(18.8.17) At the beginning of the week, I got a message from my natural mom that her coworker was coming to India for business but had offered to spend time with me on Friday afternoon as she had free time after work and before her 11pm flight. I looked up where the hotel she was staying at was and luckily for me it was only about 30 minutes away! We made plans to meet at the hotel and go to Ambience Mall on Friday after school and I got permission from my host family and AFS.
On Friday, I went directly after school to the hotel with my host sister. The hotel was VERY nice. We changed out of our school uniforms and waited for Kitty in the lobby. I had never met Kitty before but we had both heard of each other through my mom and were more than happy to meet each other. When she came at around 3:30, we hugged as if we had known each other our entire lives and we promptly got a cab to go to Ambience Mall. The hotel was so fancy that even the concierge service that took us to the mall was like something out of a movie with the doors being open and shut for you. It was the first time I had been in an automatic car since leaving the United States! Ambience was only about 10 minutes of a drive away and most of that was spent making a U-turn to get there. At the mall, I bought a pair of shorts and a pair of Nike leggings because I have been pretty much wearing jeans all the time. I am pretty used to the temperature now but it’s still nice to have some lighter clothing in this weather. After getting clothes we somehow made our way to a toy store. Kitty got something for her daughter and I bought a little something for my siblings in the US also. Ambience Mall is huge, it’s 5 stories of stores upon stores and the 5th floor is all full of restaurants.
After the toy store we went to get dinner on the 5th floor. None of us had any idea of what we wanted to eat so we settled on a place that had just about everything. It was a little comical to eat in a place where everyone orders their own dish because it had Monisha a little bit confused at first. In India, from my own experience, people order many dishes and everyone shares. We were stuffed full of garlic bread, fries and fish sticks as appetizers and then filled to the brim with our meals. I got chicken (of course) lasagne, Monisha got a pizza and Kitty got grilled fish. Everything was delicious and the waiter even made us fill out a feedback form at the end of our visit which was something I had never had to do before lol. We had nice conversations over dinner about student exchange, India, family, and just about anything that came to mind. After about an hour, we left and continued walking through the mall. We only stopped at a McDonald’s kiosk to get ice cream. We called the concierge service back at about 6:30pm and waited outside the mall. The temperature in the evening is not too bad, especially if you just stand there. There was more traffic so the driver took a while to arrive but it took only 5 minutes to get back to the hotel because we did not have to make such a large U-Turn.
Once back at the hotel, we got a picture of all of us together and called an Uber to take Monisha and I back home. I really enjoyed getting to meet Kitty and it made the world seem a little smaller for that evening as I met with someone else who works with my mom but still lives across the globe! I love making these sorts of connections and by the end of the year I am sure I will have even more!
(15.8.17): August 15, 1947 marked independence of India from British rule. This year was the 71st celebration of the holiday, and I am so happy I was a part of it. My celebrations started on Friday the 11th of August in school. During the zero period, I helped in making a design on the floor outside our classroom. Since phones are not allowed in school, I did not manage to get any pictures. Pictures were taken (as always) but I never know where they end up haha! Our design was of the Earth with a banner in the colors of the Indian Flag with a dove in the center of it all. There was a quote to go along with it: “let freedom never perish in your hands”. The design was made by first marking the area out with chalk and then painting the ocean sections of the Earth blue. The land sections were filled in with a tan colored sand. When the paint dried, blue paper was torn into small pieces and used to fill in the sections. For the white section of the banner, we also used this sand. The green section was done with green sand and the orange section was done with a colored powder similar (from what I have heard) to what they use during Holi. The dove was placed on top in the center of the design and finally flowers and flower petals outlined the entire thing. It looked really nice and lasted the entire day. It was an interesting experience for me because Independence Day in the US happens outside of the school year so there are never any celebrations done with members of the same class.
