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Just a quick blog update before I head to bed – we have an early morning ahead of us since we will be leaving for Kerala tomorrow!

The past week has been pretty low key. We’ve barely had class – just 3 days last week and 3 days this week! We had Thursday and Friday off last week because of holidays, and this week we have Thursday and Friday off for Easter holidays (even though we would miss class anyway for traveling). Last Friday was Bengali New Year. It’s not a celebration like 1 January New Year’s, but a small family event. Our host family had relatives visiting at the time, who were great to talk to. We all dressed up in saris and had a traditional Bengali meal for lunch, served on banana leaves! There was green mango juice for a drink, rice, dal, fried fish, prawns and vegetables, fried potatoes, more fish, a potato preparation, and of course – many many sweets. We had mishti doi (sweetened thick yogurt – YUM) and a few others. Bengalis are known for their love of food, especially sweets! I spent most of the day just working on homework, and Kathryn and Kia came over for dinner before we all went out with our friends Haroon and Atif for some late-night coffee. We’re so lucky we have a program that allows us to meet and spend time with Indian students! :) Saturday was also pretty low key – lots of time spent on my research paper, and then Elizabeth, Danny, and I spent the night at Kathryn’s! It was a great night even though we didn’t do much – watching movies while snacking on popcorn :) We had the most amazing

our amazing breakfast - pancakes, eggs, and hot chocolate!

breakfast in the morning though…PANCAKES! :D Kathryn’s dad had brought along some just-add-water packets of Bisquick with him when he visited last month, so we whipped up some of those and had an American breakfast feast! It was wonderful to get a taste of home.  The next few days were also fairly unremarkable, since I spent a lot of time getting my research paper and other work done so I could completely relax in Kerala this upcoming week :)

Last night was our celebration of Bengali New Year as a group. It was a lot bigger deal than I had expected – I thought we were just performing a little dance in front of our host parents, but there were many more people there! Madhu explained to our guests that this celebration was a culmination of all our efforts and what we have learned through our Bengali folk arts course. Everyone performed a song or recited a poem, and they all were wonderful! The 4 of us recited a Bengali poem (in Bengali! The whole performance was in Bengali) that was a playful piece alluding to how much Bengalis love to eat. After the performances/recitations, we performed a dance as an entire group. We were taught this dance that told the story of a new bride being welcomed into her husband’s home/family. We were all dressed up in saris and assigned roles to enact the story -Elizabeth was the bride, Michael was the groom, Jennifer and Bekkah were the mothers, Haley the elder sister of the bride, Danny the elder brother of the groom, and the rest of us were dancers. In the song and through the dance we bless the bride, admire her jewelry, admire the groom’s attire, sweep a place for them to sit, and just bless and welcome them in general. The dance went off quite well! We didn’t make too many mistakes. We all had a great time – and our guests included host parents, teachers, and art workshop instructors. It was a wonderful celebration, and everyone admired our efforts – they even complimented our Bengali pronunciation!

reciting our poem

The whole group, with Madhu and 2 of our teachers from SXC - Sweta and Rajib

Tomorrow, we’re headed off to Kerala for a week long excursion. It’s going to be wonderful! Kerala is in the southern tip of India on the western side. It’s going to be a busy excursion – 6 nights in 6 different places! We’ll be on the beach, spend a night in a houseboat, see spice plantations and tea gardens, historical monuments, and more. I can’t wait!

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Already April 3rd – time is flying! It’s been an eventful week and a half or so. Right now, I’ve just started to unpack from a weekend family vacation to the coast and decided to take a break with a blog update.

