Here are some musings I’ve made over the last few months… This reads sort of like a diary entry. I’ll probably come back and amend and add to this list, maybe make some edits, or maybe delete a section or two. The opinions are mine, the take away is yours…
Details don’t matter that much:
I can’t say I’ve ever been a detail-oriented person but living abroad has definitely expanded this personality trait. Living in a country like Liberia or India ones learns very quickly that details are often pointless. The first week we were here, on the way to Delhi, the Academic Director declared, “I’m happy to announce that we will be there in EXACTLY 2 hours… unless it takes longer.” See in the US, we would expect an exact time frame; 30 minutes of traffic could ruin my day. But in India, there is no reason to expect that things will go at all according to plan. At any given moment things can fall apart- disintegrating into chaos. And any finely planned detail becomes obsolete. This places more focus on being flexible and able to think on your feet. Obviously, details are important when I get home and need to plan something, but a sense of “shit happens,” is definitely healthy.
You’re often completely powerless. I don’t do “powerless” well:
I remember during my Vision Quest senior year, the first lesson I ever learned was about being powerless. I had just started my three-day solo and fast and was trying to build a tent in the area I had chosen to live. However, for whatever reason, the area I chose was SO windy that it was actually impossible to put my tarp up. This doesn’t stop me from trying for 60 minutes in vain. When I finally gave up, I realized that this was the first lesson I had gained on my trip: sometimes we are completely powerless.
I’ve felt that way lots of times on this trip. From the overall organizing of SIT and their hands on approach, to my naivety and inexperience in the India culture. Contracting dengue and being stuck in a hospital was probably the best example of this. Not only was I powerless about this disease and the notion that it was getting worse every day, I was unversed in the workings of the hospital, I spoke a different language than most of the hospital workers, and I wasn’t communicating very much with the people I perceived as the decision makers. Every day however, there are traces of this. I don’t make myself breakfast. I don’t drive myself to school. My day is pretty much planned for me.
Down time can be just as hard as the busiest of times:
I read this online somewhere and realized that its completely true. All of the most stressful, taxing moments of my trip have come when I was lying in bed worrying about one thing or another. When I’m out in the city, yelling at rickshaw drivers, staring down creepy Indian men, I’m too confused and out of place to even think. I’m worried about surviving. But when I have enough time to start being sentimental- to start thinking about home and what I’m missing- that’s when I struggle the most. Sam spoke about this frequently when she was abroad and it serves as one more reason to do the following:
Especially on a program like SIT, where outings are constantly organized and classes are long and challenging, it can be tempting to utilize my free time to relax and hang-out. However, as I so eloquently stated on the group facebook page, “in two months when you’re sitting at home in your underwear drinking bad beer and perusing facebook… do you want to look back and think about that weekend when you chose NOT to ride an elephant and go streaking at a cricket game?” For the record we never had any intention of going streaking but that’s besides the point. With only 1 more week in Jaipur (crazy right?) I have to consistently push myself to take initiative, take chances, discover new places. I think in some sense this goes back to the mentality that I have to make the most of my time here because I’m giving up so much back home. However, its also a great practice in taking initiative. I constantly find this theme in my life. I feel very involved in a lot of things, but often one within an organization or an activity, I have to challenge myself to keep pushing. This will be especially important for the last year and a half at Claremont, as I continue to push myself in my extracurricular activities.
You won’t get anything if you don’t ask for it! I find that the language barrier, paired with the sometimes-hostile reactions of local Indians, often creates a wall of intimidation. I imagine this is only worse for the women on our trip who receive even more hostile reactions. However, I’ve found that the best way to feel in control, engaged with the surroundings, and comfortable in my setting, is to ask questions.
A group of college students presents a bunch of interesting dynamics:
One of the interesting aspects of our group that I have observed is the dichotomy between all of our desire to collaborate, to explore together, to be intertwined in each other’s lives, but at the same time indulge out introverted tendencies that seem to define this time of our lives. It has occurred to me recently how many of my friends don’t seem to match the common understandings of introverts and extroverts. There are times where everyone ones to explore with each other- to share moment of their experience with the group. Not just verbally afterwards, but in the moment. However, there are lots of days when our group is quiet and withdrawn, taking the time to digest and comprehend on a personal level what is occurring around us. We’ve taken trips in sizes of 4 students, 6 students, and 18 students. Each of these experiences had taught me about myself and about the characteristics of different parts of America, if not our generation as a whole.
It’s one thing to understand the variety of material things you miss/need, it a whole other thing to recognize the emotional states you miss/need:
This sounds pretty dense but it’s really not. I’ll put it this way: it’s one thing to miss your car or your favorite food, it’s another thing to realize how much you miss being around your crazy family, and the oppressive love and constant badgering they seem to define. Or how much you miss the constant joking of your friends, the constant presence of friends poking their head in to say hello. It was easy to recognize the material things I missed but took longer to realize the little nuanced activities that make up my day. I’ve also realized, after talking to classmates, that lots of people struggle to realize these things and come to terms with them. They’re a lot harder to talk about.
The more I experience places like this, the less I take for granted back home, but the more I appreciate those aspects of my life:
One of the stranger paradoxes that I have found, and this is related to the last point, is that in some ways my desire for simple things increases when I return from a country like India or Liberia. For a while I found this shallow- working out more, eating more fresh salad, being happy about my nice jeans and clean t-shirt- these things all seemed shallow and material. I wanted to come back from abroad and not care about these things. Not care about the quality of my food. Not care about my clothes. But what I found instead was that I had a greater appreciation for them but I was also more thankful and recognized the great privilege I had for having those things in my life. I’m sure this doesn’t apply to everyone. As many people discover they favor the life they lead in developing countries, my opinion of the life I lead back home has only increased. This all may sound shallow but over the past year especially, I’ve been lucky to find the things in my life that give me purpose, happiness and balance, and luckily enough for me, they are very compatible with my life in the US. Does this mean I’m forgetting my life in India? No- I think the important things to consider are deeper than these issues. Food waste, sustainability, cultural piracy, and foreign imperialism- these are all real issues to think about and incorporate into our daily actions. My preference for fresh air, a clean park to go running in, fresh fruits and veggies- these are all personal preferences which make me happy and I’m not sure I feel guilt about it.
The more I realize how much I’m giving up to be here, the more I’m motivated to make the most of my time here:
This is has been a really important thing for me to come to terms with. The two weeks before I left I had a crisis of confidence in my decision to go abroad. I was leaving behind so much at Claremont. I was leaving behind a great community in which I was heavily involved and which brought great fulfillment and meaning into my life. I had just found balance in my life and I was leaving the things and the people I loved most. This partly carried over to my first few weeks here. It was hard not to think about the things I was leaving behind in the States. Full credit goes to Sam for helping me get over this. She said, “Well, if you’re going to be gone for four months I want you to have the time of your life!” She was totally right. Being sad and spending my time missing home was only going to make things worse; getting out and exploring, challenging myself to try new things, and learning about things I would never have at home was the best way to spend my time. This mindset hasn’t made me stop missing home- nothing could do that. But it’s definitely made sure that my time here is as challenging and fulfilling as possible. Using the things I learn here, whether personal lessons or global challenges, I can return to my community back home and make it a better place. I can infuse these new ideas into my own life and challenge the people around me. This is a great opportunity to learn about myself and the world and I know that everything I left back home will be there when I come back.