The day before independence day was also really nice and laid back. My host family was originally planning to take me to Iskcon Temple but plans fell through because my host siblings had to study. Hopefully I will get the chance to go in the future. Not going allowed me to see some local preparations in my host community though which was really nice. In India, the government sponsors some decorations for the holiday. Along the streets there were banners hung of orange, white and green. Around the corner from my house there was a stage set up but I did not get a chance to see whatever performance was done that evening. When I was biking back home from Monisha’s tution class, the road was blocked off even to me as a cycler. I apparently know the neighborhood better after living here one month than Monisha so I quickly found the long way back home.
All in all, I really did not do much to celebrate independence day. I was a little disappointed that I did not get to do much for it but spending time with family was still really nice and I enjoyed the 4 day weekend. On Independence Day, my host family actually celebrated Janmashtami. In the morning they asked me if I wanted to practice fasting which basically meant I would not be able to eat or drink until midnight in honor of the birth of Lord Krishna. I agreed because it would be the only year I really celebrate the holiday and (I thought) it would be easy to fast among a family who is also fasting. Apparently, the only other person in my family who ended up fasting was Monisha and even she cheated by having some water haha. I fasted the entire day, only allowing myself to eat the foods of the fast which was a fried potato dish and a couple glasses of Limeca which is a soda similar to Sprite in the US. Still not really sure why Limeca was allowed but not water but I am not complaining! We did not do too much on 15 August because it would be bad to dehydrate myself by working out (not that I do that anyway). We watched a movie on TV and then Monisha and I bought 2 cakes (eggless of course!). I went with Monisha to her tutions class again and when we came back my bua came over to celebrate with us. At about 8pm I got somewhat confused as the cakes were cut and some other sweet dishes were served. I did not expect the non-fasting members to go ahead with eating before the fast ended for Monisha and I, but they did! It was really funny to hear my host dad try to tempt us by singing “this cake is really yummy, I’m eating this cake…”. I love my host dad. After they finished eating, I took a shower and took a nap so that I could wake up at midnight to eat without being too tired to wake up again at 5:30am for school. I am not sure what happened but no one woke me up to eat at midnight so I ended up having cake for breakfast! There were two types of cakes, butterscotch and some jam filled one. They were both delicious!
This 4 day weekend was a memorable time for me even if it was not what I expected it to be. I loved spending time with friends and family and creating memories that will last me a lifetime. It is hard for me to comprehend that every Indian holiday I spend over here will be my first and last experience of it in India (until I find a time to make visits). I am trying to make the most out of my experience and cannot wait until the next major holiday...Diwali!
Back to New Delhi! (13.8.17): On Sunday, I woke up at 9am but wasn’t out of bed until almost 9:45am because it was a slow morning after an exhausting previous day. However, that quickly changed. I read my whatsapp messages and saw that McKenna was going to New Delhi with her host family. I quickly chimed in asking if I could go and somehow we managed to work it out. Initially I was not going to go because I had no ride to meet them up at IFFCO Chowk on their way to Delhi, but I worked out my host sister coming with us and we were then allowed to take an auto to IFFCO Chowk. Between me working out going with them and actually leaving I also had to return my saree to the costume store. At 1.5 months into my exchange, I was comfortable enough (and my host mom was too) to go on my own to return it. There was not really any Hindi necessary, I just gave my saree and receipt and they gave me my security deposit of 500 rupees back. I was drenched in sweat after getting back home even though it was only a 10 minute time outside. It gets super hot and humid here! Monisha and I left and met up with McKenna and her host family without much trouble. We spent the day at a crafts museum in New Delhi which had a handicrafts event going on. It was really nice to see all the crafts. Everything is so colorful. I bought a small painting as a gift for someone in the US and plan on going back before the end of the year to buy a couple things from the gift shop (I have to bring more cash). The museum itself was largely outdoor exhibits. They were really nice but it was very humid also so the mosquitos were quite pesky. My favorite exhibit was the village exhibit which had replicas of huts and homes from throughout India. Many art students were there painting and drawing the scenes for good reason, it was beautiful there. When we left the museum, we stopped at HUDA Market before going to McKenna’s home. There, we got chicken biryani and chicken momos (second day of non-veg in a row! Such a rare occurrence!). Of course the food was delicious and another day came to an end very quickly. Monisha and I took an Uber back to our house which is about 40 minutes away. I again quickly showered and went to bed! It may be a 4 day weekend, but I definitely find that it is going by soooo quickly and I am busy at almost every minute! I am writing this on 14.8.17 which is the only day this weekend I will have any free time because our plans for today got cancelled. Tomorrow will also be an eventful day because it is Independence Day which is the at the very root of the 4 day weekend! Cannot wait for it to start, but at the same time I know it will pass all too quickly!
