BY JEREMY SHERE
In late summer 2011, Bloomington residents Dave and Sharon Dickson received some thrilling news: Meghna Bajaj, a former IU student from India that the couple had befriended a decade earlier, was engaged to be married. The Dicksons, who had come to regard Meghna as a part of their family, immediately began making plans to travel to India for the wedding.
“It was almost like hearing that your daughter was going to get married,” says Dave, an accountant and property manager. “The prospect of going to India was really exciting.”
The Dicksons met Meghna in 2000 through Bloomington Worldwide Friendship, a community organization that pairs international students with local individuals and couples. Meghna, then 17 and away from home for the first time, was studying at the IU Kelley School of Business. She took immediately to the Bloomington couple, at the time in their mid-40s, and was soon spending much of her free time with them.
The Dicksons remained close with Meghna even after she graduated in 2004 and took a job with Monsanto in St. Louis. So when Meghna announced her engagement to Suraj Bhatia, the Dicksons were not only invited to attend the wedding but also to take part in the ceremony and stay with Meghna’s family in New Delhi.
“We’d never been to India before, so it was extra special to stay with Meghna’s family and get to know Indian culture from the inside,” says Sharon, who works as a graphic designer for the Monroe County YMCA.
To their surprise, the Dicksons were invited to participate in the traditional, three-day wedding as full members of the family. Dave was garbed in a turban and Indian ceremonial clothes while Sharon wore a traditional dress. Sharon accompanied the bride and her mother down the aisle, while Dave walked with the groom and his father—an experience both describe as “incredibly emotional.”
Since befriending Meghna in 2000, the Dicksons have hosted international students from South Korea, France, Thailand, and China. While they have yet to connect with those students as closely as they did with Meghna, they say the experience has been enriching.
“You learn that people are the same everywhere,” says Dave. “With Meghna, we gained intimate knowledge of another culture and lifelong friendships with her family and her new husband. It makes the world shrink a little bit. We never expected to become as close as we did, and to look back now it’s just amazing.”