Last weekend, we visited the Victoria Memorial – one of the most known monuments of Kolkata. It was completed in the 1920s and was a monument more to the British presence and a symbol of their power in Kolkata and served as a museum.It’s an impressive building – best described as cross between the U.S. Capitol building and the Taj Mahal. There are many galleries inside with lots of artwork, but I preferred the exhibit on the history of Kolkata – there is so much to learn! We spent a few hours there and spent the rest of the day relaxing and teaching Arundhati how to make chocolate chip cookies :) Sunday was an eventful day. We all went as a group to a Jain ceremony – 2 of Madhu’s neighbors are in the process of becoming Jain nuns and she was invited to the ceremony, so she brought all of us along to see what it’s like. I had never heard of the Jain religion before coming to India, and I still haven’t had much exposure to it yet. I’ve read about Jain nuns in one of my books for class – Nine Lives – and it’s incredibly fascinating. I’ll share only what I know, but please don’t think of me as the authority on this and keep in mind that these are monastic Jains and the average Jain is not this rigid in their beliefs. These are Jain nuns, devoting their life to their religious beliefs. The Jain religion is isolated to India, and is most known by its belief of non-violence. Jains believe that there is the spirit of God in every living creature, so one of the main beliefs is no violence. They are strict vegetarians, which also excludes eggs, fish, and root vegetables (because harvesting them kills the plant, and also the numerous microorganisms that live on the plant or in the ground). Monastic Jains also wear masks over their mouth so as not to swallow any insects. They also sweep the ground in front of them as they walk so they don’t step on and kill any living things. They are not allowed to take any form of transportation other than their own two feet. They eat only once a day and only in the daylight so they can see what they are eating. If they find a bug or something in their food, they must drop it and wait to eat until the next day. The monastic Jains take 5 vows – no violence, no stealing, no untruth, no sex, no attachment. The no stealing can go as far as one must ask to use a table to set down something, because if they set down something on the table without asking it’s a form of stealing. The no attachment is also intriguing – they have no material possessions and must detach from personal relationships. This doesn’t mean they live as hermits – they do live in communities. They believe that all attachments cause suffering, and the release from suffering is Enlightenment. They also believe in reincarnation. Once one decides to become a Jain monk/nun, they renounce all their possessions and become a stranger to all their friends and family. At the end of their final ceremony, these women will walk of the ceremonial stage and will never see their family again. If they do, they may be friendly to them but still will be a stranger. The ceremony we saw was the second to last ceremony – and I didn’t understand much of it since it wasn’t in English. There were hundreds of people there, and it was a strange mood. To me, it seemed partway between a marriage and funeral – it was happy and celebratory like a marriage but also a bit somber like a funeral since it’s only another month before these women won’t be seen again by their family and friends. There wasn’t much that actually happened – their cousin was speaking, there were slide shows of the women, and the women sat up front looking slightly uncomfortable on display.

After the ceremony, we all came back to our house for an art workshop. Alpona is an art form that is a paste made from rice and water which is applied to floors and walls for celebrations. It was a lot of fun to draw on the floor and I can’t believe some of the detailed drawings. It’s difficult to be precise at the first go – you have to hold the pouch of rice paste carefully so there’s enough pressure that it won’t be too watery or too thick and so that it will drip down your fingers the right way. I went to go see the movie the King’s Speech on Sunday night – and it was a wonderful movie! I loved it. Colin Firth was amazing – I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to adopt a speech impediment when you don’t have one.

Class was pretty uneventful as usual this week – nothing to report there, except that we’re all feeling a little stressed out with all the deadlines that have seemed to appear out of no where. We knew we would have several assignments to finish before the end of the semester, but the deadlines and expectations weren’t outlined until last week. We’ve all got a lot to do before we head home in another month, and we’re seeing the days count down. The time left is feeling pretty segmented now – we have one full week of class left next week, a few days of class and then Thursday and Friday off, then three days of class before we have a 6-day trip to Kerala. After that will just be another week or so and I’ll be headed home!

