I wanted to go on exchange to India because it was different from the United States, and I got what I wanted – it’s completely different.
I left for India on Sunday, July 31st, and I was lucky enough to get to travel with another girl from my district, and we spent about 36 hours in transit – starting from the Jacksonville airport, then a two hour flight to Newark, where we has a 7 hour layover and met another RYE student who was on his way to Sweden. We also met a Rotex who was from India and had gone on exchange to Germany a couple of years ago. He was really nice and gave us a bunch of tips and advice about living in and adjusting to India. The flight to India was about 15 hours, where I had the best airplane food I have ever had in my entire life, and we got to Mumbai on Monday night. In Mumbai, they just waved us through customs, I guess because two teenage American girls don’t look like much of a threat to national security. After that we had to split up and go to different sections of the airport, so we said goodbye on the shuttle and then were alone in the Mumbai airport, which sounds a lot more exciting than it actually was. It was the middle of the night and the airport was mostly empty. I had an eight hour layover there, and I finally got to the local airport on Tuesday morning, local time, which would have been Monday night in America.
The first thing I saw in India, and the thing that continues to surprise and amaze me was the roads. On the road you pass cars, trucks, motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, three-wheeled rickshaws, cows (so many cows), buffalo, donkeys, camels, goats, dogs, and people walking, all together on one street. People honk constantly; lanes are simply guidelines, as are speed limits and pretty much any other traffic rule. Roundabouts are used instead of traffic signals, and since it’s rainy season there are so many potholes it’s almost impossible to not hit your head on the roof of the car as you bounce down the road. Plus in India they drive on the opposite side of the road (usually) and sit on the opposite side of the car. I don’t think traffic rules are ever actually enforced, at least in this city. Usually to get places it’s easiest to take a rickshaw, because they can weave through traffic and potholes like you wouldn’t believe, and it’s usually only about 50 cents.
There are three exchange students living in my city; me, a boy from Chicago and a girl from Brazil. We’re all in the same class at school, which is an eleventh grade class because even though we’ve all already completed eleventh grade, twelfth grade is spent intensely studying for the board exams that determine your entire future, which we thankfully don’t have to take.
The first time I went to my school, a crowd of at least 50 kids surrounded me and started shaking my hand and asking me my name and where I was from – more and more kept coming, and I kind of felt like a movie star being attacked by a swarm of mini paparazzi. Eventually someone had to grab my hand and pull me out of the crowd, and a couple of nuns had to come and keep the kids from following us out. The next time I went to the school was for a dance performance, where a group of kids from each age group went on stage and performed some kind of dance, from Bollywood to traditional Indian dance, that they were doing for “sister appreciation day.” After all the dances were done, a bunch of the elementary kids came up to me and asked for my autograph, if they could take my picture. Apparently there hasn’t been an exchange student at my school in a long time, and the other two that are here now aren’t blonde but they still both get a lot of attention too.
School goes six days a week, Monday through Saturday from 7 am until 10:30 am for the older kids, because they spend the afternoons going to extra classes for further studies. There are two options for classes here, everyone chooses to take either science or commerce, and the two other exchange students and I are all taking the science track. We have an English class, a math class, a chemistry class, and a physics class.
Classes are only 45 minutes, and then there’s 30 minutes of recess at the end of the morning when everyone comes out and plays basketball or eats a snack and talks to their friends. All the kids at school are so friendly, and it helps that they all speak English fluently, because it’s very easy to talk to them and make friends, but we still need to learn Hindi because that’s what they use for normal conversations.
We have a Hindi class that we (exchange students) go to in the evening, after school I go to a Hindi crafts class where I’m learning things like glass painting, embroidery, and henna, which is pretty interesting, and afternoons are usually free to do whatever we need/ want to until Hindi class, and then after we go to a dance class where we’ve been learning everything from Classical Indian to Bollywood dance. There’s actually a dancing festival coming up at the end of September called Navratri, where people do a dance called Garba all night for 9 days; we’re learning that dance too, it’s a lot of fun.
What else…? I love Indian food, it’s so easy to be a vegetarian here because everyone else is too, and it’s actually not that spicy usually. Indian clothes are very unique and traditional, (although nowadays teenagers usually dress similar to American teenagers) the women wear saris and kurtas – a sari is a type of dress, and a kurta is a type of long shirt worn with long leggings. Everyone has at least one maid, my family has a servant who lives with us who can do just about anything I think, from cooking and ironing to getting something incredibly heavy down from an impossible high place, and we also have a maid who comes in the daytime that cleans and does the laundry and dishes . It’s rainy season so it’s not actually that hot usually, the sun has only come out 3 or 4 times since I got here, which is nice because you always have to wear jeans or capris, no shorts, so when it stops raining it is very hot. Also wild peacocks are really common here, and when it rains, they dance. It’s the coolest thing.(:
There’s so much more to India than that, there are slums and mansions, beggars and billionaires, people that speak only Gujarati, or only Hindi, and people that speak English as well. There’s dirt and trash and pollution everywhere, but after a while you stop noticing it so much. Religion is a big part of life, the majority of people here are Hindu, even at my school, which is technically a Christian school, almost all of the students and a lot of the teachers are Hindu.
I love this country, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. We’re going to start traveling in November; I’m so excited to see what else is there in this amazing place. Everything I’ve seen so far has been so surprising, I don’t even know what to expect anymore. Thank you so much Rotary and everyone who gave me the opportunity to spend a year here…it’s crazy to think that this is still only the beginning!