Choose Chai Every Time

Posted by: Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin on Oct 14, 2010

FSI-2 158 NOLS Semester in India students on a chai break

A study published in the current issue of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors reports that college students who go abroad are likely to increase their alcohol intake while they're away. This isn’t surprising. People party in college, right? But what troubled me was that the study found that students under 21 almost tripled their alcohol intake while abroad!

Why such a big increase? Students in the study reported drinking more heavily if fellow travelers drank more, so . . . maybe they do it to “bond” with their peers. One researcher attributed it to being away from home, which creates a “spring break” atmosphere. So . . . maybe they do it to rebel? Or, how about if you study abroad in a big city where locals regularly drink with dinner and go out for drinks? In a place like this, students could increase their alcohol consumption simply to mesh in with the culture.

So, this got me thinking about where NOLS fits into the picture. Students do, after all, go abroad with NOLS. But NOLS, unlike many study abroad programs, gets students as far from that "spring break" mentality as you can get.

Many students study abroad in big population centers where alcohol and partying go hand-in-hand with their study abroad experience. I remember when I studied abroad in Australia, one of my program's orientation events was a pub crawl through Sydney. Contrast this with students who spend semesters with NOLS.

When I worked the first section of a Semester in the India, I spent less than ten minutes in Delhi, and was immediately driven to NOLS India, located at the foot of the Himalayas, and then flung into the wilderness, where I was instantly immersed in aspects of Indian culture I would never experience if I were traveling through Delhi. Don’t get me wrong. While there is much value to be gained from cultural experiences in big cities abroad, cultural experiences with NOLS are much more intimate and, dare I say, real.

But back to the alcohol. A researcher would find that NOLS students who go abroad decrease, not increase, their alcohol consumption. And by a LOT . . . down to zero, nada, zilch, zippo, nothing. NO drinking happens on NOLS courses, and not only because NOLS has a zero tolerance policy for drinking on course.

First of all, there simply is no temptation to drink in the field. You’re not passing any Irish pubs on those wilderness trails, the locals in the remote areas in which NOLS operates aren’t throwing giant parties that would draw in the unwitting traveler, and your fellow students aren’t drinking either. But more importantly, there just isn’t any desire to drink, that is, unless it’s water or a hot cup of chai.

At NOLS, you’re engaged in strenuous physical activity, climbing peaks, running rivers, or cutting turns in powder, all of which give you that endorphin rush that is much bigger than any high you could get from drinking. And, as for cultural interactions, living with villagers and engaging in their day-to-day lives, visiting small village temples, playing ball with local children, and practicing the local language during a NOLS course does more than fill that void. You know, that void of boredom that propels you from your dorm room to the nearest watering hole to meet more people.

So, if you’re trying to figure out whether to do the “chai and mountains” thing or the “beer and clubbing” thing on your next semester abroad, choose chai. You won’t regret it.

Aparna is a NOLS instructor and has been the PR and Marketing Intern, PR specialist, and the Diversity & Inclusion manager at NOLS. She is a founding partner of The Avarna Group (