Isabelle Gaetz

Isabelle is an Ambassador who studied abroad in India
Major: Peace Studies

Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?

India has always simultaneously fascinated and daunted me. I wanted to travel to India to get a better understanding of multiple religions, cultures, and social structures that were different from ones that I was used to. I wanted to go somewhere that would continually make me ask "why?"

Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.

Near the end of the trip, I took the train to the city of Varanasi. Situated on the Ganges River, Varanasi is one of the holiest pilgrimage sites in the world for Hindus. During sunset, I floated down the river on a wooden boat towards the Makikarnika Ghat, a site on the banks of the waters where cremation rituals take place. It is believed in Hindu religion that to die and be cremated in Varanasi along the Ganges delivers salvation. From the rickety boat, I watched cremations along the banks of the river take place. Several men were stoking seven large fires along the steps. Bodies wrapped in orange and red fabric and donned with large white flowers were dipped in the murky waters and set out to dry. The sight was so much to take in-- bells ringing, cows rummaging, men stoking, ashes collecting, women singing, and fires burning. I sat and watched from a distance, realizing that death, along with many other facets of the human experience, took on a new meaning to me after traveling throughout India.

Describe your overall study abroad experience.

It is difficult for me to think of a satisfactory answer to this question in such few words. But, my experiences in India were frustrating, challenging, goofy, hysterical, intellectually stimulating, and everything in between. The independent traveling and excursions allowed me to see many different parts of the diverse country, daily commutes made me a more independent and sure individual, and my home stay gave me another family-- one that generously offered up anything and taught me more than I would ever learn from a book. My time abroad altered me and my views of world issues, culture, and the human condition in a radical, meaningful, and awesome way.

Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?

Since coming home from India, I have felt a surer sense of both independence and confidence. These will allow me to advance in my academic and professional endeavors. India also allowed me to personally grow in large ways -- challenging my values, beliefs, and patience.

What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?

If you are thinking of studying abroad, consider challenging yourself. Being placed in a new environment is a fantastic way to learn more about the world and yourself.


Do you have questions about stuyding abroad in India? Email Isabelle at