Day 50 and the AFS Welcome/Independence Day/Janmashtami Party (8.12.17): To be completely honest, there is no better way for me to be marking 50 days away from home than to be celebrating Independence Day and Janmashtami, having a welcome party and having a 4 day weekend. This has been the busiest weekend so far and this post will only cover 12 August because otherwise this post would go on forever! On August 12, my host family and I went to the AFS Welcome Party. Up to that day I knew I had to dress as an Indian Freedom Fighter but I did not know how I would do that because I, of course, do not own any clothes that would resemble what was worn by them. The morning of the party, I went to a costume shop and rented a white saree with blue trim. It was my size but when I went to try it on after I walked home, the top was much to small! I had to walk all the way back just to find out that was the largest size they had. Luckily, they figured out that whoever had rented it before had it tailored to their size. They proceeded to remove the stitching that had been placed and I rushed back home to put it on. I succeeded in putting it on as in fitting into it but I did not succeed in figuring out how to make it look correct. Luckily, the maids helped me figure it out. They found it very amusing to see me in a saree! Following the Indian way of fluid time we arrived to the party at 3:15pm even though it started at 2pm. All the host students and their families were there as well as some AFS volunteers and staff. It took place in an apartment but luckily it was on the larger size as far as Indian apartments go so everyone fit. Shortly after sitting down to start chatting, everyone was called out to take part in the costume contest. Apparently we were supposed to prepare some presentation having to do with our independence day character. I had not prepared anything formally because no one was informed about this (I mean I can’t really complain because this type of thing is to be expected in India). I took what I had quickly glanced at earlier in the day and gave a brief presentation on my character. I think they were more interested in hearing me tell them my name in Hindi and where I was from! I ended my presentation with “Jai Hind” which was also appreciated very much. As for the results of the contest, Colin came in first (yay!) because he read off the independence speech given by his freedom fighter and I surprisingly came in second! I got a small present of a nursing cow and calf figurine. Yutaka, at no surprise to any of us, got a hindi recognition award. He has picked up Hindi quicker than any of the rest of us. I am sure it partly has to do with the fact that he has less of an English base since he is from Japan. It is so easy to just rely on english here. You have to put in more effort to speak in Hindi. Still, I am definitely better at Hindi now than I was a month ago! Soon after giving the awards, the food arrived. AFS got KFC and chicken biryani because they (correctly) assumed that the non veg (except Olivia) host students would want some meat since we all (except Olivia) have primarily vegetarian host families. The food was delicious and it was really nice to catch up with everyone while eating. We had a nice cake to celebrate which was cut by all the host students at once! We all also received a gift of a personalized mug. The party definitely came to an end much faster than I expected because time always flies by when you’re having fun. I changed out of my saree and into more comfortable Indian shirt and dress pants. Thank goodness I did because my host family then proceeded to go to my host aunt’s house because she lived relatively close by. I have been getting used to never knowing the plan here! I met my host aunt (my host dad’s sister) and uncle and two cousins. They chatted and caught up for a while and then we took another trip (surprise surprise) to the largest Christian church in New Delhi and the Prime Minister and President’s offices. It was nice to be back at a church after not going in over a month! The church was very beautiful and bigger than any church in my home town. I said some prayers and viewed the artwork around the church while explaining to my host sister the basics of Christianity. After leaving the church, we passed India Gate which was beautifully lit with the colors of the Indian flag. Then we went to the outside of the Prime Minister and President’s offices. They were architecturally amazing and beautifully lit for the festive season. Once I can get pictures on here, I will upload them. Even the fountains around the area were lit with the colors of the Indian Flag. We took many pictures in front of the attractions. My host uncle actually works as a secretary in the Supreme Court so (crossing fingers and toes) we may be able to get permission to get a tour of the PM’s office! Hopefully this becomes a reality for me! I would absolutely love to go inside those buildings! We returned to my host aunt’s apartment and had dinner of rice and some sort of bean dish. Then we had ice cream which always tastes nicer to me in India because it’s always a sweet relief from the heat. We said our goodbyes (hopefully we will meet again soon) and returned back to Old Gurgaon to my house. I immediately showered and got ready for bed and fell asleep. This was one of the busiest but most memorable days of my exchange!
