India

First Month/Initial Culture Shock!!

     I can’t believe it’s already been almost a month! It didn’t take long to get settled into life here, and I’m loving every minute of it. I’m still learning new things every day, but I’ve also gotten accustomed to most of the cultural differences that were so foreign to me a month ago.  There are so many things I want to write about, but for now I’ll focus on my first impressions of India and the culture shock I faced upon arrival.

      After over 24 hours of total transport time, I arrived in India full of nerves and excitement. My wonderful host parents greeted me with a bouquet of flowers and incense, and a welcome poster. Surat, my host city, was another 5 hour car ride from Mumbai. As tired as I was during the car ride, it was hard to close my eyes to the new world around me. From my first step out of the airport, I could easily tell I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Palm trees bearing coconuts stood tall everywhere I looked, along with many other species of trees I’d never seen in real life before. The street itself had several designated lanes, but somehow double the amount were in use. The road was shared between cars, rickshaws, buses, bikes, motor scooters, pedestrians, and, in some cases, cows or an occasional camel. Motor scooters weaved between vehicles and lanes, and pedestrians walked dangerously close to vehicles. There were no seconds of silence; everyone was honking their horns. At first observation, it appeared as if there were no road rules at all, besides generally keeping left. After one month here, it still appears as if there are no road rules, but I’m used to the chaos and I am even comfortable crossing the road by myself (after weeks of only crossing while holding my host mom’s hand).

     Food aside, the process of eating itself has proved to be a bit of a cultural difference. While silverware isn’t necessarily hard to come by here, it isn’t used by everyone. While I don’t want to compare my two exchanges, it became immediately evident that the controlled fork and knife etiquette I mastered while in Austria would be of no use here. As everyone here eats food with their right hand, I immediately switched to eating with my right hand despite having eaten with my left hand my entire life. This in itself was a challenge. Holding a spoon in my right hand feels much like writing with my right hand does: awkward and strange for the lefty I am. When a spoon or fork isn’t necessary (which is most of the time), meals are only eaten with the hands. I’ll talk more about foods and mealtime in India in a further post, but needless to say I’ve mostly mastered hand eating too.

     I won’t go into depths on toilets here, but I feel like I can’t talk about culture shock without at least mentioning them. It’s true that toilet paper isn’t super common here, and I packed my luggage accordingly. However, I’ve quickly grown to love the alternatives here! Pressurized water sprayers on the backs of toilet seats and handheld water sprayers accompany almost every toilet here, and they’re surprisingly effective. I should also mention that I have managed to avoid public toilets since arriving and have not yet had to pop a squat.

     Another culture shock I faced after some time has to do less with physical differences and more to do with the differences in how people here act. My whole life, I’ve been trained to say “thank you” whenever anyone does something for me, big or small, and that one can never say thank you too much. This actually isn’t true in India, as saying thank you (especially between family members) can create an unnecessary formality and distance between people. This seems to also be the case for “sorry” and “please.” These terms are still used sometimes, but aren’t necessary in every situation. Although I understand the cultural difference and am trying to adapt to it, I still cringe at myself every time I simply say “no” or  “yes” instead of “no, thanks,” or “yes, please.” Hugs and physical affection here are also not common. Because of these reasons, I’ve been having trouble trying to express my gratitude!

    I’ve been so busy between school, Rotary events, and different two traditional Indian dance classes that I haven’t had much time to sit and write, but today was the first day I’ve seen the sun since coming here since it’s currently monsoon season. Pretty much every day has been cloudy and in the upper 80ºs, with on and off showers. I took advantage of the sun by sitting on the roof of my house with some incense, chocolates, good music, and my laptop to write this blog!

      This first month has been one of the best of my life! Every day is full of new experiences, rich culture, extremely friendly people, great food, and, as cliche as it sounds, self-discovery. I’m so excited to see where this year leads me!!

      Thank you all for following me on my journey!

      Don’t forget to follow my Instagram @ashlyns.exchangeyear for frequent pictures AND don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or want to chat!

xxxx Ashlyn

My arrival in Mumbai with my host parents

Celebration with my extended host family

The view from the terrace/roof of my house

There are more motor scooters than cars here, and riding them in India’s traffic is terrifying but fantastic

The Pre-Exchange Feeling

I’m writing this blog from the Chicago airport during my 6 hour layover here. I want to write about what I’m feeling, but I’m not sure I can summarize it, or even put the feeling into words. Regardless of this being my second exchange, I’m still nervous and even a little scared. Stepping into the unknown, away from everything that’s familiar to you, is no easy task. It’s been half a year since I found out I’m going to India, but the reality only started to kick in about a week ago. I’ve gone through every emotion in the last week, and sometimes several at once. One minute I’m so inexplicably excited, and I feel my heart skip a beat every time I think of India and the culture, sights, and adventures I’m about to experience. The next minute I doubt myself, and feel nervous about the unknowns that lie ahead of me. There’s something extremely nerve-wracking about knowing next to nothing about the next year of your life.

I don’t want to fear it. The fear creeps up subconsciously. I know there’s no use in fearing the life ahead of me, because I can’t turn back now. Besides, I’m more excited than I am nervous. The prospect of living a new life, making new friends and meeting new people, learning a new language, and experiencing a completely different culture is exhilarating. I’ve spent a large portion of this long layover watching vlogs from past exchange students who went to India, and learning little bits of Hindi. With every picture or video I see of the country I’ll soon call home, I feel an excitement I can’t describe, and my fears and doubts melt away.

Up until my first flight I had mixed emotions that came in contradicting waves. Now that I’m on my way there, with 27 more hours of travel ahead of me, I’m ready to arrive at any time. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be, and my phase of stressing is over. It’s time to embrace this opportunity and this life.

See you soon, Surat!

Ashlyn xx

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