It has been nearly a month since I last posted anything on my blog, but what a month it has been. I have been going to school, taking various Unit Tests, chillin’ on the weekends and – believe it or not – I turned 17 just last week. Over the past week of being 17, I have been able to reflect, and I have realized two things. One, I am nearing the 6 months mark of my exchange and that thought terrifies me and, two, winters do exist in India. I never thought I would feel cold here, and I generally do not, but getting out of my cozy morning cocoon gets harder and harder every day.
I am sure everyone is keen to hear about my birthday celebration here in India. In one word, it was spectacular. The stress built up in the week leading up to my birthday from the fact that I would not be with Katherine this year, but the stress did not reach explosion level. Instead, I had the most amazing birthday. On the 10th of December I went to bed at 11pm knowing I would be woken up at 12am (Muskaan is not the best of surprise keepers) – and when I did wake up (a very very difficult task for me; once I am asleep, good luck getting me up before morning), I was surrounded by the sound of “Happy Birthday” and a glowing candle atop a (very delicious) chocolate cake. I think having cake at midnight has to become my new birthday tradition. I then received my very first gifts from Mus, a very very sweet letter and (shimmy shimmy) dress shirt which would prove to come in handy later the same day. I finished the rest of the cake slice at breakfast and then made my way to school. Nothing too amazing happened there, the teachers still taught, and students still learned, but it was amazing to have the class sing happy birthday and to receive wishes from everyone I talked to. Coming home, I knew we would have a birthday party, but I had no idea that the entire back garden area of the house would be decorated magnificently with pink and black balloons and a central kitty balloon – said to represent me. Unfortunately, Colin and Olivia were disallowed to come to my party due to lack of formal invitation (who knew my school principal had to email their school principal over such a thing), but that did not stop us from having a great time. I received another AMAZING gift from Muskaan aka one of the most creative gift makers on Earth. By that time, McKenna reached my house and that is when the real fun began – we were able to start eating the delicious feast my mom prepared. There were soooo many foods, all of my favorites Indian dishes. We spent some time talking and then came Jahnavi, my friend from school. We decided to invite neighbors over since I have gotten to know them over the past couple of months and we had plenty of space left. Perhaps the physical highlight of my day was being presented with my birthday cake. It was a picture-perfect cake, the type you see in movies but never receive in real life. It matched the pink and black theme, was topped with many stars and the number ‘17’. I think it was only at that point in the day where I realized I was 17. It still feels strange for me to say I’m that old. According to the Indian way, I was fed a ton of cake – which was as delicious as it looked with pineapple (my fav fruit) as the filling. What happened after the cake is what reminded me that often times, it is the simple things in life that bring the most joy. We all enjoyed playing small games upstairs – the types people play as small children. They never fail to put smiles on everyone’s faces and they certainly did not fail to make the end of my day amazing. Opening gifts at the closure of the day gave me not only physically amazing gifts but was made more amazing by all the fond memories I had of the day, which I will carry with me forever. My 17th birthday is a day I will never forget, it was a day of celebration and truly was a milestone of my exchange and life in general.
*pictures coming soon
Back to the important thing, I AM 17! Reaching my birthday here in India is one of the biggest milestones as it also means I am halfway done with my exchange (a bittersweet thought). However, this does make for an excellent point of reflection. One of the most important things I have realized is that exchange is never easy. I may feel more at home here day by day, but I still wake up everyday to face a new set of challenges. It is part of living in another country – and for me, a fact of life. The past five and a half months have had their ups and downs (mostly ups J) but because I persevered, I have grown as a person. I make mistakes – in fact, I make them almost every day. But, nine times out of ten I find myself laughing at whatever silly thing I have done or said. I have learned that not everything in life must be perfect, not everything has to be so serious. It is not human nature to attain perfection on the first try. It is human nature to make mistakes. The most important thing is to learn from the mistake since “a mistake is not a failure until you refuse to correct it”.
Let me narrate one example of growth through something I do on a regular basis: Amitasha. Arriving to teach my first class and all throughout the first class, I kept thinking to myself “what have I done?” “I live in a country where I can’t even communicate my ideas with children without an interpreter”. Don’t get me wrong, I loved teaching even then, but I have learned that I will never get anywhere with Amitasha if I don’t push myself to do more, to interact more. Every week, I get better at sharing what I know – and my hard work does pay off. The way my girls look up at me with shining eyes and constant smiles on their faces, giving me high fives and exclaiming “hello Anna didi!” as I enter the room is an indescribably amazing feeling. They remind me that my exchange is not only meant to impact me and my own views, but also designed to leave a positive impact on the community I stay and live in. During my most recent class, I started out the class by myself. Unlike in the beginning of my exchange, I did not feel strange, I did not feel like the odd one out anymore. Instead, I felt happy. We share a mutual learning experience. My Christmas tree was surrounded by the drawings of every student. We labeled gifts, chimneys and santas until there was no room left on the board. I have realized that if I put myself out there and interact, they will more than gladly return the favor. Amitasha has been one of the most fulfilling experiences I have ever had, and it every time I leave the classroom on Friday afternoon, I can’t help but wish the rest of the week would pass by in an instant so I could be back again.
Above all, I am proud of my accomplishments. Aside from completing tasks or activities I never thought I would (yoga, dancing, etc.), I have changed for the better. Though I never considered myself a close-minded person, I have learned to have an even more open mind; I am finally learning to see through those cultural lenses I learned about at the pre-departure orientation. My perspective on life has also changed. Anyone who has interacted with me would tell you that I am an introvert. One benefit of this is that I am an excellent observer. Through the various cultural interactions I have encountered, I have learned to use this skill to pick up on the smaller aspects of culture that may not be obvious right off the bat. I have a greater appreciation for the small things in life, the language and the culture, the everyday activities.
The past 5.5 months here in India did not come without their challenges. I do not dread the onset of another challenge. Rather, I hope to use what I have learned to make the most of it. The outlook is bright, and I cannot wait to see what the next 5.5 months brings with it.
Namaste! Mera naam Anna hai! Hi! my name is Anna. Please enjoy reading about my experience as a high school junior in India and ask any questions you may have!