“Home?”

After my action-packed last update, you’re probably expecting an even more climactic finale to my cultural and linguistic experiences in Indore. Instead, reflecting one week after my return to America, I’d prefer to refer to my last two weeks as a “cool-down” of sorts from the hectic middle portion of my stay. While we did not see or tour as much, the end of my time in Indore was a much more emotional time and fostered quite a bit of internal reflection. After all, seven weeks, before and even during the early stages of the trip, seemed to me an almost infinite duration, and, for most of the session, I was not counting the days or keeping track of time because I was reaping so much enjoyment. Thus, when it hit me, a few days before return, that there were only a few days remaining, it was a quite shocking development and I did not know how to feel.

In essence, I was confronted with a unique dilemma I’m sure every long-term exchange student has faced at some point: how can one look forward to returning “home,” while at the same time leaving behind his new “home,” the community that has welcomed him for weeks with open arms? What even is “home?” I was indeed quite confused, for surely was I eager to see my real parents and friends again, to eat meat and American food again, to rest. Around the middle of week 5, Indian landscapes, culture and food, while still amazing, had somewhat lost their novelty and “wow-factor,” even having become somewhat normal to me. Yet, in the back of my mind I knew that that same roti, daal, and sabzi meal which was slowly becoming more and more uneventful would be craved immediately after return. Same goes for my wonderful host family. While I dearly missed my American family, I knew that it would not be fair to my new Indian family to mope about and ignore their affection, because I recognized that I only had a few days left, after which I would yearn for them just as much.

It was surely a confusing situation, yet there was definitely one silver lining I found inside this cloud of mental chaos. For the first time in my life, I had really found myself a “home” outside of America. If you think about it, “home” is really a place fully engrained into your mental map—so engrained that it loses it magical allure evident to outsiders. You will never see me, for example, walking around New York City in awe at all of its remarkable happenings and monuments because I’m so used to it, having lived there for seventeen years. Similarly, I bet you’ve heard me chirp about Exeter and its daily grind quite often, no matter how much I love it and regard the place as my second home.

To apply this concept to my stay in India, I am compelled to describe a session of our pre-departure orientation at LIU ages ago back in June. When the AFS cultural immersion specialists described how our long-term stays would pan out, they used a very useful “iceberg” metaphor. Upon initial arrival in India, they said, you’ll be wowed by “the tip of the iceberg”—an exotic cuisine, colorful clothing styles, different architecture, etc. This was not our goal, however; every tourist visiting India experiences these elements. Our intent was deep cultural immersion, which would require us to see “the rest of the iceberg, lying under the surface.” In order to deeply integrate into Indian culture, one must accept all of the superficial “tip” factors as normal—just as America can’t really be defined by baseball, hamburgers, and blue jeans, India can’t really be characterized as merely the land of naan bread, the Taj Mahal, and saris. Once these factors have been engrained in the student’s mind, only then can he start to make more profound observations about the attitudes, customs, driving motivations, and sentiments of the people he is studying. Such a corpus of information is vital to understanding any culture, yet extremely difficult to learn. Most travelers to America, for example, do not really familiarize themselves with the patterns of American behavior as they are too busy focusing on taking in the physical—the sights, smells, and tastes of an American city’s streets. At this point in my trip, I had finally begun to at least recognize and exhibit awareness of India’s complex cultural mechanisms and ascend from the status of just a mere tourist. Speaking the local language definitely sped up this process, as it allowed me to actually interact with, rather than observe, the Indian community. Thus, only after the “tip of the iceberg” factors had become firmly rooted in my mind, I really felt at “home” in Indore, as then I had stumbled upon and started to learn deeper cultural institutions and communication tactics. In essence, one can only say he has found a new “home” when he can appreciate its internal meaning as well as its external appeal.

The ultimate reason, however, that much of this cultural “DNA,” if you will, remains under the surface is that, unlike the Taj Mahal and Bollywood movies, they cannot accurately be described through words. Any tourist to India will likely return with a plethora of photographs and a myriad of memories of the monuments but will have trouble describing the general attitude of the people and the place. One way people deal with this difficulty is by creating broad, general stereotypes, which are still quite superficial and not very accurate. For example, some Americans, visiting India, might say that “Indians worry about school too much,” or that “Indians have bad table manners because they eat with their hands.” There are many problems with these type of statements, but I will now concentrate on the main two. First, any statement phrased “Indians ____” will always be incorrect—India is a country of over a billion people and more linguistic, religious, and ethnic diversity than even America, and thus its inhabitants cannot be lumped into one group. Second, these statements often apply the values and customs of the creator’s culture to another, quite different society that ought to be judged by its own tenets. To the average American who lives in a system that does not fully stress the importance of a strenuous education, Indian teenagers may very well indeed appear to spend too many hours studying and not playing sports or merely socializing. This does not take into account, however, that, for Indians, education is not only highly important to the success of their rapidly developing country but also, in fact, sacred. Similarly, it is unfair to state that Indians do not eat with table manners because that is applying Western etiquette to Indian dining. In fact, in Indian culture, as explained to me on my first day with the Nyati household, it is customary to pick up food with the hands because that signifies a stronger and more direct connection between the food and its consumer, with no utensil-middle-man involved.