Loreto has been okay lately. I’ve kept up on going twice a week for a total of at least 4 hours a week, and I’m getting closer to some of the girls. Durgi has taken to calling me “mama” and many more girls now recognize me and are happy to see me. I’m enjoying spending time playing with them more than tutoring them, since the language barrier is pretty discouraging. I tried teaching one of the girls, Andrea, how to play hangman the other day. It started out okay, but she may not know many words in English or how to spell them yet and she started to get frustrated when she kept guessing letters that weren’t correct. I’ll try again another time with 3-letter words and we’ll see if that’s better.

Drawing with Rosie on my lap

The Cricket World Cup came to a close this week. Wednesday was the semi-final of India vs. Pakistan, and I went to city centre with my friends to watch it. There were so many people there – and their enthusiasm and passion for their team was infectious! India won – and it was great to see everyone celebrating. The final was just last night – India vs. Sri Lanka. It was a tense really close game – and India won!!! It was awesome. And how awesome for us – our first real exposure to cricket is during the world cup and our host country wins :)

The crowd at City Centre for the semi-finals

We left on Thursday night on an overnight train for a weekend family vacation to Puri! Puri is on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, but is an easy train ride away from Kolkata. Our family has been planning this for weeks – and it was hard for Arundhati to contain her excitement. The overnight train was fine – similar to the train we took from Jodhpur to Dehli except it was three-tier sleeper this time and the AC was cranked so high that I had trouble sleeping since I was so cold. Puri was nice – the beach was awesome! It was nice to be out in the fresh air and it was great to swim. There was really nice soft sand, and there were huge waves. Apparently Indians must not have swimsuits or don’t swim very often, because there were very few Indians swimming and the few that were swam in shorts and a t-shirt. We were some of the only women swimming, and of course we were well covered in tank tops and shorts. There were also lifeguards available – in their funny cone-shaped hats – and our family was much less worried if we were swimming with the lifeguard. However, the lifeguard (an older man with just a kind of loin cloth for a swimsuit) hovered so close to us the entire time it felt pretty suffocating. He was never more than 10 feet away, even though we were never in more than chest-deep water. I hate feeling so restricted and feeling like I’m being treated like a child. That was the only downside to the swimming. We also did some sightseeing in the nearby area, to a really famous temple called the Sun Temple (though we didn’t go in since the ticket prices were pretty ridiculous for foreigners) and my favorite stop was in a village. This village was an entire art community – every house was a home and a workshop for whatever craft that family made. I got some great art – some painted coconuts that will become Christmas tree ornaments and an awesome painting/etching on palm leaf. I love buying crafts here! We also just had some great family bonding time – watching the cricket final on TV, hanging out on the beach, dinners out, and teaching Vinayak card games. It was a great weekend, and I’m glad I still have another month to spend with them :)

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Namaste, everyone!

It’s hard to believe I left home exactly a month ago. In a couple days, I will have been here officially for one month! AGH! Even weirder, I was in France 2 months ago. This is just a crazy year of my life. I feel like I haven’t even been able to really process France yet because I haven’t had time. I realized that yesterday, as I was showing pictures and telling some Europe stories to Brynn…and she’s the first person I’ve shown pictures to and told stories to! I didn’t have time while I was home, plus I was mostly with my family and Karl who basically knew what I did while I was in France.

I am feeling much better. I started antibiotics the day after my last blog post, and they made me feel better right away. It was hard eating the following few days, and I definitely didn’t want Indian food! Being sick really made me homesick too – I just wanted to be home with the people who love me and with my mom’s food! Indian food is such an adjustment. I don’t hate it, it’s just hard to eat something so different from my normal diet at home and that’s all there is to eat here. Our host mom is a really good cook…but it’s just an adjustment to having rice at every meal and some vegetable mixture and a lot of fish. With the exception of 2 nights ago, I can’t remember the last time I had meat. Last night, Elizabeth made dinner (veggie stir fry) and our host mom said she wants to learn some cooking from us! She says she not very good at making pasta and has never made cookies and wants to learn how to make bread – it’s going to be great teaching her. Of course, she’s going to be teaching us some Bengali cooking in return. She was actually very sweet when I was sick – the day I stayed home I was by myself and feeling very homesick and my roommates were all gone. I was having tea, and Arundhati came home from work and was sitting with me. I started to get a little teary, and she gave me a big hug and took me upstairs with her and we just  talked for a few hours. We all had dinner together as a family, and watched a little television. They are a wonderful family, and I feel very fortunate to be living with them and such great roommates.

