Looking back over the past couple weeks, much more has happened than merely taking exams. I have also had to switch host families for the 3rd time in 3 months. Whenever I told someone I was switching they (at some point) always asked "why are you switching so much?", as if switching families is a negative thing. As you already know the reasoning behind the switch, I will elaborate on the experiences I have had from saying goodbye to my third host family and being warmly welcomed into my fourth.
I guess I should start off by saying that from the time I moved in with Kusum ma'am, I knew that I would only be with her temporarily while the school and AFS searched for a longer-term family. On September 26, just over 2 weeks from moving in with my third host family, I went to school and spent most of the day sitting in the library since it was an exam prep day for the last day of exams. The only 'task' I had to complete that day was talking with Poonam Goel ma'am (my school coordinator) about teaching Amitasha classes that Friday. On the exam prep days she is almost always in the staff room or her classroom, but when I checked both locations, she was not in either. No one else seemed to know where she went. After searching for her a little longer, I wandered around the halls for a while to pass the time and then went back to the library. Almost as soon as I sat down, I was called down to the reception to see Poonam Goel ma'am. I assumed that someone had told her I was looking for her so I went down to talk with her. She, as always, greeted me with a smile but I soon came to know that 1) she didn't know I was looking for her and 2) she was even happier than usual that day for a good reason: She had found me a new host family!! Poonam ma'am told me I would be staying with Muskaan Paintel. Since I really didn't know who that was (sorry there are just so many people at Amity) she told me that Muskaan is friends with Poorvi (who I met on the bus I rode when I lived with Kusum ma'am)(Update: Poorvi and Muskaan are not friends anymore). All that aside, she told me my host parents were there and asked if I wanted to meet them (I am not sure who would say no to that) and so suddenly on that boring exam prep day I found myself in a conference room with my new host parents. We shook hands and chatted for a little bit just about exams. I didn't know when I would actually move in, but I left very excited that my day took such an unexpected turn. As I was walking out of the reception, Poonam ma'am caught up to me and delivered a new rule to me: I was not allowed to tell anyone I was shifting. Even though there was logic behind that restriction (i.e. shifting wasn't finalized), I knew it would be hard not to talk about it.
Getting off at the bus stop and catching up with my host mom gave me a sense of relief as she told me she already knew that I would be shifting from her home soon. We didn't let that fact stop us from living normally. We still went home, ate lunch and parted ways between lunch and dinner as she went for her daily afternoon nap. Before dinner that evening, I was excited when I checked my phone and saw that I had a message from Muskaan! After establishing that her family was excited to meet me and I was excited to meet them, it was time for dinner. The emotions are so confusing when you switch host families. On the one hand you get really excited to meet and live with your next family but at the same time you know that can't happen until you leave a family you have become a part of. Fortunately for me, my host mom is a teacher at school so I am able to see her when I want to. Hopefully I will meet with Shreya before I leave India also. Despite knowing from the day I came to my third host family that I would leave within a few weeks, I did bond with another mom and sister who will be part of my life forever. The last full day I was there was the 27th and it came and passed like any other day as it was not confirmed I would shift on the 28th until around 10pm the evening before. After officially finding out and while my host mom made dinner for us, I got to making a 'thank you' card for her and Shreya. It wasn't the best card since I only had blue and black ink I use for school but I did my best. I also gave her the last "New York" mug I brought from the US as a thank-you gift. My natural mom recently went to NYC for a business trip and bought me some more gifts which she will send me soon (I hope). After giving the gifts to my host mom, we hugged and I headed to bed for the last time in my third home away from home.
