Belonging in India Part 1/2

A large push for me in coming to FLAME was the fact that it is in India. Being half Indian, I have always had the intention of travelling to India. I had thought of taking the voyage at some point when I was much older as it seemed like a large venture. However, this opportunity fell neatly into my lap and allowed me to incorporate my academics with the experience of learning about half of my cultural heritage.

My Quest Question is “what conditions optimize a sense of belonging?” It was inspired by the sense of belonging I found at Quest and the desire to create more environments for individuals to feel the same positive effects I did.

Regardless of which exchange school I chose I wanted to reflect on my Question while there to see how other communities and cultures include or exclude short-term foreigners. India is even more interrelated for me because of my background.

My great grandparents on my mom’s side are from India, but my grandparents and mom never lived here. I’m torn about whether that makes me Indian. In one of my first classes at FLAME there was a discussion about sociology and there was a question whether people who do not live in India would be considered Indian. The response was no. Yet, in daily life I am told, assumed to be, or consider myself Indian.

I quickly determined that I felt even more comfortable here than I do when I am experiencing Indian cultural events at home. I am quite removed from that side of the family in that I do not know the reasons behind any traditions or festivals and will participate only when told exactly what to do. Here I have taken part in celebrations and events that have happened my whole life, but I either would not take part or else join, but did not know what I was doing. I feel way more comfortable in a place where I am clearly determined to be the outsider and therefore have more leeway to ask questions.

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My appearance gives away my heritage even when I do not feel part of it. When I dress the part (I did not bring a lot of clothes here, intending to buy everything), people claim “no one can say you’re not Indian now.” Yet, when I arrived I felt I could never belong in India. I could feel connections to the place and spaces, but could not “belong.” I can so easily forget that the culture is different while on campus when talking about media or books or science, but then a matter of family or religion or customs comes up and I’m suddenly in a different world. In this world I do not know the language(s), the customs, the religion(s), the geography, or even how to pronounce anyone’s names. I did not originate here. I do not follow the trends of dependence or collectivism that the others do. I do not speak to my parents every day. I do not expect my room to be cleaned. I do not automatically take on the role of the gracious host. Like a fish out of water, I never truly knew what living in Canada meant until I left.

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Me and my host student celebrating Diwali before coming to campus.

I do not know how I am labelled here. I know the Canadian and Gudrati label, but not how I am perceived generally. In Canada I have a much better idea about how others perceive me, because I know the standard of default that I am compared to. I am aware of the norms. Here I have no clue and do not believe I ever will fully understand.

I am also very aware of the short-term nature of my stay. In counting the days I have been here (through doing 100happydays on Facebook), I am also counting down the days I have remaining. Being the visitor in a community makes it difficult to find a place or a sense of belonging.

In Canada I always feel awkward when Indians come to me and feel a connection in our “indianness” that I do not reciprocate. Here I do not feel the same need to ensure people know of my background as soon as possible. I love the feeling of connection I have when people here recognize me as “one of them” (even though it often comes with the discomfort of not knowing what they are saying to me in Hindi). I have always disliked that my appearance does not reflect how I feel about my mixed ethnicity and being in India is no different, although it does allow me to fit in with my fellow students in ways I never would otherwise be able to.

I settled in quickly to life at FLAME, particularly socially. (Logistically, there are still issues and I have yet to get used to the “grab and go without lining up” aspect of meals). While I have missed individuals and felt slightly homesick at the thought of Christmas festivities, I have had no points in time where I truly wanted to leave here to go home. The question of belonging is still an open one for me, but the connection I feel to the people and places here is undeniable.

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Until next time,
Vrindy

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