Study Abroad, Travel

Well This Just Got Interesting….

One of the more interesting aspects of my time so far in India has been the state of the Indian Economy. As classes have started and we dive into various development and macroeconomic theories, it’s sometimes easy to forget that we are living in one of the most interesting cases of development, well, ever. I came here to experience India and often discounted the role that my classes would have on my time here. However, so far they have been an incredibly interesting companion to my experiences here. One great example of this is that we spent most of yesterday talking about India’s current economy then went to visit a settlement in Jaipur. To see the need first hand really bridged the abstract academic theories of economics with the real life need in our back yard. Another example of this has been the rapid change the rupee has experienced during my time here (literally two weeks.) When I first arrived the rupee was around 62 rupees to one dollar. Three days ago it was 69 rupees to 1 dollar. Now it’s around 65 rupees. HOLY SHIT! I’m trying to time my exchange transactions and my purchases accordingly but it’s becoming difficult.

Anyways, this was a weak excuse for a post but I’m packing for the weekend and I have way to much to say to write more right now (does that make sense?) Hope everyone at home is doing well and you all better hope the rupee keeps falling- it will directly pertain to the quality of your Christmas presents.

Study Abroad, Travel

Walking Far From Home

I had a great experience on Sunday. Mr. Mehta invited me to join him on his daily laps around the park. He said he usually walks 10-12 times and he enjoys the fresh air and exercise. Today he wanted company and he thought this would be a good opportunity to speak to me further. We talked the whole time about development, about technology, about America’s role in the world, and about the shortfalls of the current states of both Indian and American government. Mr. Mehta is a very intelligent man- he cited Gandhi and his push for de-centralized government. We spoke about Thorough, civil disobedience, and the subtlety of Walden. We talked about Occupy Wall street, Prop 13, and Citizens United. We spoke about corruption, partisanship, and equality…

It was amazing how often we agreed. It was amazing how often we realized that at the heart of each problem we discussed were very similar issues. India and the United States are different in nearly every way. It’s sad how we found commonality in greed and power. But it was amazing that with so little in common, we could enjoy a nice Sunday walk in the park talking about philosophy, politics, and current affairs.

Study Abroad

Why do I eat paneer? Why do rickshaw drivers try to pass real cars? I chose India, not because it is easy….

Orientation Week in India: a week full of rude awakenings and stark reminders of the differences between my home culture and the culture I currently live in. In the past 5 days, our group has gone through countless orientation sessions- from a meeting with a doctor, to a session with a mental health expert, and even an interesting video on how to use an eastern toilet[i]. Many of these talks have centered on gender; after all, 14 of the 18 students in my group are female. India has, what I[ii] would consider, extreme limitations and taboos placed on females. These restrictions range from dress (say goodbye to tank-tops or shorts), to literacy (81% and 53% male and female literacy rates respectively). But the greatest restriction seems to be in the comfort and safety of the females on our group. The topic is consistently on our minds and women must be constantly aware of their actions, the appearance of their actions, and as a result, the place they hold in society. This may not affect me in the same way, but it is an incredibly interesting aspect of my time here. It seems to create two conflicting feelings, a desire to immerse oneself in the culture of India, while at the same time fighting for the rights of future women. I’m sure this aspect of Indian culture will play out over my time here and I will note any interest incidents or relevant articles I find.

 

For me, the real orientation started last night. After attending a hilarious Bollywood movie[iii], my group was finally introduced to the families we will be staying with over the next two months[iv]. It was clear that everybody was extremely anxious, and for good reason- our families will be one of the primary portals we have through which to observe and experience India[v]. Although we will be taking rigorous classes and taking frequent trips outside of the city, our everyday routine will begin and end with our homestays.

 

For these two months I will be living with the Mehta’s. Mr. Chinmay Mehta is currently an artist and interior designer who specializes in traditional art and design. He was at one point a Senior Faculty member at the University of Rajasthan where he taught mostly fine art. He is an avid reader and art collector. Upstairs is an art studio where he trades time completing massive wood sculptures, metal shaping, and glass murals. His art appears in several cultural centers throughout the region and he still leads groups of American students on excursions around Jaipur. He met Mrs. Mehta when she was studying at the university and they now have two children. One is married and lives in the house. Her husband works in Delhi and commutes to Jaipur on the weekends. Their son is in 10th grade and is passionate about music- mostly rock and metal[vi]. There are some similarities to my family- the parents are older, there is an older sibling, and of course they have a love of art. There are also some similarities with the family I stayed with in Liberia- the personality of the mother, the house filled with religious objects and children’s stickers, and the goddamn mosquitos[vii]. Their house is filled with Hindu, Buddhist, Chinese, Korean, and even American art. There is even a shrine in my room. It definitely seems eo encourage frequent reading and meditation- my exact plan for the next eight weeks. The house is located in the historic neighborhood, Jiwahar Nigar, one of the nicest neighborhoods in Jaipur. Positioned right against the Aravalli (Hill) Range, it is comprised of thousands of shops, beautiful homes, and its fair share of public parks[viii]. The family has hosted around 17 SIT students before me; I am just the 2nd male. They seem very old-fashioned, very educated, very hospitable, and luckily enough for me, very willing to give me independence.

