Junior Hannah Breckenridge never thought she would live in a place where little girls would run to her just to touch her white skin. Three years ago, when her father was reassigned to work on oil and gas engineering projects in India, unfamiliar occurrences like that became part of her everyday life.
In April 2012, Breckenridge’s parents, Laura and Bill, visited India to look at schools for their children and to make sure that it was realistic that their family could live there. Despite the little preparation, the family moved a month later, having no way of knowing what the next couple years would bring.
Overwhelmed, tired and 8,423,000 miles from her home, Hannah arrived in Mumbai, India in June 2012.
“We were so bewildered that there was nothing in the city familiar to us,” Hannah said. “We didn’t know anyone, so we didn’t know places to go get food that were normal compared to our food back in the US.”
Breckenridge and her family were taken aback by the massive population and immense pollution in the atmosphere. There were times where she could taste all the chemicals in her mouth and she wanted to cover her mouth and nose. She just felt uncomfortable knowing that she was directly breathing in exhaust fumes and other pollutants.
“It’s not a very pretty place, but it is beautiful for other reason,” Breckenridge said. “Just the people and the way they live their lives makes India beautiful,” Breckenridge said.
She loved how they lived with happiness and were full of generosity, despite having so little.
According to Hannah’s mother, Laura Breckenridge, the culture they saw in India deepened their understanding of what true poverty looked like. They witnessed many cases where people didn’t have the access to basic needs like drinking water, food and shelter.
Through the poverty she was also able to witness amazing things about the Indian people and their culture. She noticed the positive attitudes portrayed by the people sitting on the side of the streets, unwashed and hungry.
Within the time she spent there, she noticed how much pride the Indian people had in their country. Hannah saw that the Indian people created a real sense of community wherever she went in India.
“The energy [in India] was always super happy,” Hannah said. “Anything the people did had a lot of passion in it and you can tell that people were always excited about whatever they were doing.”
She even fused Indian culture with events happening in the United States by doing her own version of the ALS ice bucket challenge, but with rice, instead of a bucket full of ice water. Because of the water shortage, they handed out buckets of rice to spread ALS awareness and to interact with the people.
“The rice bucket challenge gave us the opportunity to acknowledge people’s living conditions and interact with them, that was something that seemed right to my family,” Laura Breckenridge said.
While living in Mumbai, Breckenridge and her brothers, Hank and Nick, got to experience what it is like to be a foreign student. The family’s personal driver drove the kids through traffic for an hour and a half to an IB prep school on weekdays.
When Breckenridge moved back to the United States, she lived in the South district but transferred to East to participate in the IB program.
The children’s school in India was an international school so it was filled with people from all over the world.
“I really liked going to school with people from so many different places because it just helped me have a different perspective on the world,” Hannah said.
Hannah always had the intention to participate in the IB program when she moved back to the United States. Since IB is an international course, a lot of the material is very similar around the world, but there are parts that differ.
Even though the initial decision to join IB was Hannah’s, it was encouraged by both of her parents. Hannah’s mom thinks that IB gives Hannah a “small school” experience. In India Hannah’s graduating class was about 50 people so moving from a school of that size to having a graduating class that is about 10 times that is definitely a big change.
“Hannah is a pretty integrated learner. She likes to see things interact, and I think the IB program offers her a chance to reflect on her learning,” Laura said.
Living in a country they were not familiar with has taught the Breckenridge family about themselves and the world that surrounds them. Hannah said she will never look at the world like she did three years ago.
Now, living in the United States Hannah does not have curious little girls running up to her to touch her white skin, or men staring at her legs for wearing shorts. But, she was able to take home her experience that changed how she lives her life.
“The culture has changed me, I definitely have developed a different style influence,”Hannah said. “I think that it has impact me especially on my beliefs and my thoughts on the world rather than being single-minded.”