Rakhi

Yesterday was the Hindu celebration of Rakhi which is a celebration featuring sisters praying for the well-being of their brothers and also brothers praying for the well being of their sisters. Happy Rakhi to my sisters both home in America, and my host sister, Sangeeta, here in India.

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India: My Job

Many people have been asking what exactly I’m doing here, so I’ll try my best to explain in this post because I’m still learning for myself (welcome to India..).

There are 22 students who live in the house; 14 from Germany, two from Italy,  five from Norway, and one from the Netherlands. Their parents pay a lot of money for them to spend a year studying here in India so the company I work for opened a position as a caretaker so that the students have someone they can talk to 24/7. This is split between me and the main coordinator who also liaises between their schools as well.

Primarily, my job consists of check-ins–making sure everything is going okay at school, adjusting is going well here in India, and most of all making sure there is very minimal conflict within the house.  Admittedly, this was extremely challenging at first. Having been out of high school for the nearly 5 years now, I almost forgot how difficult life can be as a teenager. There are so many different personalities, cultures, and mindsets living in one house. I’ve had no choice but to take this whole process as a learning experience rather than being purely disciplinary.

On tough days, I’m usually trying to teach students more effective ways of communicating their problems. For an example, I came home a few weeks ago when  the coordinator told me about an issue that happened at the student house. One student seemed to be having a very difficult time adjusting. She was living with a host family before she decided she would rather move into the student house. The problem was that no one in the student house was welcoming her into their room. I found her in the stairwell crying.

She told me that she had been kicked out of her room by the other girls because one of her roommates didn’t want her in the room anymore. She obviously needed to sleep somewhere, so I took her back into the room to try to solve what exactly was going on. After about 20 minutes, everything was out in the open. The girl who asked her to leave the room was feeling overwhelmed because she felt like she had become her one and only friend and she didn’t like all the attention. The girl who was kicked out felt a connection to her, but didn’t realize she was so attached. After about a week of giving each other space, you would have never thought anything happened. Because they were able to sit and talk about their problems, a solution was able to be worked out and everyone was able to move on and learn from the experience.  They both seem completely fine now, and they both also have other friends they have made in the house. It makes me incredibly proud to see how the students continue to evolve throughout their journeys here.

Besides dealing with the occasional issues, the students are a blast to be around. We’re all learning from one another as we live in the same residence and are all experiencing India first hand. I’m so happy to be apart of an organization that supports this kind of experience because there aren’t many like it.

As for my personal life, because I have to be in the house or with the students the majority of the day, I don’t get a lot of free time to go out and do things on my own. I have worked out with my boss that I have every other weekend off while the students are at their host families. That leaves twice a month where I can go out and explore India for myself. So far I have taken a train to visit a friend in Delhi, taken a bus to Agra, and gotten to meet some really cool people around Jaipur.

When I return home, I will start my graduate school applications. I’m hoping this experience continues to change me and open my eyes to new experiences. Until then, I will see everyone when I return next year.

India: The Initial Culture Shock

The moment I stepped off the plane, the first thing I noticed was the heat. It was not only hot, but it was incredibly humid;  most days nearly 100%. The extreme time difference was also something I had to adjust to. India is about 9.5 hours ahead of eastern time in the US. The jet lag was like nothing I had experienced before.

As any tourist in India will probably tell you, the traffic here is by far one of the most culturally different things here. When you go onto the road, everything seems so chaotic and disordered. The traffic signs seem to be only suggestions as people travel the wrong way down the road and cars only slow down at red lights, just long enough to see if anyone else is coming from the other direction before continuing through. Never a complete stop, though. There also seems to be no safety regulations. Babies sit casually in the laps of whomever is riding in the front seat of the car, as well as on motorbikes which sometimes have full families  of both parents, two children and even tiny sleeping infants all on one motorbike. When I saw this, I knew for a fact that I was no longer in any western society.

