Hello, my name is Linda Rogers and I am a Senior at Paxon SAS in Jacksonville, Florida. After having been a host sister to approximately fifteen foreign exchange students and going to Turkey on a very successful Short-Term Rotary Exchange myself, I finally decided my Junior year that I would become a Long-Term Rotary Exchange Student the year after I graduated. And as those who know me best are already aware, once I decide that I will do something, I do it. So here I am writing a bio for Rotary upon acceptance into the exchange program.
My friends often laugh when I start a statement with "I have five older brothers and..." and that's because they know that being raised the youngest of eight children, five of which are boys, has had a lot to do with who I am today and the insights that I have on life. I have found that for me being the youngest of so many siblings didn't mean being spoiled, it meant being brought up much quicker and being held to more mature standards than my peers. But don't misunderstand me, I am not bitter because of this, I don't resent the added pressure or the feelings of needing to "measure up." I embrace it. I am above all thankful for the opportunities that God has given me to grow and learn in the shadow of so many teachers, whether it be by example or non-example. I think that to understand me you must understand where I come from.
That being said I am very much an individual. I do not hide behind the excuses of "upbringing" that are so common today and I want people to know who I am aside from my family, albeit because of them. Simply put I am a nurturer. My goal in life is to make enough money to be able to dedicate myself and my resources to accomplishing something bigger than "me". I will become a foreign ministries missionary with a monetary ability to compliment my servant's heart. I hope to be able to positively impact the lives of people, that I know from past missionary experience are yearning for people in their lives to give them a hand up and a boost of faith.
I hope that this bio gives you an introductory glimpse of who Linda is until my journal entries start, and with them come more revelations as to the finer points of "me."
October 8 Journal
Finding my place here has been all at once exciting, confusing, frustrating, and invigorating. My host family is very supportive, and dynamic enough to offer me many outlets, but there is no amount of support that can fully pad the blow of being ripped from the womb of childhood and thrown into a life where you don’t know the norms and you don’t understand what is expected of you. I was prepared for differences, I have traveled internationally before, spending as much as a month abroad at one time, so I have felt this sort of thing before and I knew it was coming. That does not change that it is going to happen. It is like the doctor saying, “Get ready, I’m going to give you a shot.” We have all had shots before, and we are “ready” for it when it comes, but that does not mean that the shot does not hurt. It also does not mean that the shot loses its worth. No matter the unpleasantness involved, the growth and respect gained from this experience cannot be outweighed. I have only been here to benefit from this for a fraction of what I will be, yet I am already feeling the reward and I am already able to see the opportunity for continued advancement. It is not easy, it is not a step that would be beneficial for everyone, and it is not the kind of thing that just anyone would feel empowered by, but for some, for the “right” people, there is no substitute for a Rotary Youth Exchange.
Two weeks ago, I started going to a school here in Surat for the deaf and dumb on a daily basis. I began there because I wanted a service project, but at this point, I do not feel like I am serving anyone but myself. Those who have been involved with the school much longer than I have insist that my friendships and conversations are building much needed confidence in a group of people who feel (and generally are) overlooked by society and their own families. Logically I know this to be true but it is hard to see how something that requires no self-sacrifice, which actually gives me some of my happiest moments here, can be serving someone else. This is not an entirely radical idea for me though. I often indicate “service work” when questioned about my plans for the future or my current “extra-curriculars,” but I have rarely felt such deeds to be serving. These activities, rather, are my fun time, my go out and enjoy myself moments. Last Friday night I was talking to my Mom about the next day’s schedule and after telling her that I could not go to “my” school, as I call it, on Saturday because I had to take an exam at the same time at my regular high school she said, “So tomorrow ‘yea, holiday!’” (this is what we always say when there is no work or school one day), but I told her, “No, it’s not ‘yea holiday’ for this, it’s ‘aww man… holiday…’” We both had a good laugh, but it was true. Going to Surat School for the Deaf and Dumb daily has been the most fun I have had here, apart from spending ‘quality time’ with my family.
I have particularly enjoyed picking up the sign language here so that I can actually communicate with the students. One of the students in my class, Mohsin, has taken to teaching me new words every day. Once he got a picture book from one of the primary classes so that he could point at an apple, a monkey, or a jeep, and then demonstrate the sign for me. After two weeks in that school I can officially communicate much better in sign than in Gujarati, I think mainly because most everyone here speaks English on a fairly regular basis except for the students at my school. Even as I am writing this (it’s Saturday afternoon) I cannot wait for Monday so I can go see my friends again.
