A staff member at my school sent out this video, a collection of experiences from a friend of hers who lives in the same area of India I’m going to.
Watching it brought back so many memories of my year in Panama. One part near the end showed him doing chores and other basic activities while “memories” of a time before were projected onto him and the background. I remember doing the same thing. You’d be brushing your teeth, sweeping the house, walking to the bus, and these memories, random and seemingly unprompted, would begin to play. If you let them, they swallowed you. Dwelling on the past too much leads to utter abandonment of the pursuit of enjoyment in the present. And living abroad on your own, when you’re struggling with the language and day to day life… it requires a lot of intentional enjoyment seeking.
I write this in Colorado, waiting for my flight to Munich, to wait for a flight to Mumbai, then to Hyderabad, where I’ll meet the rest of my class and stay the rest of the semester.
I’m a little nervous. Whenever I mentioned I was going to India, people get this far away, impressed look in their eye. I’m not sure if they’re impressed I’m going there, or if it’s just India that impresses them. They talk about the mix––they take two contrasting variables and explain how India is the only place where you see so much mixing of these two things you’d never expect to see, in extremes. Wealth and poverty. Joy and suffering. Good food and––well, no, nobody has ever mentioned there’s anything but good food.
I feel like I’m going on a study abroad trip, in a way that I didn’t when I went to South Korea last September for the fall semester.
I feel the way I did when I went to Panama: a little nervous about the amount of unknown variables and situations that are coming up, a little nervous about catching my flights and getting to the place I’m staying, a little nervous about presenting the best image of a foreigner, especially a foreigner from the U.S.A. A lot of excitement about seeing another way humans developed life, about seeing myself and my values in the context of that other culture, about the opportunity to meet strangers and maybe bring some joy to where I go.
The main three differences from getting ready for India this semester and going to Panama four and a half years ago are my level of preparedness for living in a different culture, my expected day to day, and the fact that I’ll be living with classmates instead of a host family.
When I moved to Panama, I barely knew that people lived different lifestyles than I did in the U.S. I had some vague understanding of what it meant for a country to speak another language, of what poverty was, of different styles of body language, but… they were vague. I was 16, and had only been to Canada before then, but for a short trip to Costa Rica on a ecotour that was not at all representative of local life in Central America.
I was also going to go to school in Panama. I ended up at a trade school, in the agriculture-zoology track, something that ended up being extremely lucky. That track of the school had less students, so I knew my classmates better than the other two exchange students who were in the Business and Science tracks. We had longer work days and summer school spent doing practical work in the plantain and banana fields and working with the animals, which meant I could participate in class before my Spanish was any good. In India, I’ll be continuing taking classes at my university, Minerva. (If you’re unfamiliar with Minerva, you’ll probably want to check out my short explanation of the ways in which Minerva drastically deviates from a normal university.)
In India, ~250 fellow and known classmates await my arrival. Our school has rented out an entire apartment building for us. It’s not ideal for cultural exchange; sometimes I hesitate to say I’m going on exchange or studying abroad because Minerva’s model barely allows for what we typically think of when we say “study abroad”. Minerva does try hard to make sure our staff are local, and that all students have the option to do an internship or project with local businesses and organizations. Every class has an assignment that requires engagement in the city we’re in. But… living with your friends, with other foreigners, instead of a host family, gives you a completely different experience. If I had time for everything, I’d like to live with a host family again. Maybe once I graduate.
So here I go, again. India, I can’t wait to meet you. See you soon.