As the third month here comes to a close, I have finally gotten into the rhythm of a (mostly normal) daily schedule. I thought I’d share it here for friends & family back home, as well as potential applicants.
There have been a few mornings where the fan drowns out the sound of my alarm, but usually I enjoy taking my time in the cooler mornings. If I leave it open, the muezzin (Islamic call to worship) sounds through my window before sunrise. My uniform makes getting dressed easy, and I have plenty of time to brush my teeth to Bollywood music before going downstairs to make chai. Breakfast here is usually tea and biscuits, although if I need extra strength I have another Indian breakfast favorite- cereal and hot milk. (Burning my mouth on the boiling chai or trying to balance it over speedbumps on the way to the bus stop if I wake up too late are also good incentives to wake up early!) Depending on the day, we take either the car or scooter to the bus stop. Seeing the different school uniforms, from plaid skirts to traditional Indian kurtas to track suit, is a small example of the diversity I see as I go about my day here. I am the last stop on the bus ride to school, which is sometimes bumpy enough that my Fitbit counts steps. Bus drivers and families have more accommodating relationships here. It’s not uncommon for the bus to wait five minutes for a kid rushing toward the bus, ascot in hand.
The first period at school is called activity, where I have my daily hour of yoga. Yoga Ma’am, although strict, is kind and understanding. She alternates “try karo!” with “smile karo!” (do try, do smile), and is quick to remind me not to strain my body. Most of class varies everyday, from the challenge of balance poses to pranayam, breathing exercises each targeting a different part of the body. We always repeat the Surya Namaskar- 12 asans (poses) that make up the sun salutation. Yoga is a very helpful start to the school day. Going through each asan and repeating the chants in Hindi prepare me for the day ahead.
School assembly begins with everyone standing in neat lines, singing the prayer. I do my best to sing alone, and enjoy listening to the student-played harmonium and tabla (drums). As part of a competition, students from 12th class give a few short presentations. Popular topics include motivational speeches and the importance of sports. Each start with a similar formal greeting- some version of “Good morning honorable President Sir, respected teachers, and all my dear friends.” After the daily announcements, we’re off to Hindi. The five of us NSLI-Y girls have our own small classroom, decorated with crepe paper, vocab posters, and recently some of our own projects. Our first teacher is Sadhna Ma’am, whose class usually consists of worksheets and watching the same (but still helpful) YouTube videos. We’ve recently come up with small activities to help us mobilize. Today (Riah’s turn) we played Bingo, using cards filled with typical moments of our day. I would’ve gotten bingo if Vikram wasn’t sick and I could’ve checked off “We all get overly excited when Vikram brings chai.” Ma’am’s period is the longest, and we are grateful when our chai break comes halfway through. Vikram, our friendly and helpful classroom bhaiya (Hindi term for older brother), brings chai every morning. Besides being excited for tea, we always jump at the chance to talk with Vikram in Hindi.
Halfway through our Hindi class, it is time to “take our tiffins,” a midday meal to supplement our light chai breakfasts. We are all given mountains of food, it is a lot of fun to share share what our host moms have packed. On lucky days, my small blue container is full of papaya and guava, and Steph’s host mom makes a delicious gobi (cauliflower) paratha. Next, Mishra Sir teaches- our 84-year-old teacher whose wisdom reflects his age. Our three teachers often contradict each other, which sometimes poses a challenge. We can always count on Mishra Sir to be conclusive, although he kind-heartedly asks us to keep it a secret when he corrects another teacher’s work. Besides guiding us through Devanagari and writing our first poems in Hindi, Mishra Sir’s lessons often go beyond the language. His teachings this week have been “borders are not natural,” “always remember your mother,” and “the most important religion is humanity.” Through his lessons, I have learned not only the meaning of three important Hindi words -ekta, shaanti, and shma (unity, peace and forgiveness), but what it means to embody them. Parvez Sir, in addition to our conversation teacher, is also our tour guide, bodyguard, comedian, and granter of our every wish (which includes lots of coconut juice and litchi popsicles). Parvez Sir finishes the day by clarifying any confusion, teaching us through song, or putting on a Hindi movie (no subtitles!).