I hope that all of the exchange students are taking advantage of this aspect of the Rotary Exchange experience. There are many programs available for foreign exchange, but I think that the opportunity for service while abroad is what really sets Rotary apart from the others. Since Rotary is not a for-profit organization that focuses on exchange, but rather an international service club which also offers student exchange as one of its contributions to society, the potential for students to get hands on with service is boundless.
I know that many people considering a Rotary Youth Exchange are reading these journals to get a feel for the program and whether or not it is right for them. If this is you, I challenge you to “dig deep.” Realize that there are obstacles. Understand that moments are going to be painful. See where you are going to be asked to give of yourself. Then, after acknowledging the hardships, accept the call and go for it, forget your own minimal inconveniences and grasp the first big opportunity of your life to do something bigger than yourself, and help Rotary to establish widespread cultural understanding and to realize a vision of service above self.
Election Reflection - Do we care that he's black?
This piece was originally written in response to the “My President is black!” statuses displayed by many on Facebook and the resulting notes and comments that criticized such statuses.
I see the good intentions behind many of your arguments that we should not be at all excited because he is black but only because he is our President. I know that there is a certain amount of ignorance feeding the enthusiastic "My President is black!" assertions, but there is an importance to this characteristic alone. Whether those shouting about the magnitude of having a black President see the genuine value of this attribute or only what they want to see in his skin color is irrelevant. We should all be equal. Our skin should have no bearing on other's views, especially in a country like America founded by someone else’s minority, partially for the purpose of escaping such discriminations. The truth is, though, that our country does not work that way. Moreover, the world has noticed.
I was surprised, in fact, by the volume of foreigners who dislike America not for Bush or the "War on Terror" (not that there are not many of those as well) but because they feel that the Land of Opportunity has become the Land of Hypocrisy. We shout at the world about human rights and equality for all, but then cringe when we see a black man running for President. Sure, we finally now voted him to the position, but look at what a marvel the race was. How many people stared in wonder (if not horror) at a black man rising so far up the political ladder? Why, after so many decades of American "equality", do we just now have, not only a non-white President-elect, but before that a serious non-white contender for the spot? Have you any idea the way foreign newspapers laughed at the uproar (both positive and negative) we gave over a non-white candidate? Or any clue how many articles jibed at our pre-election insinuations that Obama was a Muslim? That such a political rebuttal would even come up in our “politically correct” homeland tickled many a foreign fancy.
The reality, as few of us see from the inside, is that we are not as advanced as we think. We are a nation who still struggles with inequalities, discrimination, misconceptions, and ignorance. That is not all bad, though, because we are struggling! Electing a non-white as our Chief Executive is a huge step for us. Maybe doing so should not be. Maybe so long after we told the world that we view all individuals as equals and that each man has the same rights as each other man we should not even blink at this characteristic of our new President. The truth is, however, that we were not as far along as we considered ourselves. The recent hubbub proves that our claims were premature.
Considering that, electing a black man in and of itself is colossal for our country. Yes, in some ways, our vote is an indicator of how far we have come, but the real point is even bigger. Finally putting a non-white at the head of our country is another catalyst to stretch us to where many of us thought we already were and beyond. We now make the ignorant and the sheltered look at a strong, worthy man running our nation who does not fit the mold their minds hold for our leaders. I do not think that Obama is perfect. I do not agree with everything he says and thinks. The same will be true for anyone, though, and I do believe this man capable of guiding not only our country, but also the world’s view of us, even as we strengthen who “us” is.
December 16 Journal
The mind of an exchange student is a frightening place. Not so much in reference to the thoughts housed there, but more accurately regarding the speed with which those thoughts take shape, multiply, and even disappear. I was a child only a few months ago. Even as a child, adults and other young people regarded me as mature and mindful, but still I was a child. Then I left for India and was thus put on a fast track to adulthood. I am sure that at some unrecognizable instant in the last four months, the universe ceased to acknowledge my youth and instead observed a woman in the place where life had so recently housed a child. Although I can only speculate as to the timing of that instant, I know full well the moment when I recognized that growth for myself.
