Fiona Plunkett is in India

Fiona from Bubbles 1I arrived in Chandigarh, India six weeks ago. At that time everyone was just finishing their final days of exams, before a three week break followed by the new session. Exchanges who come during this time are told to come at the beginning of this break in order to participate in the class-wide treks and tours that happen annually; however, this year, due to swine flu, no one is traveling and the trips were canceled. This meant that I had time to settle in and meet some people before I started school, which I think was great. I had time to adjust to a new house and a new school separately, instead of being hit with that all at once.

Fiona Plunkett 5A little over a week after I arrived, my host family took me to a British-built hill station called Dagshai. The hills were less hot than Chandigarh, and the environment with the trees and cooler air felt a lot more like California. While there we visited the local jail and museum, the church and the animals behind it, and an old cemetery filled mostly with graves of British army officers and their families. Though many tombstones had originally been ornate, thieves had broken off most of the marble and materials of value over the past couple of centuries, leaving the graves looking very old and worn. In some places, the base of the gravestone was barely visible—the entire rest of the stone had been stolen long before. Under the arch where there once was a gatekeeper’s house, there was only dust and pieces of broken tombs.

Fiona Plunkett 3School didn’t start till April, so in the meantime I hung out with my host family. We played board games, watched TV, and went to the park in the evenings to walk around or play badminton. We took two more trips to the hills. First to Kasauli, where we shopped for a bit and I purchased some juttis (traditional North Indian shoes). Later, the weekend after school began, I went with my host family toFiona Plunkett 2 Barog station on the Kalka-Shimla railway (which is a UNESCO world heritage site). By this time the weather was getting hotter, and even the hills were warmer. The train had just left when we got there, so we walked a little ways into the tunnel before setting off searching for the half-tunnel on the other side of the hill. The architect of this tunnel messed up his calculations, and the two sides didn’t meet in the middle, so one end goes nowhere into the hill. Though unsuccessful in finding it the abandoned, unfinished tunnel, we got to walk up the hill and explore.

Fiona Plunkett 4The school I am going to is very different from Athenian. Every day there are eight classes (counting clubs in the morning, when they can choose an activity) and each class is forty minutes long. They don’t have a lunch break in the same way we do. Around 11:00 is recess. Many kids bring some food to eat at this time, or buy ice cream, iced tea or popcorn from school. At 2:00 classes end and most days I take the bus home then to eat lunch. Thursdays and Fridays are long days when we attend afternoon clubs and the school day ends at 3:30.

Within grades, everyone is in a section. Except for recess, clubs, library, yoga, etc., all your classes are held in one classroom. During the day you stay in your classroom with your section and the teachers come to you. After 10th grade, the nationwide board exams are held and students have to choose a stream to continue on with. In 11th and 12th the students will only take certain classes—for example, they can choose to pursue only social sciences.

Fiona from Bubbles 3Though it is a very different school, everyone has been very nice to me. There aren’t any other exchange students right now. I attend all my classes and have gotten to know a lot of people in my section. Outside my section there are also several other students whom I’ve talked with a lot, either because they are friends with my host or because they came over and said hi.

Fiona from Bubbles 2I can’t believe that I will only be in India for a short few more weeks. Perhaps it’s because school only started three weeks ago, but two months in another country does not sound like a long time any more. I feel like I’ve been here for such a short time and it keeps passing so quickly. But I’m going to make the most out of whatever time I have while I’m still here.