In just over one month in India, I have bonded with a family, experienced a new approach to health care, and slightly improved my ability to differentiate between the four different T sounds in Hindi. This month has been difficult, but I am already starting the feel the reward that accompanies each challenge.
One of the most valuable lessons of the classroom has been experiencing the different learning style. I don’t think a single one of my American high school classes has ever consisted of solely taking notes. Here, the entire period of my Geography class consists of the teacher reciting the textbook, and the students copying word for word what she says in neat cursive sentences. When my teacher saw my abbreviated, bullet pointed and numbered notes, she actually held it up for the class to see because of how organized and strange it looked. At first I thought she was being dismissive of my shorthand, but it turned out she was impressed by the difference.
This was exam week for the students of Emerald Heights, which consisted of memorizing the textbook and notes and then reciting the information come exam time. When I climbed onto the bus the first morning, every single kid had their face buried in a book. Some kids nervously bit their lips, others repeated the words aloud, and everyone looked as if they had been studying all night. Learning means different things in different places, but pre exam stress is definitely something I recognize from home.
Hindi class has given me a chance to work on my memorization skills, and our teachers have also attempted to make class more interactive with conversation practice and Bollywood movies. One morning, we were given a spur of the moment chance to visit Rajwada. Located in Indore’s historic “old city,” Rajwada consists of beautiful, old Holkar buildings, and an expansive market (or बाज़ार – bazaar). At first we walked in an awkward single file line, trying to take in the mountains of papayas and mangoes, strewn flower garlands, and always present stray dogs. Puzzling out the Devanagari alphabet from an actual fruit seller’s sign instead of the posters on our classroom wall gave us the opportunity to put our Hindi skills to the test. While note taking is useful and necessary at times, ordering a coconut in Hindi is a lesson I’ll never forget.
A spontaneous school trip is just the beginning of going with the flow here. Sometimes I put on my shoes for an outing that never ends up happening. There is more uncertainty in my daily life here, which includes water and electricity supply. I have learned to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. When hot water is available, I jump to take a shower. I am already learning how to not take water and electricity for granted the way I do back home.
Over the past month, it has become clear how important it is to find a happy medium, especially with practices here that are much different from what I’m used to. I usually hear the first sizzle of ghee around 11pm, when I would be asleep on a weeknight in the US. While my host mom continues to flip more delicious roti, I sit down with my family, amazed at the array of dal, subzi (vegetables), and on lucky nights my favorite- paneer. After the meal, I am exhausted and tempted to go right to sleep. Attempting to balance an Oreo on my forehead with my siblings or eating my host mom’s delicious kheer (Indian rice pudding) is worth the under eye bags I will see in the morning!
Unfortunately, the adjustment took a lot out of my body. In the middle of one night last week, I became sick with what a doctor decided was an “infection.” Being sick at home isn’t pleasant, and being 8,000 miles away doesn’t make it easier. However, it gave me an opportunity to become closer with my host family, and see India’s take on sickness and get a glimpse into its healthcare system. A spicy paratha was not the first thing I had in mind for my pre-doctor meal, but I trusted that my host family knew the best way to care for me. My fever intensified my experience of the already chaotic traffic here, but the actual process of the doctor’s office was relatively painless. It was one of many store front doctor’s offices, nestled between an ice cream shop and a pharmacy that boasted “government approved” on its sign. It look the doctor less than five minutes to diagnose me. This included the time it took for me to do the awkward one-foot shoe removal hop, in an attempt to not have to step on the sidewalk in bare feet, but also successfully remove my shoes before entering the doctor’s office. Constantly being barefoot still makes me a little uneasy, but I appreciate the value of keeping indoor spaces clean. After asking me a few questions and giving me a quick glance, the doctor sterilized the thermometer himself and took my temperature. While the thermometer didn’t come in the little plastic wrapping I am used to back home, I again had to trust the different mode of care here, and felt grateful for the doctor’s help.
Fourteen hours after sleeping, drinking mango pedialyte, and taking a medicine I had never heard of, I felt good enough to sit down to a spicy paneer dinner. I even considered going out for ice cream after! The ice cream trip didn’t end up happening until the following weekend, which was probably for the best for my stomach. Time elasticity has its advantages sometimes!
While my month in India has required a huge adjustment, I can feel myself becoming more comfortable each day. I am pushing myself in ways I never thought I would. I am grateful to my host family and Emerald Heights School, and the support of my fellow exchange students, which has been so important to me. With everything I have learned in just the first month, I can’t wait for what the next couple weeks will hold- especially with the upcoming festivals of Rakhi, Janmashtami, and Independence Day.