I’ve reached the end of my first six day school week- 7 days in India down!
Pre departure orientation consisted of a lot of helpful sessions, but the best part hands down was meeting the girls I’ll be spending the year with and the kids going to Indore for the summer. As a group, we flew to Delhi and spent the night in a beautiful hotel with very green grounds, delicious mango juice, and toilet paper! The next day we flew to Indore, and upon landing split up from the summer kids. ): I have been spending pretty much the entire school day with the four other academic year girls, and although I am very excited about making Indian friends, I could not imagine the year with Megan, Riah, Lucia and Steph.
The morning after we arrived in Indore, we were given our first taste of “Indian time.” When we arrived at school, we were welcomed by our coordinator and one our of Hindi teachers, and given a tour. Besides the castle main hall and academic buildings, there is a colorful basketball court, library, stadium, swimming pool and the boarding house where I’ll be living second semester. We were informed that we would get our school uniforms at 11, but ending up leaving probably closer to 12:30. At the two different uniform shops, we took long enough that we missed the first bus home (and still didn’t leave with all of the necessary elements of the uniform). While reading about “Indian time” and being told about it in orientation, I thought it would make me pretty frustrated. Actually experiencing it, however, I don’t mind. It doesn’t feel like wasted time when I’m able to laugh with the other NSLI-Y girl or look out the window at the roadside stands, cows and dogs, and splashes of color everywhere.
When we do have down time, it feels like a miniature vacation! We are kept busy in school, and I am happy with my schedule. I move quickly from one class to the next- my schedule right now consists of yoga for my morning activity, three hours of Hindi and geography as my academic elective. By far, my favorite part of the school day (and that’s saying something because I enjoy all of my classes) is Indian dance. Our teacher, Jyoti Ma’am, immediately referred to herself as our friend, in addition to our teacher. Right now she is teaching us a Punjabi folk dance called Bhangra. Jyoti Ma’am is a beautiful dancer, and it’s especially fun to see her vibrant dresses twirl as she dances. It is only the five of us in the class, and while we’re not professional dancers (yet) we have a ton of fun laughing and jumping around. At home I would never think of myself as a dancer, but here it is a great way for me to decompress, and I usually can’t stop smiling for the entire period.
However ready I thought I was, ever after an additional day of orientation with AFS on our third day of school, I don’t think anything could have fully prepared me for what I’ve experience so far. When I was asked by a curious kid in 6th or 7th standard (grade) on the bus about the differences between America and India, I didn’t know where to start. I love Emerald Heights so far, but the rigor and respect demanded by school here is definitely not what I’m used to at home. While in Milwaukee we don’t walk around a campus that looks like Hogwarts in perfectly pressed uniforms, Indian teenagers themeselved are a lot more like my friends at home than I expected. I love the emphasis on family here (although it makes me miss my parents and sister at home). Kids at school are surprised that we have no specific respectful terms for siblings or cousins or aunts, and it’s really great seeing how close my host siblings and parents are.
Other aspects of India are harder to get used to. Seeing chocolate wrappers thrown out of the bus window in what was voted India’s cleanest city makes me think hard about the impact we all have on the planet. The juxtaposition of wealth and poverty- seeing shacks made of metal sheets next to towering mansions- is something I’m not sure I’ll ever be used to.
While I expected to feel independent as an exchange student, my first week I have felt a sense of accomplishment like never before. After doing a minuscule task, like taking my malaria prescription or recognizing a Devanagari letter on a billboard, I feel deserving of a gold medal.
I have already learned a ton from only one week in India, but the experience is definitely more challenging than I realized. I didn’t consider how homesick I’d feel when thinking about how long ten months is, or how isolating it can be to sit through conversations you don’t understand a single word of (even when I know in the end it will be beneficial to my Hindi). I am now more motivated than ever to learn Hindi, and I can’t wait to be able to talk with my host family and classmates. Hopefully things will become easier when I am used to the ten and a half hour time change and my culture shock has subsided a bit!