder to me what important work we do as teachers and nurses, and how in a short time we can have a huge impact on people's lives."
ACU staff member Therese Vassarotti, who coordinated the trip along with Br Bill Connell, said the students found the immersion experience emotional.
"The trip included many cultural experiences, and had tourist activities such as shopping and a visit to the Taj Mahal. However, I found it was immersion with the Indian people which had the most impact on the students," she said.
"Some are already planning return trips to these centres to help make a difference to those less fortunate than themselves."
Anastasia O'Donnell, a third-year Bachelor of Education student, said the trip taught her about the important things in life: love, laughter and hospitality.
"I had only been in India for a few weeks and already I had seen and experienced things which would change me forever," said the 20-year-old.
"Although not rich in a materialist way, these people are the wealthiest in heart, spirit and mind. Every place we stayed or visited, we were greeted with great grace, embracing smiles and warm conversations."