Fiona Plunkett Gets Ready to Leave India
My final few days in India are upon me now and I can’t believe I’m heading back to the U.S. The time has flown by. It does feel like I’ve been here for many weeks, because I’ve had so many experiences and gotten so used to living here, but at the same time it feels like my exchange should not yet be over. I feel like I haven’t experienced enough–and maybe I never will. There is so much of the world to take in, and even two months is short when faced with a new country.
My new host family (my old host, Tiya, left for exchange five weeks after I arrived in India) took me to an Indian wedding during my first weekend with them. We went for one day of the reception. Attending an Indian wedding was something I was really looking forward to on my exchange, and it was so much fun. I borrowed my outfit and jewelry from my host family. For shoes I wore a pair of juttis that I purchased in Kasauli. I loved getting all dressed up. The area for the reception of the wedding was decked out in strings of lights that glowed through the night.
At the wedding itself, there wasn’t much to do, but I was never bored—I spent my time looking around at all the beautiful outfits. Stretching around the reception were endless counters of food, from all different regions, being prepared right there. My host Shamshir and I ate tons of Chinese food and pasta, and I even managed room to try a few bites of several different desserts. The entire experience was so much fun for me. I’ve never been to anything like that before, so I’m so happy I got the chance to go for the reception while I was here in India.
We visited the Taj Mahal at the beginning of May. As someone who prefers cold weather, the heat was difficult to bear, but the Taj Mahal was beautiful. The symmetry, architecture, and detailing on the mausoleum was incredible, and it has been standing for hundreds of years.
Upon entering the mausoleum, we had to don shoe covers, and photography was not allowed inside. Our guide told us later as we circled the outside that the four towers standing out from each corner were not built straight, but instead leaned slightly out. This, he explained, was so that if there were ever a severe earthquake, the towers would fall outward, and not damage the Taj Mahal. It was made to withstand time, and it has; due to its worldwide fame, it’s well taken care of. The dead lying within surely didn’t imagine that the mausoleum would someday be a tourist site when the building was created to last a long time.
After exploring the grounds, entering the building itself, and seeing the tomb, we left. We went straight to buy huge bottles of water before we looked around at items for sale, and eventually headed back to the car.
The new school year started six weeks ago. In school, my closest friends are Harnoor, Nandana and Japun. We often hang out after school. Sometimes we go to the mall here, Elante, and consume vast amounts of pizza, while other times we just watch How To Get Away With Murder. I’m going to miss everyone so much when I leave in a couple of days.
This past week, the weather hasn’t been as hot, and it even rained. When I heard the thunder I rushed outside and stood in the rain for a good 15 minutes. Then my host mom and I went on a walk through the rain as it slowed and finally stopped. We made our way down the street and through the row of parks. Though it wasn’t a big thing we went out and did, it was one of my favorite experiences. I wish the rain would come back.
I’ve had so much fun here, and everything seems very normal to me. I can’t imagine going back to the U.S. right now—I’m not ready to leave. I’m so glad I got to have this experience. I think when I get home I will realize more fully the truly profound impact of exchange, and how much I have grown and changed while here. I’m so happy to have had this opportunity and experience.
Fiona Plunkett Arrives In India
I 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.
A 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.
School 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 to 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.
The 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.
Though 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.
I 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.