After about three weeks of adjustment, I finally got used to living here. The biggest lesson I learned within these three weeks was patience and calmness. The Indian lifestyle is a mixture of hectic and simple–chaos and patterned. The frustration of not knowing the exact timing of when things will start (named “Indian timing”), the frustration of not knowing the native language and feeling cheated and somewhat exploited wherever money is involved was so overwhelming in the beginning. After about three weeks, though, you suddenly learn the pattern of the way things work in India. You learn to stay calm when all you want to do is panic. You learn how to say things with confidence even if you don’t know things for certain. All these things are skills you learn very quickly if you want to survive these streets.

With all that said, if you take India for what it is you will see the beauty of which India is. You begin to notice the beautiful saris and traditional wear the women have on. You will notice the beautiful Indian architecture of forts and palaces that you can only imagine what they were like when they were built. Your eyes will suddenly open as you’re freed from your initial shock and you start to learn.  With the past  18 years of my life I’ve spent “learning” in school. Nothing compares to this. This is beauty.

It's really happening!

I spent three days traveling from the US to Jaipur with layovers in Munich, Germany and Delhi Airports. Though the flights were long, it somewhat helped me get mentally prepared for my arrival in Jaipur.

Plane from Delhi to Jaipur

The planes in India look like crazy beach planes out of some movie where floating rafts pop out from the bottom so it can land on water. My flight from Delhi to Jaipur only lasted thirty minutes, but when I first saw the plane I definitely got a little nervous.

Landed in IndiaWelcome to India

Welcomed to India

Welcomed to India

When I first got here, I received a bindi with a friendship bracelet. All the kids danced with us and they celebrated our official welcoming to Jaipur.

Our neighbor: Mr. Cow

If you look from the roof at our backyard, you can see the cow that lives next door. This is the loudest cow I’ve ever heard, but I think our neighbors enjoy the fresh milk.

Mosquito bites

The mosquitoes here are unreal. Even American grade mosquito repellant with 40% deet can’t keep the mosquitoes away.

Motorbike

There seems to be no regulations for motorbike safety. Full families are often on the bikes with women sitting off to the side–a conservative must in most of India.

Bus rides..

Also, I’m pretty sure busses have more lax safety regulations. When there’s no room inside the bus, just jump on top! There’s space for everyone.

India: The Backstory

I’m having trouble figuring out where I want to start, so I guess I will start from the very beginning.

It was in April when I found out I would be graduating from college. After four years, three changed majors, a school transfer, and very heavy course loads, I would now officially earn the title of “college graduate”.

At first, this was the best news I had heard. I had actually made it! After the reality started to set in, I started to realize that I literally had no clue as to what I was going to do after college. At this point, it was far too late for me to apply to graduate school, so that option was out.  I thought about adding a second degree and staying in school for another year, but after I took  a look at my student loans and the amount of work I needed to complete in such a short time, I was beginning to think this wasn’t such a good idea either.

I did a little more exploring and found a really awesome and really competitive research fellowship for the summer. I was really doubtful of applying because I wasn’t sure how strong my application would be. My professors and my mentors encouraged me to apply, however, and I eventually found out that I had made it into the top 5%. Even though I didn’t get the spot, I had awesome mentors (thanks Irene and Melody) that gave me hope as I was getting  discouraged by all the doors that were closing.

At this point, I sat down and thought about what it really was that I wanted to do. I had a year until I could start applying for graduate school, but the time in between was just space that needed to be filled. The more and more I thought about it, traveling was easily becoming the only thing that I wanted to do. I had gone to South Africa for a month and a half the year prior and it was such a life changing experience.   I knew, though, that I couldn’t afford to go again especially with the mounds of student debt that was piled on my back.

It was  one month before graduation when literally out of nowhere, I got received an email from the organization I traveled with the previous summer. An internship was being offered by one of their sister organizations  and they were looking for someone to fill the spot. The internship was in India in a city I had never even heard of before, but it offered a monthly paid stipend as well as food and accommodation for up to nine months. I applied, made it through the interview, and was offered and accepted the position two weeks before graduation.

After six weeks  of summer classes, I packed my bags and headed east. My six month journey here began July 1st, 2013 and that is  where my story  will begin.