When I was leaving the airport in Amristar after meeting my host family, it was about 5 am and I had been traveling for almost 27 hours. The very last thing I expected to see was a cow in the middle of the highway overpass. I was even less prepared for on one else to react to it. Instead, we simply swerved around it and continued on our way.
For the first few weeks, everything felt like that first “cow moment.” Every new experience and cultural difference I was exposed to, like deceptively cute monkeys that tried to steal our food or the traffic which seemed to lack rules and where “lane” appeared to be a loose term, was so surprising and different that I thought I would never get used to it.
However, after traveling around India I learned so much and saw so many amazing places that I fell in love with it. Some of the most beautiful sites were the Golden Temple, Qutb Minar, the Ganges River, and, of course, the Taj Mahal.
At the school, there was a lot of adjusting to be made. I had to get used to saying “sir” and “ma’am.” Although wearing a uniform wasn’t new to me, I still had to adjust to the fact that we had to wear them all the time, even on Sunday, which was our only day off. Besides having school on Saturday, the school life is a lot different to Athenian’s. The classes are mostly lecture and not discussion-based and there was no experiential learning that I could tell. But the kids were always having fun and were always a joy to be around.
I had so much fun on exchange and I owe a lot of that to the girls in my dorm. They were so patient with me while I learned their names and always shared their stories, laughter, and food with me. I learned so much from them and those friendships hold more value to me than anything I have gotten out of exchange.
I also found a second family, and they are some of the most kind and generous people I have ever met. They went out of their way for me and showed me so much of their country. They did everything to make me feel welcomed. My exchange, Esha, was wonderful and I can’t wait to see her in August.
In early May, the school went for “Camps”. Every year each grade goes on a separate camping adventure for a week. My grade went to a place called Rishikesh near the Ganges River. I can honestly say that it was one of the most fun things I have ever done. We hiked and rafted, almost capsizing at a particularly large and fast rapid. We even got the chance to go cliff jumping into the river. At one point we got off the raft and held onto the life line while going through a rapid. Feeling the powerful water push and pull us in every direction was truly unforgettable.
When I think about exchange, I’m sometimes reminded of the cliff jumping. It was scary and a lot of people might have passed up the opportunity and exchange is a lot like that. It takes guts and a lot of blind faith that everything is going to be okay, but sometimes the most exhilarating thrill is the pay off for taking a chance and making that one little step off the edge into the unknown.