It has been two weeks exactly since I left Vancouver (-13.5 hour time difference), but I feel as though I’ve been here forever. I also feel like a small infant. Everything is new, but it seems so natural. I’ve been so lucky to have such gracious and accepting people surround me.
Being a tourist compared to deciding to live somewhere (even for as short a time period as three months -100 days exactly) makes a big difference. While I travelled extensively as a child and know the tourist experience, I have never been away from BC for longer than six weeks (which was to do a language immersion program in Quebec this past summer). One of my saving graces of being in India has absolutely been my obvious foreignness and therefore the willingness of people to explain to me what is going on in various situations.
I’m almost halfway across the world and yet am settled.
FLAME school on world map in Academic Building at Quest
I noticed immediately how different my attitude was towards being here since I am going to be living and not simply visiting. It isn’t just about seeing and experiencing as much as possible. It is about adjusting, adapting, and understanding.
Before arriving on campus my host family took me to three markets in three days (road market, flower market, and then a larger road market). Being with locals meant I saw the real India and experienced a large amount of what life would be like if I lived here. I get to see the difference between bargaining of prices for locals, bargaining of locals for me, and my bargaining abilities. (At the last market we compared by going to the stands and pretending to not know each other. My prices were more than double. At one point the local and merchant argued about the fact that if I was not with them, I would have paid 2000 rupees for a 200 rupee shawl).
Large road market in Pune
I notice things about my surroundings more. For example, I observe the lack of diversity in skin colour and how little that means. White skin stands out. I notice myself staring when I see a foreigner in India, because they seem so out of place. However, there is more diversity in India than I have ever experienced before. (Hinduism isn’t even a real distinction, it is a colonial word for a group of people that may even have exact opposite belief systems).
I learn quickly through following the locals. For example, not getting out of the car side that is facing the street and, as awful as it sounds, ignoring the beggars that come to the cars.
My Quest “Question” is about belonging: “What conditions optimize a sense of belonging?” Before arriving I was nervous about finding a community at FLAME and having a support system here. I have never felt more supported. At Quest I need a different type of support. I understand the way the society works and how to get through processes. I know who to talk to about what. Here I’ve found support for all those things I do not need at Quest, plus more. I am almost never alone as there is always someone around who wants to chat.
One of my touchstones is about the difference between individualistic and collectivist cultures. Reading about these differences while in an entirely different society from North America is a rare and incredible opportunity. Reading one of my touchstones (Clash: 8 Cultural Conflicts That Make Us Who We Are) on campus
After being here two weeks (and on campus for only one and a half) I already feel at home. Everything is provided or easily accessible, so many people have taken me under their wings, and classes are actually challenging me (something not assumed of exchange schools). One of the MOST incredible aspects of being on exchange is learning about the culture, not through textbooks, but through casual conversations. My friends here will sit with me and just explain the way their lives work and I am fascinated. On Sunday I met a girl who discussed her four-generational household and how she will have an arranged marriage between the ages of 26 and 28. I then asked all the other friends we were with about their family situations and future family plans. Everyone has an entirely different story that they are completely willing to share. It’s so interesting!
I am taking 5 courses here and once the logistical situation is figured out (visa registration takes forever), I will finally truly be able to settle into campus-life. I can’t wait.
Until next time,