It has been about a month since I made the twenty-hour journey from SFO to Chandigarh, India, and it already feels as though I’ve been here a lifetime. It has been such an amazing and earth-shattering experience. Although I have completed less than half of my stay–still five weeks to go–I have already learned more about myself as an individual than I ever anticipated.
So much of our identity is derived from our routine, and it can become difficult to distinguish outside of these barriers. Therefore, in order to explore this concept and to further develop who we are as individuals, we must immerse ourselves in unfamiliarity. Only then can our identity be truly tested, providing opportunity for self discovery. Though such immersion is never easy, I cannot possibly stress the importance of such an experience sufficiently.
Upon arriving in the Delhi Airport after a sixteen-hour flight, I was immediately struck by the fact that I was across the world from everyone I knew and I began to second guess my decision. I had never traveled out of state independently, and wasn’t familiar with the native language or culture. However, once I finally arrived in the Chandigarh Airport and met up with my first host, Harnoor (who is now beginning her exchange with The Athenian School) and her family, my doubts subsided and my exchange began! The transition was, of course, disorienting at first; the time difference alone is 12½ hours. After getting over the initial shock, however, my experience has been incredibly rewarding.
One of the best experiences so far is that I was fortunate enough to arrive in time for Holi, a holiday which celebrates spring. On the day of Holi, Harnoor and I met up with a bunch of her friends and gathered outside to begin. The celebration consists of throwing concentrated color in powdered form on all individuals present, as well as spraying each other with water guns and, if you’re feeling brave, cracking eggs over each other’s heads. Although anyone who knows me will tell you that I don’t particularly like getting my hair wet, let alone egged, there was something completely freeing about the experience. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I was instantly amazed by the spirit of it, one of carefree positivity. I can confidently say it was the messiest I have ever been–or ever thought I would be–in my entire life! The dye didn’t fully come off for about a week afterward and I might even still have a hint of pink in my hair, but it was more than worth it.
Shortly after Holi, it was time for me to join my new classmates for a three-day orientation camping trip in the foothills of Manali. The bus ride to the campsite was the first time I had the opportunity to venture outside of Chandigarh and experience the rural side of India. I remember being quite taken aback as we were driving and I looked out my window to see a large monkey sitting on the side of the road, an animal which I had only ever seen inside a zoo before. When we arrived, the instructors introduced us to the campsite and we participated in some fun camp activities.The trip to Manali was a particularly valuable experience for me. It not only allowed me to get to know my new classmates, but it allowed me to challenge myself mentally, emotionally, and physically. I was immediately met with a large challenge upon discovering that the leading instructors did not speak English. Given that I am not familiar with Hindi, we immediately encountered a language barrier. Everyone involved was very understanding. Through working together and with the help of my new classmates, I was able to participate in all challenges, including descending a small cliff. This was one of my most transformative experiences on exchange so far. Not only am I afraid of heights, but this trepidation was tripled upon witnessing one of my classmates, who had not secured a decent foothold, lost her balance and came crashing into the mountainside below us. Thanks to the harness and safety precautions, she was perfectly safe, but I almost refused to follow through and participate. However, I knew that if I allowed myself to retreat, I would regret forfeiting my opportunity to challenge myself. So, after a prolonged moment of hesitation, I swung my legs over the cliff side and began to descend. After a short time my hesitation evaporated and I reached the ground safely. I was immediately SO grateful I had worked up the guts to do it. I think that’s one of the most important things to remember while on exchange: provided that there is no chance of physical harm, always take every opportunity to challenge yourself, because if you retreat, you will most likely deprive yourself of the opportunity to grow emotionally and learn more about yourself in the process.
After returning from Manali, I shifted houses and am now staying with Ishana Pasi, who completed her exchange at my school Athenian in Danville, California last year. She and her family have been extremely generous and have taken me to many wonderful places including the Golden Temple in Amritsar. It was breathtakingly beautiful and an amazing experience.
I have begun classes at Vivek High School. Since it is so vastly different from Athenian, attending Vivek been an incredible learning experience even though I have only been here for a very short time. The main differences between Vivek and Athenian lie in a few areas. Firstly, the curriculum is structured differently. Classes here are divided into sections based on an area of study which students have decided to pursue. At Athenian, students have a universal core curriculum which they may add to in terms of an art class or may modify in their junior and senior years. Secondly, the environment of study is way more formal at Vivek, as students are required to refer to teachers as “sir” or “ma’am.” At Athenian, we refer to teachers by their first names. Finally, specific uniforms are required at Vivek.
All and all, traveling to India this spring has been such an amazing experience. I already feel like a different person than when I left, as I have learned so much about myself and the greater world around me outside of our Bay Area bubble. It has made me way more culturally aware, more adaptable, more resilient, and more equipped to deal with the challenges which are necessary for us to undergo in order to evolve as individuals. I am excited to see what the next five weeks bring!