My First MUN (9.8.17-10.8.17): Model United Nations. I was told at the beginning of the conference that these three words have the power to change someone. Looking back just a few days after its conclusion, I can tell that this statement is true. Even though I didn’t win best delegate or deliver a mind-blowing speech, my first MUN was an experience I will never forget. Before you can participate in an MUN, you have to be allocated to one of the organs of the UN and given a role. I found out on the Thursday prior to the start of the conference (less than 1 week before), that I would be part of the General Assembly as a delegate of the Czech Republic. I met my co-delegate the same day. His name is Aryaman and he is currently an 8th grader at Amity (grades kindergarten through 12 are at this school). It was both of our first times participating in an MUN but we managed to work it out. To change topics for one minute, the weekend before MUN when I should have been researching my butt off, I was actually busy spending time with my host family and celebrating Raksha Bandhan. Relating back to MUN, I did not have enough preparation time to really have an optimal amount of speeches and chits (chits are messages you send to the executive board and other delegates with questions or informative details) prepared. I submitted my position paper on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the first day of the MUN conference, there was a really nice opening ceremony where members of the executive board (students who basically run the MUN Society) were introduced and the school principal maam gave an introductory speech. While waiting for the tables to be set up for the general assembly, some experienced delegates started lobbying to get support for their country’s stance. The three main competitors were the US, China/Russia, and the EU countries. In favor of the Czech Republic’s foreign relations, I decided to follow the EU. During this time I also tried a new flavor of lay’s potato chips which are some type of Spanish tomato flavor not available in the US. I will be bringing some back to the US if I can remember! After entering the General Assembly’s conference room and finding our chairs, it was already time for refreshments because the morning opening ceremony had taken up quite a bit of time. We were served bullet rolls which are sooo nice. To add to that fact, my co-delegate does not like them so I got extra. I wish I could bring bullet rolls to the US but they have to be served warm. Finally, the conference started and we followed normal proceedings of introducing a general speaker’s list. I raised my placard to get added to the list and was third to go. My speech went pretty well. After hearing other speeches I wish I had put more statistical facts in my speech because those were well noted by the executive board. Of course, since I am the exchange student, I had to redo my speech during the lunch break so that it could be recorded! The pizza we were served made me miss Aniellos pizza back home because this pizza was barely passable as pizza haha. It still tasted fine but I definitely prefer Indian food in India and American food in the US. The rest of the day was spent going through the GSL (general speakers list) and some moderated and unmoderated caucuses. I did not get a chance to speak again except through chits I sent with questions regarding other delegates’ speeches. It was really interesting to hear everyone’s opinions on our agenda which was the future of the world environmental conservation and preservation regime with emphasis on the Paris Accords. The conference went from 8am to 4pm on both the 9th and 10th of August, so I did not get home until almost 8pm on the 9th since my host family stopped at a travel agency (?) and then dropped off Monisha at tutions and visited the worksite of a house my host father’s construction company is working on (I think). The second day of the MUN conference ended in a huge success in that the GA (general assembly) passed a draft resolution into a resolution. In addition, we had Syria sign onto the Paris Accords. The draft resolution that was passed was the one the Czech Republic supported. It was sponsored (written) by China, Russia, Portugal, Japan and France. At the closing ceremony where they gave out awards, it was no surprize to me when the delegate of the US won the best delegate. He had the most experience and was VERY outgoing throughout the conference to the point where he was being continuously asked to stop talking. Aside from the conference, we also heard from some guest speakers who were very inspirational and had a lot of experience with diplomacy. My first MUN experience one is something I will never forget and I highly recommend anyone who has the chance to participate to do so.