I have barely had any class. Last week, we only had a few classes and then I was sick on Thursday and stayed home. On Friday, we didn’t really have class. Our teacher on Friday is also the vice principal of St. Xavier’s and she was busy preparing for a big festival this past weekend, so she didn’t have class but had us watch a movie instead. We watched the movie Gandhi, which was pretty good. We haven’t had class this week yet, and I’m not entirely sure why we had Monday and Tuesday off but today is a national holiday, Republic Day. We’ll have class tomorrow, and then Friday we leave for our trip to North Bengal. We’ll be gone until Tuesday, so no class again until Wednesday! After that, I think we will finally have a regular routine of having class…but who knows. Things are so unorganized here, I never what’s going on each day. For example, this weekend we are going to North Bengal and are supposedly going to the Himalayas, but I have no idea where we are going and what we’re doing. Madhu, our director, always has about 8 million things going on in her head so it’s best if we just remain on a need-to-know-basis so she has time to sort everything out. It really seems like we will barely have class here, since we aren’t even actually starting classes until February, and then we will finish classes by about mid/end of April. So that’s about 2.5-3 months of class. It’s nice to have such a relaxing semester, but it would be nice to have a routine here! It makes getting adjusted that much harder.

We had an orientation at the place where most of us are going to be volunteering, Loreto Day School. It’s a school here in Kolkata for girls – half of their students are paying students, and the half who do not pay come from very poor families. Another group of students live at the school – they may or may not attend class at the school, but they came from off the streets and live there and they are called the Rainbow kids. This place is so amazing – it has about 20 programs, and it’s run by Sister Cyril, an AMAZING woman. The whole philosophy about the place is amazing – more about solidarity than charity. If they see the need for a program, they don’t wait for the money and logistics to start it, they just do it. They train teachers who don’t have the time or money to attending a teacher training college, they send teachers into the rural areas, the urban slums, the brickfields, and the fishing communities (all communities where children are not really allowed the opportunity to go to school), they lend money to local people to help them with businesses, they search out hidden domestic child labor, they have special ed students, they have a home for elderly people….the list just goes on and on. Sr. Cyril just sees the need for help and just makes so much good out of it, it’s amazing! We are mostly going to be working with the Rainbow kids, so it seems…but since we’re here for so much longer, we will also get to visit some of the other programs like going to the rural villages, going to the brickfields, or helping with the hidden domestic child labor. It’s so great to be able to be a part of this inspiring organization. When we were there, we just had a tour of the place and then sat with the rainbow kids for a while. I sat with a little girl named Priyanka, who was practicing writing English (the normal students come up to help teach/tutor the rainbow kids…more enforcement of the solidarity, not charity). She was very cute, and doesn’t know how old she is. She doesn’t speak much English, but she was so excited to teach me a little Bengali! She was teaching me how to count to 10 in Bengali. I’m not sure how we’re going to fit in there yet, but I hope it will be good.