Where one story leaves off, the next takes off. After managing to get all my luggage on and off the bus and into the reception area of the school, I was ready to shift. September 28 was also the first day back to 'normal classes' (I will explain why that's not true in an upcoming post) and so we had assembly in the morning. On my way out of the assembly, I met with Muskaan and Poonam Goel ma'am. It was the first time I met my (host) sister. As much as I love having an older sister, the drawback is that we are not in the same class, so I had to wait until the end of the day to meet up again. Since I did not want to store my phone with my other bags, that marked the first time I succeeded in carrying my phone with me all day at school even though it is against the rules. Actually though, I doubt anyone would really question me for having it because they tend to be more lenient on the rules towards me as the exchange student. Although my knowledge of the school's layout is extremely limited, I was able to find Muskaan mostly because she was standing and waiting for me (thanks!). We proceeded to the reception which was actually really crowded compared to what I have experienced there in the past. We met up with our mom and if not for Poonam ma'am coming to send me off, I would have forgotten to go get my laptop from the staffroom where it was kept safe during the day. Everyone took one of my bags (or more) and we managed to shuffle through the crowd. It's kind of amusing to me to walk through the crowds because it makes me feel like I need to master the art of defensive walking whereas in the US, I was able to complete a defensive driving course in 6 hours from the comfort of my living room. We met my host dad at the car and managed to fit all of my belongings inside. On the way home, after talking about school and non-veg (all except the 2nd host family who I stayed with for 9 days were veg), I learned that Muskaan reads this blog (hi!) and so she is well versed in what I have done in the 3 months before becoming part of her family.
It only took about 10 minutes to get home which is the closest I have ever lived to school here. Driving over the speed breakers into Kendriya Vihar I realized that I had been there before when I went to McKenna's host sister's birthday party. It's too bad that McKenna had shifted to another host family just 1 or 2 weekends prior to me moving in. That didn't make the occasion any less special for me because when I entered my new home, I was welcomed with a banner and a chalkboard which said "Welcome Home Anna"! I was definitely not expecting that because in my three other experiences of moving in, no decorations were hung (mostly because 2 out of 3 other times were unplanned moves).
Before unpacking anything, we washed our hands and ate lunch. I think it was one of the first times I had been given a fork and knife to eat lunch since I arrived in India. There is a mutual agreement that once I go back to the US, I will look like a crazy lady going to restaurants and eating with my hands. Looking back to the arrival orientation, a lot has changed. There, all the exchange students treated roti as a (very tasty) side dish and we always ate it separately from the vegetables (sabzi). When the five of us staying in Delhi met with Vyom for the first time and saw him eating them together it was such a foreign concept. Even though I am definitely not a pro at eating with roti (half of the time the sabzi just falls out haha), it seems normal to eat like that now. I am curious and kind of excited to go back to the one Indian Restaurant we have in Corning (Thali of India) and see if I attract any attention by eating with my hands.
After we finished with lunch, we took my bags up to my room which I share with Muskaan. Though I am allowed to share a room, AFS was still a little worried about me sharing a bed with Muskaan. They have this idea that Americans are against sharing beds. It's true that generally we have separate beds but they are almost always twin or single size whereas here the beds are double size. Anyways, I don't mind sharing- though it may be easier for me to say than most since I have always shared a room in the US with my twin sister, Katherine. It just goes to show that there are generalizations made about every group of people. One of the goals of my exchange to to go beyond these generalizations and stereotypes and merge cultures by finding traits that are common among all human beings. Though I as an American may be more accustomed to independence and individualism than the relationship-centered lifestyle of India, I continue to see the benefits of each and learn a lot from experiencing different ways of life.
Aside from settling in, my host mom, Muskaan and I took a walk around the society that evening. Because of Navratri (a 9 day celebration ), there were some lights set out that were really pretty. We somehow got on the topic of dandiya sticks which are sticks used for dancing most commonly in Gujarat (a state in India). In the section of the society where the Gujaratis live, there was a celebration going on. A lot of the people were dressed up really nicely in colorful clothes and there was a prayer going on which required the use of candles, so all the lights and colors combined to make the scene really nice. After removing our shoes, we joined the crowd and walked around seeing the prayer come to an end and watching all the people enjoy themselves. The activities stopped for a break soon after we got there and we decided to go back home after getting a couple of pictures since the music was very loud and nothing exciting was happening.
Soon after we got back home, I got ready for bed because I had school the next day -Friday- while Muskaan got the day off (she is in class XII which had the day off). Thus ended another eventful day in my life as an exchange student. I felt happy to be with a new family and felt at home even from the first day. I look forward to all the adventures I will have living here and all the memories that will be formed. With that thought I will end this post until next time where I will describe my host family as I have come to know them in just 2 weeks.
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.