 

I took advantage of that independence today to go explore the city. I took an auto-rickshaw[ix], the main form of transportation, and headed to the Johari Bazar, a giant market right outside the gates of the old city. There I purchased a couple of traditional Indian short-kurtas decorated with the traditional Rajasthani block print[x]. From there I took a rickshaw to a shop on the famed M.I. Road. Although I was unable to find any shirts to my liking, I settled for a great lunch at the Niros Resturaunt, a favorite among tourists. All in all it was a successful day, but not just because I made it back alive. It was successful because it was filled with failures at every stop: I got ripped off by every cab driver, I almost got lost, I was harassed at one point, and throughout the day I was hot, sweaty, tired, and homesick. Today was the last step of orientation. No amount of learning inside the classroom can replace the experiences I have had in the last 24 hours- from meeting my family, to eating my first meal here, to haggling at the Bazar. Today was incredibly challenging in so many ways but that’s why it was so valuable. If I wanted to never get ripped off by a storeowner or cab driver during my time here then I would have had to stay at home. If I wanted to eat dinner without messing up the traditional method of eating a meal, I would have starved. Every time I feel down, homesick, or frustrated, I remember that the reason I chose to study in India was because I wanted to challenge myself; to push myself. And so far that seems to be 100% inevitable.

 

This week I will start classes, take a Hindi placement test[xi], and learn more about the city. I’m excited to find a routine and begin planning further excursions. Rumor has it that the weather will begin to cool off soon so I have that to look forward to as well. I hope everybody is doing well back at home and I’ll update everyone soon!

 

 


[i] The man looked like the Indian guy in Beer Fest (for reference)

[ii] “I” in this case means any reasonable person

[iii] The Chennai Express was the worst piece of cinema I have ever watched. Ever.

[iv] After these two months I will be working on my Independent Study Project (ISP) somewhere else, possibly Delhi.

[v] I think they were mostly just nervous because of the Eastern Toilet video

[vi] He asked if I knew of the band, “Creed”…. (to his credit he also listens to Metallica)

[vii] Maybe I can do my ISP on how to alleviate the world of mosquitos

[viii] As a former intern of the Rose Kennedy Greenway, this made me proud. I wonder what my (former) urban planner father would think…

[ix] See the photo gallery for an example…. India is not exactly the “Land of Horse Power”

[x] I doubt I will ever take the opportunity to rock the long kurta, however the short kurta has been advertised to me as a solution to the stifling weather

[xi] Because none of us have taken Hindi, this is clearly just a test of who didn’t have a TV/car/internet this summer

Study Abroad

Flight UA82

Disclaimer: I arrived in Delhi on the night of August 25th. Since then things have been hectic. Lots of heat and humidity and very little internet. I will add another post this weekend….

On the morning of September 28th 2010 I couldn’t sleep. I know I couldn’t sleep because I can never sleep the night before a trip. I was about to set off on the biggest adventure of my life so far: 4 months in on a ranch in Mexico[1]. Wearing some old jeans and my Grandpa’s flannel (which my mom had brought me back from Washington after his passing the week before,) and holding a Cormac McCarthy book, I set off for a cowboy fantasy. That day parallels today in many ways. A romance with adventure remains. An excited anxiety persists.

Yet, my life today could not be more different than it was in 2010. When I left for Mexico I left very little baggage. I was a cowboy; cowboys have no baggage[2]. It was a time of introspection, of consumption really. I may have been working but I was there for myself and myself only. Today I feel much more vested in what I’m leaving behind. My place in the CMC community, my connection with my family, and a great relationship that will turn two in December- all of these things keep my life fulfilling and awesome but are also on my mind wherever I go. But, in part from what I have learned from these things, I also feel much more prepared to contribute. I feel more grounded in my self, in my life, and in my interests. I have also gone on several other adventures- some of them closer to home than others, but all challenging and enlightening.

Once again, I am excited to be a student in a foreign culture; To consume the mysticism, and ‘psychedelic chaos’[3] of India. Once I arrive in Delhi, jetlagged, toppling from the odd sensation of being transported from one world to another in less than a day, I will be meet the other students in my group, the faculty who will guide my time in Jaipur, and the family I will be living with. I’m sure all of this will be a flurry. I’m sure this craziness won’t end until I step foot on the plane in 4 months. And I’m sure, just like my time in Mexico, my time there will be drastically different from anything I could have ever imagined- exciting, fulfilling, and challenging too. My goal is to maintain the same sense of adventure, of curiosity, of childlike amazement that brought me and my cowboy boots[4] to Mexico. Except this time, thanks to the experiences and friends I have added to my life in the last 4 years, and those who have persisted to support me and inspire me, I’m bringing a lot more knowledge, purpose, and inspiration. I only hope I can communicate all those things on this elaborate, professionally designed[5] blog!

To be continued….

 


[1] Until the job kind of sucked and I got hired at a hotel development company which was equally if not more rewarding

[2] Source: Basically any good western ever. Unless it was a great love story. But this wasn’t.

[3] From Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found. An awesome book and a great descriptor of the craziness of India

[4] How do inanimate objects effect the ‘me and..’  or the ‘and I…’ rule? Why am I lerning a third language if I cant remember this one?

[5] False