Academic classes are my best opportunity to talk with my Indian peers. The first half of the week, I have English to satisfy an American high school requirement. We are working through a novel, but often pause to give feedback on drama performances, or talk about our rival class. Thursday through Saturday, I am working through a beginner coding program in Informatics Practices. I take classes with 12th class, which is getting ready for the big board exams. Since the syllabi are mostly completed, much less time is devoted to lecture. Completing coursework is both easier and more rewarding when I only attend two academic classes. I often take advantage of class time to chat or brainstorm with my classmates. They are all extremely gifted students who both challenge me in class, and never fail to make me laugh throughout our discussions of our (largely similar) experiences as American and Indian teenagers.
Although I have the option to go home at 1:30, I usually stay after school. Twice a week I have a Model UN workshop- we are hoping to travel out of the state for a conference next month. Since I participated in MUN at home, I enjoy seeing the differences between Rufus King and Emerald Heights’ Model UN structures. King’s Model UN involved casual brainstorm sessions, while here we mostly go over rules of procedure. We also do helpful practice conferences, where I have a lot of fun representing the country of Alice. Lately, I’ve also spent time reading my Indian peers’ college essays. They are all very well-written, and there’s lots of added fun. This week I brought one of my precious Lara Bars to share, my favorite American after school snack.
I take the second shift bus home, which is filled with lower school kids. They attempt to feed me their leftover tiffins, and make perfect Hindi practice partners. Sometimes they pull out their own Hindi story books for me to read, but usually we just chat about our days, and they eagerly correct my mistakes. After walking the few blocks home, I have lunch and sometimes take a nap or listen to a podcast. In America, it is hard to imagine myself falling asleep after school. Here, I have adjusted to the sleep schedule well. If I’m tired enough, I fall asleep still in my uniform, the bright afternoon sunlight always shining through my window. Instead of assigned work, most Indian students have extra tutoring after school, called tuition. Living with a Hindi speaking host family is a much more enjoyable version of tuition, although I usually still have a few worksheets or translations. Recently, I have been writing stories for Mishra Sir, which is the perfect post lunch activity.
I make evening chai for myself and my siblings, usually while finishing up vocab study or reading (I just finished Catch 22). During festivals we perform pooja around seven, the time of the gods. Depending on the day, I might go out for ice cream with my host sister (my favorite flavor is litchi), work on a blog post, or organize my room. The past ten days, we have celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi by performing pooja with an idol of Ganesh in our living room. There are huge statues of Ganesh all over the city during the festival, two of which are in my colony. When we went to visit the larger statues, I had a lot of fun seeing everyone who came to celebrate, driving down the twinkle light illuminated streets and sampling street food.
Eating dinner so late has been one of the hardest adjustments from my Midwestern lifestyle. We eat all eat as a family, aunts and uncles included, and the food is delicious. We typically have roti or paratha (both tortilla like breads) with dal (lentils), sabzi (vegetables) or paneer (mild cheese). Since there is not an ongoing festival, most of my host family has resumed eating chicken, fish and mutton. I’ve really enjoyed being vegetarian here, there is some veg option at every meal. Eating dinner late also means going to sleep late, but I always make sure to end my day by writing in my journal.
While this is a good estimate of my daily schedule, I am always going with the flow. There are times when I show up to English to find it has turned into chemistry for the day (and I get to experiment in the Harry Potter potion’s style classroom, wearing my own lab coat). Other days we take spur of the moment trips to the bazaar and miss academic classes all together! On our last market trip, I successfully bargained a kurti down 45 Rs (less than a dollar, but still!) and purchased dalcheeneee, or cinnamon. All in Hindi! For teacher’s day this past week, we were surprised in first period and told the Hindi song we were originally going for Independence Day (a month ago) was to be performed that afternoon. After Sharpie-ing a few lyrics on our hands for safety, we pulled off a performance that even included a little bit of choreography. Singing is not our specialty (I maintain I’m tone deaf), but I think the audience understood we were trying. The next day in IP, my teacher even asked for my autograph, ha ha.