Camille Batiste – India

Camille 5For the past four weeks I have been living in the lovely and drastically diverse country of India. When I arrived, I was greeted by my exchange, Ishana, and a huge poster of the Taj Mahal that said, “Welcome to India, Camille”.

Throughout my first week-and-a-half in India, many of the students were preparing to take their final board exams. At the beginning of your junior year, students have the option of choosing a stream which they will pursue for their remaining high school career to prepare them for life after high school. There are four streams offered in India: medical, non-med, commerce, and humanities. For example, if a student chose med, also known as sciences, they will be taking classes like Physics, Chemistry, and Biology for the next two years until they apply and are accepted into college.

Camille 4Since the boards were very important, my exchange spent many days and long nights studying for her exams. Many of my first days were spent with my exchange’s family running errands, watching television, drinking cold coffee, or taking rest. My school, Vivek (pronounced Vih-vay-k ) High, requested that I travel to India early so that I could meet my exchange and her friends, explore the country, and participate in the school’s events that were being held prior to the first day of school.

In my first month I played Holi with my exchange and her friends. We spent the day throwing colorful dye, raw eggs, soft drinks, ketchup, canned foam, and lots and lots of water at each other to participate in this lovely celebration of love and color. The following week, my first exchange Ishana, departed for Athenian to begin her exchange and I went camping with the senior class of my school. Our campsite was in Shimla, a tourist and camping destination in the Himalayan Mountains. There we participated in the campground’s exiting adventure courses like zip-lining, valley crossing, rock rappelling, and rope-and-bridge crossing. Being in the hills, I have never seen the Indian sky so clear, the air so fresh and crisp, or the smell so clean and refreshing. My favorite part about the camping trip was that for the first time in over two weeks I was able to see the moon and find constellations amongst the stars. In Camille 3India there are very high levels of air pollution mostly from vehicle exhaust, the overpopulation of people in certain cities, and the burning of trash because there is no definite disposal system. These circumstances make it hard to enjoy everyday pleasures that I have at home like watching the beautiful sunrises and sunsets or star gazing under the beautiful night sky.

Camille 2Once I returned from Shimla, I connected with my second exchange, Rashi. She went on exchange to Germany a few months ago. In the week that I spent with Rashi and her family we took a road trip to Amritsar, 145 miles north of Chandigarh in the state of Punjab. In Amritsar we visited a Jain (pronounced Gen) temple. The Jain religion’s main principle is non-violence towards anything with a soul. This means they have a strict vegan diet which evem excludes certain root plants like onions and garlic. After my host family prayed and paid homage to their god, my host family drove to the Golden Temple. This temple is made completely of gold and houses Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the holy scripture of the Sikh religion. The temple is on an island surrounded by a pool of holy water in which some believers bathe to be cleansed from their sins. It was a very eye-opening experience.

Camille 1This brings me to week four. This week I served as a delegate from the Athenian School in the Regional Round Square Conference 2016. Students from all over India convened at Vivek High to talk and brainstorm about mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of being aware of your surroundings, your actions, and your well-being by honing one’s focus and applying it to your everyday life through meditation and measured breathing. I’ve spent the past five days reinforcing my knowledge of this practice with Buddhist monk, Lama Yeshe. I participated in group discussions IMG-20160418-WA0000with other delegates, ice breaker challenges, and even went camping in the Himalayan Mountains to practice mindfulness in nature.

School does not start until late April. Since I have been here I have already gotten to meet my classmates at Vivek by playing Holi, attending the camping trip, and participating as a delegate in the Round Square Conference. I am so incredibly glad that I have this opportunity to be in India and I cannot wait for the next month full of adventure!