There have been a lot of frustrations lately, and it makes it that much easier to feel homesick. India is just very intense, and it’s full of contradictions and extremes that are hard to understand and process. Being in class is supposed to help us understand India a bit more, but we’ve barely had any class! I’m trying to not be homesick, but it’s a struggle. It’s hard having 2 semesters abroad back-to-back, and I miss campus a lot more this semester. One second I feel like I love it here and am so happy I’m here, and the next second I don’t know how I’m going to survive here for the next 4 months. At times, May feels very close and other times it feels very far away. Part of the reason that makes India so hard is that it’s difficult to fulfill basic needs. It’s hard to sleep here, because the mattresses are literally rock hard and there’s tons of noise at all hours of the day; you can’t wash away the stress with a nice long hot shower, because you use a cup and a bucket to bathe; it’s hard to eat, because the diet is so radically different from home and your stomach is freaking out from bacteria and from the spices and doesn’t know how to digest this food that you never eat at home; it’s hard to find bathrooms, and they are rarely ever hygienic in the least; you’re always sick with something, if it’s not stomach upset, it’s something else – I’m congested with a cold now that my stomach troubles are over for the moment. On top of that, safety is a constant concern because we are women, foreign, and don’t speak the language. It’s unsafe to be out past 10pm for sure – 8:30pm is considered late. It’s just such a different atmosphere coming from college and from France when you can be out as late as you want. In France, we would leave at 11pm and come home at 3am. Here you HAVE to be home by 11pm. People always stare at us – we are getting really used to it now, but some of our new Indian friends have commented that people stare at us all the time. It’s just something you get used to, and you get used to them taking pictures of you too. Most people (men our age and little kids usually) will say “hello ma’am how are you?” about 10 times in a row since that’s the only English they know. It is a bit draining to have to be constantly on your guard about your safety – especially around men, and even more so at night. You also have to be really assertive with cab drivers. Kolkata is NOT easy to navigate, which is another hard thing to get used to. We can confidently go to school/the street our school is on and back, and a few other places like the mall and other places near our house, but other than that we need specific directions. It’s so hard here because the streets are not at all a grid, and they have 2 names – a newer Indian name and an older British name – and some streets are known better by one name more than the other, and some maps only have one name or the other, and on top of that the one-ways change directions at certain times of the day. Sometimes cabs will offer us a ridiculous price and refuse to turn on the meter, other times the cab drivers just refuse to pick up people. I still haven’t taken the metro yet, but my roommates have. One day we were going to take the metro but couldn’t because we literally couldn’t fit another body into the car.

It’s also hard to constantly be spending money. It was like that in France too, and certainly more expensive than here, but I didn’t have to spend money on the weekdays in France. During the week, I lived/ate/went to classes in the same place; weekdays are where I spent my money traveling and everything and managed a pretty good budget. Here, things are cheap – Rs 200 is $5, and you can get a lot of things for Rs 200 depending on what you’re buying. The only problem is when everything is “only $5” you end up spending so much more because it’s “only $5″…but then each $5 you spend, it adds up really quickly. Here we have to spend money on transportation a lot – if we ever want to go someplace, you have to pay to get there, spend money wherever you are, and then pay to get back. Since things are so cheap here, I need to start making a better budget. It’s also hard deciding on entertainment outside of the house because it takes a long time to get anywhere because of traffic and because Kolkata is so spread out. It takes 45 minutes to visit our friends who live in Salt Lake, a residential area of North Kolkata. Sometimes we can’t go out because it wouldn’t be worth it by the time we get there. I feel like I’ve been sitting at home a lot lately (doesn’t help that I was sick for a few days last week) but a lot of times it just doesn’t feel like it’s worth the hassle of going out, and we have to really plan ahead to go out because we have to be back so early.

It is getting better though because we’re starting to make Indian friends! We haven’t met very many yet because we haven’t had a lot of class time, but I met a girl in class named Satakshi. I talked to her one day in class, where she gave me her phone number and was super nice. I didn’t get to sit next to her the next day, and we weren’t in touch at all until yesterday. I was at the mall with Elizabeth, and she saw me there and we talked for a little bit, and later that day I got a text from her inviting us out to lunch and a movie today! It was great, and she brought along another girl from our class, Raddhima. Students are really nice here, and it’s like instant friendship. You can talk to them one day in class and they will give you their number right away and say, “Call me if you need anything, and I’ll show you around”…and the best part is they actually mean it! Satakshi and Raddhima are already planning on taking us to all these other places. People are so welcoming and so nice here, which is great. It’s really nice to be with students who can show us around and who speak the language!

