November 27- December 24
Sorry for the huge delay!!! When the school geared up for pre-winter break exams, things usually become more mellow for us exchange students. However, the month leading up to winter break, we turned out to have very full schedules. I enjoyed getting to spend more time with my host family and seeing more of Indore before my two week departure.
At the end of November, our Hindi teachers announced an imminent “100 marks” exam, which means that the exam is supposed to be exceptionally difficult and long. I was a little worried, but the test ended up being more like an elongated version of our normal Saturday test. Since this hefty written test, we have been doing extra oral practice. Everyday, support staff from school (we call them Didis, respectful Hindi term for older sister) come to chat with us. My usual conversation partner, Bubbly Didi, also sits behind me on the bus most mornings. She encourages the younger kids around to speak to me in Hindi. She tells them, “Inse Hindi mei bat karo,” or “Talk to her in Hindi!”
Before racing down the stairs for the big Hindi exam, I spent an hour struggling to write in cursive for my first of two English tests in the past few weeks. The next attempt was the longer English pre-board exam, a three hour test similar to what I took before Diwali. Third time is clearly the charm! I decided to implement three strategies that helped my writing. Halfway through the test, I began to write in print. When I wrote in cursive, I labored trying to reread my own writing. My brief fourth-grade cursive lessons have not stuck with me as well as I’d hoped, and I caught myself accidentally writing the Devanagari script H instead of a cursive capital E. Although most kids here write in cursive, I think it is to my and my teacher’s benefit that I stick to print. After writing three papers, I am finally used to the exam siren. A sound strikingly similar to Wisconsin’s tornado siren goes off at every important time interval. My first instinct when I hear the alarm is to duck and cover. As the real board exams approach, exams become more stressful for my friends, and more fun for me! I am now looking forward to taking the final pre-board in January. I am learning how to take tests in a different way, and have learned to relax. The tests now seem like more of a fun opportunity.
This past Sunday, the five of us NSLI-Y girls took a walking tour of Indore’s old city with a guide. We have spent time in the old city before. We’ve practiced bargaining in the area of Indore’s former palace, for example. But visiting the old city with a guide enabled us to learn much more about its history. Devi Ahilyabai Holkar has been on my radar screen for awhile. Our airport is named after her and we visited her fort in Maheshwar. However, it was not until our tour that I realized what an amazing feminist role model Rani (queen) Ahilyabai is! While performing pooja at age eight, Ahilyabai was recognized by a leader of the Malwa territory and brought to marry his son. Her husband passed away, and instead of committing sati (the now obsolete practice of committing suicide following husband’s death), she eventually took over as the Holkar queen. Under Rani Ahilyabai’s rule, Indore was transformed into a peaceful and prosperous city. She was so beloved and admired that her subjects began referring to her as Devi, which means goddess. During our tour, we saw multiple people give offerings and pray at her statue.
Our next stop was the kanch ka mandir, which literally means temple of glass. We did not have much time inside, but the interior was quite literally dazzling. I passed through the door and found myself surrounded by walls covered in tiny multi colored pieces of glass and mirrors. The images of the tirthankaras (Jain spiritual teachers of the dharma) are bordered by mirrors on either side, thus reflected and refracted many times over.
The next weekend, we had another eventful Sunday. We began meeting On a particularly eventful Sunday, we met the Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer from the US consulate in Mumbai for breakfast. It felt very American meeting someone for coffee! It was helpful to hear about Mr. Hwang’s path, and see more particularly how pursuing a career in foreign service makes sense for me as a NSLI-Y alum.
Afterward, we had the sequel to our Indore heritage tour. We visited the Indore central museum. We learned about the medieval and pre-medieval Hindu and Jain sculptures entirely in Hindi. We didn’t grasp everything that was said, as you might be able to tell from these photos. It was still great practice & it was fun to learn about something in Hindi other than the language itself.
Our usual exam downtime was extra filled with natural family arrivals! The day before Steph and Lucia’s families arrived (unluckily!) we had our first kathak performance. Kathak involves eye movement, facial expressions and hand gestures all linked together. It is our teacher’s specialty- she is referred to other students as “Kathak Ma’am.” This made learning the dance extra meaningful, no matter how much it tested my coordination.
Thanks to our school principal, we scored tickets to the India vs. Sri Lanka cricket match. Outside, we were outfitted with jerseys and Indian flags painted on our cheeks. Steph’s host brother explained cricket in Hindi as the game went on, and by the end I was happy to be following along. Indore’s energy almost matched my school’s stands whenever we play against our rivals. The cheering might not have been as coordinating (I did miss the wave), the crowd never seemed to stop screaming. Some added bonuses- Hindi practice with our seat neighbors and Riah and I appearing on national TV! The game went late enough that we left before it was over, but I was happy to learn the next day that Indian won by 88 runs.
The morning after the cricket game (and day before my train left for Rajasthan- next post!), we were invited to a movie shoot. An Emerald Heights alum was shooting a post-apocalyptic film and needed foreigners to fill the roles of prisoners 1 through 5. Thankfully, we were there to step in! We all put on our best “hopeless and dejected” faces and enjoyed a last day of school with minimal studying.
In the last month before our move to boarding, I cherished spending time with my host family. My host mom and sister helped me pick out my first saree. Since some of the patterns I’ve liked are actually for “aunties only,” I was relieved when my host mom helped me practice-wrap options. I feel much happier with my purchase knowing my host mom talked me through it, and am looking forward to wearing it for February’s graduation event. The campus community feels like home. I have a lot fun watching movies at my uncle’s house (my host sister has talked me into watching a few horror movies with her) and staying up until midnight to celebrate family friends’ birthdays. With my homestay coming to a close, I have taken more time to appreciate small happenings along my daily routine.
The month of December have marked our official halfway point on exchange, an important time to reflect on how I have grown and adapted so far. After five months here, I feel much more mellow and relaxed. I appreciate the time to laugh with friends while we wait for class to begin and have developed a passion for looking out the window in Indore traffic. I have adapted to indirect communication with both a convincing head nod that even Principal Sir has commented on. I’ve clung to the advice “there is no such thing as a bad question.” I am still working on adjusting to some aspects of life here. It takes me a second to bounce back from blunt comments that some people make about others’ bodies, for instance. Especially as exchange students, we are not afforded a ton of independence. In part because I am still in high school, this has not been as much of a problem as I thought it would be. We have all found ways to keep busy during extended free periods- I’ve been reading a ton and of course practicing Hindi.
After five months, I feel the importance of learning Hindi here, in India. Besides the more apparent cultural differences, I am beginning to grasp the more complex societal differences here, and how they factor into the language. I have recently felt a renewed gratitude for language learning. While translating a paragraph on our Hindi exam, I felt extra proud of being able to read and understand an alphabet that was alien to me just five months ago. I am ready to enjoy vacation before the move to the hostel!