Kristine Snellenburg couldn’t believe her eyes as she saw the exotic sights, tasted the uniquely spicy South Indian foods, took in the singular area decorations and listened to the various dialects of the local residents, she told Bradley Sunrise Rotary members recently in a breakfast gathering at SkyRidge Medical Center.
“I was very fortunate I was able to go,” Snellenburg said.
Snellenburg was 30 when she joined four other world travelers on a trip to South Central India — Hyderabad — 12 years ago through the auspices of the Rotary International’s Group Study Exchange program. But the time in between has not dimmed her memory and fondness of the experience.
She remembers the group lived with six different families over their four-week trip, “living out of a suitcase,” she said, remembering. They attended at least two meetings a day, visited hospitals, schools, found out about India’s caste system, met people from many cultures and religions, and tasted a wide variety of new foods.
“The days were very busy,” she said.
Every day started with breakfast at around 6 a.m. They spoke at different Rotary clubs across the country. The group visited a fishing village and got invited to a local wedding — they go on for days — as well as going to the local movie theaters. They traveled on a train. She found people sleeping on the floor of the train station waiting on the sleeping train. “But we didn’t get much sleep ... We got maybe six hours of sleep per night.”
The travelers found out that traffic only reaches 20 to 30 mph because of the huge congestion in the streets and the great population numbers. Bikes and small cars are the norm, and many people begged on the street.
One beggar had no legs. He was sitting on a board with wheels attached, she told the crowd listening with rapt attention. He had flip-flops on his hands so his hands wouldn’t get “beat up” when he used them to move himself around.
Cows roamed the streets, eating out of garbage cans, she remembered.
Overall, however, “It was good to go to a country with such diverse cultures,” Snellenburg said. “It was a great program.”
That’s why it was particularly interesting to her, she added, that her group was made up of a diverse group — herself, an environmentalist, a computer expert and women’s rights advocate, a musician and a lawyer.
GSE gives young professionals between the ages of 25 and 40 the opportunity to travel to a foreign country for a month. After applying, candidates go through an interview process. During their trip, those chosen live in the homes of local Rotarians, attend meetings of local Rotary clubs, as well as get the chance to visit a variety of businesses, organizations, factories, schools and farms to learn about the local culture and meet the local residents.
“They were easy to talk with ... nice people ... accommodating,” she said. “I never felt afraid.”
But they also were surprised Snellenburg loved their spicy food. Most Americans don’t, she was told. She also was told that most Indians thought that all Americans drank whiskey.
“I was excited about the opportunity,” she said. “You do things you haven’t done before.”
As an equestrian, Snellenburg was given permission to visit the one polo club nearby. She also is a riding instructor, at her business called Wagner’s Farm in South Carolina. One of the things she still remembers most is that she was shocked to see that those working in the stables and stalls wore no shoes. She also vividly remembers being able to see the original breed of Indian horse, the ones with the devil-horned ears, as she called them, that are used primarily for parades and weddings, when elephants aren’t being used.
“It was a great experience,” she told the group. “I’d advise anyone to go. ... But next time I’d like to go to the Northern part. I didn’t see the Taj Mahal.”
In fact, Snellenburg recommended everyone should visit a Third World Country.
“We are so spoiled,” she added. “This trip changed my life. ... I feel very lucky.”
Together with the Cleveland Rotary Club, the Bradley Sunrise Rotary also has hosted groups from Russia, India and Malaysia.