When I was at the mall the other day, I got some mehndi! We call it henna at home, but here henna means something different. Apparently the mall is the place to get it done. They have several people there, and you pick the design you want. Mehndi is from ground henna leaves, which you apply to the skin and it dyes your skin. At the mall, the artists use a paper funnel with a very fine tip to apply it – and it reminded me of icing a cake. The artists are very talented, and very quick! My design only took about 3 or 4 minutes. Once it’s applied, you have to let it dry for about 15 minutes. Then you have to wait 2 hours before you can scrape the dried mehndi off your skin. After that, your skin is dyed. You can’t touch water for 5-6 hours, and the color darkens over the next 12 hours. The dye lasts for about 10 days to 2 weeks and slowly fades. Here, it’s traditional for Hindu brides to have their hands and feet decorated with mehndi for their wedding – and they say the darker the mendhi appears on your skin, the more your husband loves you. Now it’s not only for brides – anyone can get it done! I plan to have it done a few more times – and go all out the last time and get both sides of my hands done.

Other than that, I’m still writing for the Lost Girls and my first India piece is posted! Check it out: 8 Things You Should Know Before You Go to India. I’ve also decided to start contributing to another travel website, called Pink Pangea. I think I will have more time for writing here, and there is so much I could write about – the only hard thing is trying to describe everything! It’s so hard to put this experience into words, and I’m starting to realize that I have learned a lot more already than I think I have. At the same time, I feel like the more I learn, the less I know.

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So much has happened since my last post! It’s been a whirlwind as we finished off our 10 day tour with visiting Delhi again and Agra before we headed off to Kolkata to get settled in with our host families and begin attending classes at St. Xavier’s.

Michael, me, and Haley

A little over a week ago, we went to Agra to see the famous Taj Mahal. We left Delhi around 630am for what should have been a 4-hour drive to Agra…but we had a driver who wouldn’t listen to Madhu and insisted on taking us on the backroads instead of the highway. Horribly bumpy village roads that aren’t meant for tour buses, as people were literally bouncing out of their seat. Imagine MN potholes on steriods and covering the entire road. Even if these backroads were a shortcut as the driver was saying, it took more time because we couldn’t drive quickly. Madhu eventually convinced him to go back on the highway, but we were so far off course by then that it probably took more time to get back to the highway rather than just finishing the backroad route. With the stop for lunch included, our 4-hour drive took 8 hours. In addition, the bus was freezing. Literally almost freezing – about 34°F. It wasn’t a very easy bus ride for me, as I had started to get sick the night before with “Delhi belly” – the stomach/intenstinal plague of indigestion and diarrhea. I started to get a fever and chills on the bus as well, so it wasn’t a very comfortable ride.

However, seeing the Taj Mahal was worth the long bus ride and sickness! The second we stepped off the bus, we were assaulted by various peddlers selling Taj Mahal figurines, shoes, bull whips, books, and more. The slightest glimmer of interest will only encourage them, so it’s best to just not even look if you’re not interested. Sometimes a polite but firm “no” will deter them, but others will just pester you more. After making our way through the mass of peddlers, we were on our way to the most famous tourist sight in India! The Taj Mahal is very beautiful with so many intricate designs. We had to wear little shoe covers, thankfully, rather than taking off our shoes like you need to do at many sights in India. There is not a lot to see inside the Taj Mahal, just the tombs in the main central room, and then the surrounding chambers are empty. It was built by emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal after she died giving birth to their 14th child, and their tombs are inside the Taj Mahal. We briefly toured Agra Fort before heading back to Delhi, but Agra Fort was very similar to the Red Fort in Delhi, and I wasn’t feeling well at that point. The coolest part of the tour was a ton of monkeys at the entrance gate!