This past Monday, August 7, was Raksha Bandhan. We do not have this holiday in the US, but after experiencing it for the first time in India, I am not sure why not! Raksha Bandhan is a holiday celebrating the bond and relationship between brother (or a brother-like figure) and sister. Physically, the sister gives the brother a gift of sweets and ties a Rakhi (bracelet) around his wrist. There is a small ceremony (I wouldn’t even call it a ceremony but I can’t think of a better word) where the sister will sit or stand by the brother and put a mark on her brother’s forehead (again not sure what it is called, it’s like a bindi but on a guy) and puts rice on the mark before it has a chance to dry. Then, she feeds him sweets like raisins, nuts and chocolate and ties the rakhi onto his wrist. In return, the brother will give a small gift to his sister. I went through this process with my (host) brother Gatik. Gatik is quite the character and definitely gets himself in more trouble than I care to describe but he is my brother and I love him. I cannot imagine life without him and I am dreading the day I have to say goodbye to him when I leave this host family or when I go back to the states. This whole exchange only took a matter of 10 minutes and we had the entire day off from school for the holiday so my host family took full advantage. Actually the night before on Sunday we traveled to my host mom’s mom’s house (my host grandma’s house). We stopped at McDonalds for dinner at 11:30pm and I had THREE veg pizza McPuffs. In my opinion, the USA McDonalds should adopt this food. It may be vegetarian but it is also very delicious. We got to the house at about midnight and I greeted my host grandma and uncle before heading off to bed. I slept in until about 9am and stayed in bed until 9:45am on Monday (Raksha Bandhan) because I went to bed late and was exhausted. I got ready for the day and the maid cooked me a breakfast of salted prantha with butter and some sort of daal and pickle to eat it with. I personally did not like the pickle but the daal and prantha was nice. (Daal is like lentils kind of. They are usually quite soft and soupy but at least in my host family it is VERY popular to make). After Monisha was finally ready (she could probably sleep until 4pm if you let her), she took me to her friend, Aryan’s house. He was very nice and I think it was a nice chance for him to spend time with Monisha and Gatik since they live quite a distance from each other. After visiting for a little while, we left and went to my host mom’s sister’s house. She lives less than 10 minutes from where we were staying. We spent a few hours here and I mostly hung out with the kids who were flaunting their baskets of sweets around that their sisters had given to them for the holiday. Once we made our way back to my host grandma’s house along with some guests from my host aunt’s house we watched some TV together and rested until it was around 4pm and time for us to leave. Everyone said their goodbyes and we were on our way. It takes about an hour and a half to get home but I didn’t get back until around 7:30pm because we indirectly went home much to my surprise. First we dropped off Monisha at tutions and then drove to a nearby house where which is being built by my host father’s construction company. It is really neat to see how houses are built in India because it is completely different than the US. They use a metal frame and surround it with bricks and then use cement to make a smooth surface. There’s no insulation used in the walls and the only wood that is used in the construction is in the window frames. I personally just enjoy the fact that the rooftops are all flat so you can walk around on them. I try to go on the rooftop terrace of my host family’s house every evening when I am not too busy. It is a good stress-reducer and I enjoy taking in the sights of evening activities like kite flying and bustling traffic. After stopping at the construction sight we picked up Monisha and stopped on the way home to get some roasted corn on the cobs (the same food I got my very first day with my host family). I was thankful to finally get home and I took a shower, submitted my position paper for MUN (the next post will tell you all about my first experience in an MUN conference), and went to bed.
Hi! My name is Anna McKane. I am 16 years old and have had a pretty ordinary life up to this point. I believe this experience will change me for the better and I will try everything I can while I am abroad.