The last 10 months have been exhilarating for Sushma, Srividya and Chandrakanth and they are understandably ecstatic as they narrate their adventures and experiences.
The trio recently returned from the US, after finishing a certificate course from different community colleges, in a field of their choice.
"I studied Digital Media Technology in Greenbay, which is located in Wisconsin. Every day was a learning experience. I visited 10 cities in five states during my time there, and I loved it," says 21-year-old Chandrakanth.
"I was in Houston studying Banking and Finance, and I got to visit NASA's Space Center. I got to see scientists at work and got a tour of the entire place," 20-year-old Srividya chips in.
"I got to meet people from so many countries and understood different cultures. It was very exciting," Sushma adds.
We are seated at the American Corner, in Hyderabad's St. Francis College for Women, where the three students have returned from the Community College Initiative Program (CCIP) organised by the US Consulate.
The students, generally from poorer social backgrounds, are handpicked for the CCIP out of many applicants, after a written exam and an interview.
In 2016, six students from the US Consulate in Hyderabad went on this program.
Three of the six students were nominated by the GMR Foundation, while the other three were nominated by the Telangana Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society.
"The initial days were tough, because we were not very fluent in English, and it is a massive change in the culture. It took me around a month to fit in," says Sushma, who studied Information Technology in Arizona.
"I learnt how to type properly only after I went there last year. We were also the youngest people there, as everyone else who came there was either pursuing further studies or had prior work experience," Srividya says.
(From left: Srividya, Chandrakanth and Sushma)
A learning experience
All three students say that their entire perspective changed once they undertook the program.
"When I reached there, one of my first interactions was with a Pakistani. I was hesitant at first because of what we see back home, but then I realised that we have the same culture and history. Before 1947, we were one country after all," says Chandrakanth.
"Soon, we became great roommates, bonding over Bollywood and Biryani. Another woman from Kashmir used to cook great home food, and we would all eat together," he adds.
Chandrakanth also noticed the lack of a 'VIP culture' in the US.
"I was surprised to see the Mayor of Greenbay who had come to visit our campus. He drove his own car, and was treated like any other person," he says.
"They are very punctual and independent. I was volunteering at a Neighbourhood Tax Center, and I saw people aged 18 and 19 doing jobs, and even paying taxes," Srividya says.
She also remarks that she loved all the different cultures that she got to learn about, and even celebrated American traditions like Halloween.
"I even participated in an Indonesian dance competition, and got to wear their native dress. I had a great time," she added.
"It was like we absorbed knowledge and information worth a hundred years, in one year," Sushma sums it up.
While all of them faced initial hiccups, overall, the students say it was an eye-opening experience for them.
(From left: Haseena, Begum, Shwethanana and Kaveri)
The next batch
In an adjacent room, four young girls are smiling as they are preparing to leave for the US soon.
The four students, Shwethana Leela, Haseena Shaik, Kaveri Aavula, and Begum Anjum have been picked for the CCIP's 2017 batch.
"I was always interested in event management, and I used to take up such initiatives even in my school," says Kaveri, who plans to enrol for Event and Meeting Management at the Northern Virginia Community College.
"While two boys have gone before me, I will be the first girl from my village to go. My parents are very proud," she adds, with a glitter in her eye.
Shwethana, who plans to take up a course in Computer Internetworking Technology, says she was always interested in the hardware side of technology.
Shwethana completed her Intermediate with first class but was unable to pursue higher education due to financial issues.
"Both my parents are cooks and we are from a poor background, but I'm an adventurous person and Iâ€™m very excited to go there and interact with many people," she says.
Begum is opting for a course titled 'Early School Age Care', as she had done a similar course back home.
"I want to return after that, take up a job, and eventually start a school for special children. I got the idea to do this as my elder brother is also special," she says, explaining her long-term plan.
Begum completed Intermediate with 95%, with the support of Dr. Reddys Foundation.
"I could never have imagined that I would leave the country for a cultural exchange program, as my family can't afford it. However, I'm excited and I'm sure that it will be a great experience for me," she says.
Haseena Shaik, is heading to the Kirkwood Community College in Iowa to study Agriculture Geospatial Technology.
"My course involves mapping the soil from space with the help of satellites, and using that data to implement better farming techniques," she says.
"A majority of Indians are farmers, but yet we are seeing a crisis. This is a revolutionary technology that has to catch up in India. I will work on that once I come back," she adds.
All four students will leave for the US by July or August.