We spent our last full day in Delhi shopping. On our way to a big craft market, we stopped at the biggest Hindu temple in India. It was amazing to see – literally every surface is carved, bejeweled, or decorated. There are so many Hindu gods and stories, it will take a while to learn even the main ones. The craft market was fun – there’s always so much to look at and buy! We also stopped at FabIndia, an Indian clothing store that’s like the GAP of India. It was nice to buy some Indian clothes, but the experience was a little different than shopping for clothes at home. Luckily, Madhu gave us a brief explanation on Indian clothes and how you wear them, so we had a small idea of what to look for. Since we’re not quite ready for saris yet, we were looking for a kurta (like a long tunic) and churidar (leggings that bunch up at your ankles). Kurtas can also be worn with a salwar (looser pants). The whole ensemble can be called salwar kameez, and can be worn with a scarf called dupatta. In the store, the kurtas are organized by size and length of the kurta (mid thigh, knee) and length of the sleeve. On top of that, there are so many patterns and colors to choose from! It was a little overwhelming, but I ended up buying 2 kurtas. It will be nice to go shopping again to have some more clothes that aren’t so Western and more suitable for the weather here.

Kolkata streets

The next day, we flew to Kolkata and spent the night in a very nice Western hotel, resting up from traveling. The following day, we went to see St. Xavier’s College, where we will be taking classes for the semester. There was a big event going on that day – sports day – and 4,000 students were there! They were there to be in a student parade around the track, representing their majors, and we got to be in the parade. We were our own section with a sign, “Visiting Students – College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University – Minnesota.” As if we don’t draw enough attention to ourselves normally (no hiding this blond hair and pale skin), we were officially directing attention to us. It was fine though when people cheered a lot for us. There was actually quite a bit of ceremony for sports day, including speeches from the president of the college, honored guests, and a dance performance. The sports part was kind of like a track meet, with mostly track events but then some other things like tug-a-war between students and teachers. It was more about solidarity than competition. We got a little tour of the school next – 4 floors of classrooms that have pew-like desks. We had our first experience of a kind of street food afterward – a chicken egg roll. They fry a tortilla-like bread in egg and oil, and then roll some chicken, chillies, and onion inside. It was pretty good, but I couldn’t eat fried food like that every day!

Our house!

After our time at St. Xavier’s, we went back to the hotel to have some tea and meet our host parents! I’m living with 3 of the other students – Elizabeth, Ashley, and Brynn – and our host parents were the last to arrive. Arundhati (host mom) and Sujoy (host dad) are really nice! They are very knowledgable about so many things, and they are very excited to share their home, city and culture with us. They own their own PR business, and Arundhati used to work in journalism, while Sujoy used to work in advertising. Arundhati loves to cook and Sujoy is really into history. Their English is perfect and easy to understand, lucky compared to some of the other host parents who don’t speak so much English. They showed us their home afterward, and it’s a stand-alone house. We have the ground floor to ourselves – a hallway with an open wall into the garden where we eat, a living room, and 2 bedrooms with bathrooms. I’m sharing a HUGE room with Elizabeth, and we also have a huge bathroom. We also have a 13-year-old host brother, Vinayak, who is very cute and busy with school and cricket practice. I forgot that it’s common for families to have servants here, so I was surprised when Arundhati introduced us to her “staff” of  3-4 servants. That is something that has been hard to get used to – there is always someone to do each job and we’ve been waited on hand and foot. At hotels, we wouldn’t be allowed to carry our own luggage and could have anything delivered to us at any time. Even here at home, we are served food whenever we like and don’t have to clear dishes, and someone comes in to clean our room. It is sometimes frustrating not being allowed to take care of things ourselves. Life with

My bed and Elizabeth's bed

the family is still an adjustment, since we have only been here a few days and we’re not into a routine yet. They are very nice and love to talk with us, but we still have a kind of formal relationship. For example, they will sit with us while we eat but they don’t eat with us. We haven’t seen the upper floor of the house yet, where they live. We’re not sure if it’s a privacy thing, or a cultural thing, but we haven’t quite been “allowed” to see the upstairs yet. I’m sure it will become less formal as we get to know each other better. It’s great living with these girls though – they are all so nice and we get along really well. We’re getting to know one another really quickly!

