Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What I learned in India: Weeks 1 & 2

{parrots outside my aunt's window, Mumbai}
I've been in India for two weeks but have been busy nearly constantly. In between spending time with family, sightseeing, and participating in orientation activities for my abroad program, it seems like I hardly have enough time to sit by myself and just decompress, never mind write. But writing has always helped me to process what I experience and so here we are, at the beginning of a new year and a new experience abroad.

Rather than always doing a numbered list for things I've learned in India like I did in Spain, I think it's best for me to write in paragraph form. In Spain, it was easy to understand what I had learned by finding what was new, what taught me through novelty. My experience in India differs—at least thus farin that I've already been here, in that the culture is my own. Noticing patterns in the vernacular, picking up on behaviors and customs, and acclimating yourself to a new way of life is a bit different when these adjustments are familiar, when you've grown up knowing and then compartmentalizing them into a particular sector of your life. 

But even when things are familiar, they allow you to learn from them, to gain and to grow. And even though I've been to India multiple times, even though I was born here, even though the culture lends itself to my own hyphenated identity, I find myself learning new things and experiencing the growing pains that come with doing so. 
Adjusting to India was hard for the first few days. But seeing family and focusing on my abroad program kept me focused and soon enough, I acclimated myself to life here. My university is definitely different from GW, and although I haven't started classes yet, I'm really excited about my tentative course load and some extracurriculars I've already found. I love having Indian food every day and I love riding my bike around my ginormous campus—3,000 acres and two lakes! Beyond this, I've met some amazing people. The staff running our program is just incredible and is going above and beyond to make this experience the best it can be for us. We're well-fed and taken care of and we've had some really interesting lectures and guest speakers.
{Chowmahalla Palace}
I definitely wasn't as excited when I first got here though. For one, being in India and around family brings out another side of me. For a few days, I found that I behave a certain way when I am here, or at least I am expected to. And when I was around the other CIEE students, all of whom are American, I reverted back to who I was in DC, the "American" version of myself. It's weird, flip-flopping especially in this setting. Indian-American kids learn quickly and early on to compartmentalize aspects of their lives and personalities. Doing so in India is so unfamiliar to me because for once, the Indian aspect of my identity is the dominant culture. For once, I take pride in speaking Hindi and knowing who Shah Rukh Khan is and not being fazed when I see cows on the street. 

Growing up, I was definitely made fun of for being Indian. I wasn't bullied or anything, at least not in the traditional sense, but I learned quickly to not discuss Indian music or bring Indian food for lunch or speak in Gujarati with my friends. I didn't want to be the weird Indian kid, I wanted to be "normal," to fit in. It's weird having those same things I suppressed now carry cultural capital, to now be things worth mentioning or at least having pride in.
{sunset from Hussain Sagar}
I told a new friend about how ironic it was to travel 8,000 miles and still end up the only brown girl in a big group of kids. I felt like I was the only one with a dual identity, the only one navigating through which parts of myself to hide and which to share, the only one deciding how Indian to be or how American. 

But now after a short-lived transition period, I'm so incredibly happy to be here. For a few days, I found myself reconsidering it all. Who the hell goes to India when they can go to Amsterdam? I asked myself. I looked at the streets and the university buildings and the heat and the inability to travel or even wander by myself and freaked out. Why did I come here? Was coming here truly necessary to learn what I wanted to learn? Could I have just come here for winter break in between semesters or before studying in Amsterdam or Cape Town? And then I sat down in my classroom of the first day of orientation and calmed down. I was going to be fine, I told myself. Everything was organized and planned and orderly and I could handle whatever was new or uncomfortable or uneasy. 

{vendors, Mumbai}
So an hour into that first day, I got really, really excited. I bounced in my seat a little and grinned and told myself to calm the hell downI was in public for god's sakes. Had I had too much coffee that morning? For once, noI'd had none. I was just excited for my amazing classes and to meet all the cool students and spend more time with my family and really, really experience living in and acclimating to India. 

And now, two weeks in, I feel like I've adjusted. While I'm still a bit overwhelmed at times, I don't find myself scrambling to adjust. I feel like I've regained a balance, that I've found some great friends, and that I have some cool classes and extracurriculars to look forward to. I'm already thinking about how leaving will feel like, but I'm excited to be here for whatever time I have. Until then, here are some photos from the past two weeks:
{the sweetest welcoming from my Mami}

{the hospital in which I was born}
{excuse the nails but look at these chikoos!}

{friendly stray cat, Mumbai}

{home circa 1995-97; ours was the window on the top left}


Believe it or not, these are only 38 out of 675 pictures I've taken so far. I can't wait to bring my camera with me as I explore the city. Stay tuned from more from Hyd!

~ V