Caring for two sick girls on a cross-country train last week, I decided that plain crackers would be a crucial medicine and set out to buy a few packs. I got off at the station that I thought was New Delhi, knowing that would give me twenty-five minutes to procure the goods and safely re-board. Seven minutes later, crackers in hand, I turned to see my train pulling out of the station. After chastising myself for breathing a curse at the sight of the caboose, I made my way to the booking office.
“English?” I asked hopefully. A headshake and a curt index fingering aimed towards the office door were the only response the man stationed in the raggedly upholstered swivel chair could afford me.
I found another office and repeated my inquiry.
“Thoda, thoda,” a slightly more heartening answer.
“I’ve missed the train headed for Surat. Do you know of any way that I could re-board?”
The cocked eyebrow that greeted this little monologue had time only to make me question my previous hopes before two men who had witnessed my predicament showed up over my right shoulder. A round of Hindi later (where I was able to make out the words “girl”, “biscuits”, and “train”) the station worker led me out to the platform. We walked about five steps to the right before he seemed to change his mind, stopped, and then turned to take eight steps in the opposite direction before stopping again. The station worker reproduced the indecisive face of just a few moments prior as a small crowd formed around us. A young man wearing a purple turban initiated conversation with my “Follow the Leader” director. This time I understood “problem”, “help”, and “metro” from the short dialogue.
“Follow me. I’ll show you where the metro is and you can catch that to New Delhi Station,” this from the man with the purple turban.
As we walked through the station doors, I considered that this man could be a murderer, a thief, or a rapist. He could also be a really nice guy going out of his way to help you, a little voice censured me. When he asked me where I was from I decided not to lie, as most of the American exchange students had taken to doing since November 26.
“The U.S., Florida.”
“That’s cool, I’ve been to California.” Followed by an amiable, bearded smile.
I remember thinking how glad I was that I gave a straight answer, that smile was definitely worth the risk involved, real or imagined.
When we reached the token counter he asked if I knew how to travel by metro, mentioning that I’d have to switch lines half way through. He was satisfied with my quick affirmation, and I took a last view of my turbaned hero as he rushed off to catch his train.
There were only two men in line ahead of me at the counter but as the first man walked away a third man artfully slid in front of me.
“Oh please, bhai, please,” accompanied by what I hoped was a convincingly pleading look. Surprisingly he stepped aside and I was able to approach the token vendor without further delay.
Rushing through the station a few moments later, I thought about situations I’d previously been in that made this experience so painless for me; being alone and stuck over night in a New York airport due to inclement weather on my way home from Turkey three years ago; learning my way around the D.C. Metro station just two weeks before coming to India, after spending the first eighteen years of my life completely ignorant of any subway system; taking the New Delhi Metro just a few days earlier on a spontaneous trip to KFC with my fellow exchange students, thereby familiarizing myself with the slight differences in this system.
I reached the platform just as a shuttle arrived and gratefully stepped into a near empty compartment. For the next three stops I thanked God for everything that was happening to me; being in India; touring the Golden City, Jaisalmer Desert, the Taj Mahal, and Dharamshala; building friendships with people from around the world; meeting a nice young man in a purple turban; even for getting an extra little opportunity to see Delhi, or at least the Delhi Metro Station. As I gripped the cool metal of the metro handrail in my right hand and twisted the rough chain of my escapulario* up to my lips with my left, I felt- rather than thought- you have become a woman.
On more than one previous occasion, I had thought of myself as a woman. I strove to conduct myself as a woman and I hoped that others looked at me as a woman. If someone had asked me how I considered myself an hour before that moment, sitting on the train I would have told him I was an adult. Still, for all of my rationalizations, logical thoughts, and convincing arguments, I would not have believed myself, no matter how credible the words felt on my lips or how many listeners regarded those words as truth. After that moment, however, I would not have the chance to answer that question truthfully because the question would never again be posed to me. People do not ask an adult who she is because her maturity is apparent. The question of adulthood is reserved for children.
*escapulario- a necklace popular among Catholics in Brazil. There are two icons on the chain, one to rest on the back of the wearer’s neck and one to hang down the front as a pendant. The icons often portray the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus, but may also depict one of the Catholic saints. Escapularios are believed to watch over the wearer from all sides, which is why there must be two icons.