Elizabeth in our room

The hallway to our bedrooms, with the garden on the other side of the gate

Vinayak, Arundhati, Brynn, and Sujoy on Brynn's birthday

Elizabeth, Brynn, me, and Ashley

Classes have started (in theory). Because this is the first exchange program, most of the details are not sorted out. It’s been very confusing trying to get class schedules worked out, and the schedule has already changed a few times. I’m taking an elective sociology class here called Indian Institutions, which will be about family, marriage, education, religion and some other topics. Madhu, our director, is teaching our study abroad seminar which will be studying Indian culture through literature. I also have a kind of “India 101” class, and I will be learning a little Bengali language and about Bengali culture. Apparently, the normal teacher for part of the sociology class is on academic leave through the end of January, so I’m not sure if that class will meet until she comes back. I had my first “real” class today – and it was quite a bit different from St. Ben’s. It was the religion part of my sociology class, and there were about 30 people in the class. The students were very friendly. The teacher stood at the front of the class and lectured for the hour, and when she would ask a question, about 10 students would respond at once. Each time a student addresses the teacher, it’s followed by “sir” or “ma’am,” and the students stood when the teacher entered the room. The teacher takes roll, and the classes begin and are excused by the bell – it reminded me so much of high school! The students were very nice, but they seem young even though we are about the same age. Today’s class was not very interesting, as the teacher was talking about things they had studied the previous semester – about different sociologists’ views on religion. I don’t expect there to be much discussion during the semester, which is one of my favorite parts of classes at St. Ben’s. We also had Madhu’s class today, but we did things like paperwork and general discussion of how things are going rather than classwork. It looks like I’m going to be in class quite a bit here, but I’m not sure how much homework we’ll have.

In addition to class time, we’ll be doing some volunteering at Loreto Day School. We stopped by there earlier this week for a little introduction, and it looks like it will be a great place to volunteer. There are several programs to get involved in – you can help during the normal school hours, with the Rainbow kids (who came from off the streets and now live at the school), with teaching in the villages and slums, playing with the kids, and so much more. It’s all started and run by Sister Cyril, an amazing woman whose philosophy is all about solidarity more than charity. I’m excited to learn more about it and what we’ll be doing there.

I’ve started to feel better after taking some antibiotics, and we’re starting to develop a routine and get things sorted out here. It will be nice when we’re more in the swing of things – know the city better, have more Indian friends, and know a little more about the culture!

Just a taste of some of the culture shock and other things I’ve noticed:

  • When you take a taxi here, the meters are really behind the times, so you have to double the meter plus 2. so, a ride of 20Rs would be 42Rs.
  • You must dress very modestly compared to home. You never show leg and must wear a scarf if you have an open neckline. Everything is covered up all the time.
  • Boys walk together with one arm around the other’s shoulder, or often hold hands. It shows friendship.
  • Indian toilets typically don’t have toilet paper. Instead, they use a cup of water to rinse.
  • Indian showers use a cup and a bucket instead of continuously running water. You have to turn on the water heater to get hot water.
  • English is widely used, though with British terms.
  • The streets here in Kolkata have both an old British name and a new Indian name, and streets are known by both and some by only one name. For example, Kolkata (Calcutta). The house our street is on is Garcha (Dover Place). Some maps only have one name, so someone could tell you to go on Harrington Street, when your map will only say Acharya Sarani.
  • India is a country of extremes. On a similar note – when you find one thing to be true, the opposite is also true.

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