Therefore, I regret to announce that I will not even attempt to transcribe the deep, “under the surface” knowledge I learned about India because the only way it can be written in words involves broad generalizations and biased reference frames. If one of the whole, overarching purposes of my long-term immersions was to stumble across such realizations, how can I expect to conveniently convey them in a mere bullet list of borderline-stereotypical statements? Also, as much as I learned, I was only in India for seven weeks, and, while I definitely started to peer under the surface, there is no way one can master one of the world’s most ancient and complicated traditions in such a short interval. However, if you’re interested in learning such knowledge, I encourage you to apply to NSLI-Y or another cultural exchange—there’s a reason these programs exist and it’s to foster such learning and break down such inaccurate blanket statements!

Now that I’ve exhausted such a profound rant, I’ll regress to the “tip of the iceberg” activities that I experienced at the end of my trip. After all, how can one not describe his trip to the Taj Mahal, no matter how much more to India there actually is?

One of the highlights of week 6 was our field trip to Ujjain, about an hour north of Indore. There stands one of the 12 most sacred Hindu temples in all of India, site of a massive pilgrimage every few years. After a drive filled with a mix of Bollywood music and Miley Cyrus, we arrived in Ujjain only to have to walk through a mob of worshippers to get to the actual temple. Once we passed the gates, the queue experience reminded me a lot of a roller-coaster line at Universal Studios or a similar park, with signs every 20 meters or so indicating the amount of time left until arrival at the inner shrine. Soon enough, with the temple door in sight, we were herded into a pack of chanting pilgrims undulating in every which direction and adorned with the sacred paint smears on the forehead and wrist-bracelets. Then, it was time to ring the bell and enter the shrine—or so we thought. It turns out that that long-awaited door just led to a staircase. We descended, and immediately noticed the two-to-three inch layer of milky water dotted with flowers and banana leaves sitting on the floor downstairs. Combined with the metal, picture-adorned walls, this created quite the lead-up to the holy experience of the shrine. When I finally ducked and walked through the gates into the inner temple, the pace of my surroundings suddenly kicked. Frantic worshippers pushed even more sporadically in every which direction and whisked us around the room like robots at a conveyer belt. I encircled the Shivling, the stone-manifestation of Shiva in the center of the room, twice in a whirlpool of worshippers before being able to touch it, as per custom—exiting the room was even more of a challenge! It was truly the most holy, spiritual experience I had ever had in my life and was a highlight of my trip for sure.

School was also quite eventful, as teachers sought to pack as much Hindi knowledge as we could fit before leaving for America. Specific preparation was taken for the OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview) required upon return, and there was much emphasis on extemporaneous speaking in front of the class and interview-style conversations. After taking my OPI yesterday and considering it somewhat of a successful result, I can attest that they succeeded in their goal. Now, the only Hindi test that remains is my two-hour reading and listening online exam, which I plan to take this weekend. Much time at Shishukunj was also spent preparing for our participation in the Independence Day dance festivities—although the girls in my group spent more time with a rigorous choreography of traditional Dance, Graham and I still took hours to perfect our flag-waving routine. Participating in the ceremony, which also served, at least to me, as a final celebration and grand finale to the Americans’ time in Indore, truly cemented the idea touched upon earlier that India had become my second “home.”

AFS-India, however, decided to save India’s top tourist destination for last—our final day in India was of course the most action-packed. A week prior, we had received an email from Vyom, one of the AFS-India coordinators, that, instead of spending time in Delhi, we would be having our end-of-stay orientation in Agra, a city four hours southeast of Delhi. After much logistical information, he, almost-casually, added that we would also be seeing India’s crown jewel, the Taj Mahal, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum to his beloved wife and based on the Rani Rupmati Mahal we had seen in Mandu a few weeks ago. We were thrilled and, in fact, I already overheard some of my friends planning the various photo opportunities they would take there. So, last Wednesday, we awoke at 6 AM, and, after a feast at our hotel’s Western breakfast buffet, headed out for the monument. On first approach, the “Taj,” as we had started referring to it, seemed smaller than expected, but once we cleared the security checkpoints and proceeded through the massive Mughal-style gates, the sight appeared, even on a cloudy day, shining. It did not matter that scaffolding and green tarp cloaked two of its corner-towers—the “Taj” was definitely one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. How symmetrical it stood, amid a lead-up of perfectly maintained greenery and reflecting pools! How clean its marble, how smooth its dome! We were given an hour to roam around, go inside, and take pictures with a professional photographer, an hour which passed extremely quickly given the long search for the perfect photograph.

After leaving the site, we underwent a long bus ride to Delhi, during which I talked to the AFS-India staff and some of my American friends about their jobs and the cultural immersion experience in general. Soon, after a quick break at the AFS national office, we received the privilege of conferences with two US embassy officers, JT and Matt, at the American Center in Delhi. Although we were all tired, somewhat sick, and jarred by the prospect of spending nearly 30 hours traveling in the same clothes, the conversation was enlightening, offering us the chance to reflect further on our experiences, give feedback to improve the program for future participants, and to hear about careers in the Foreign Service. One definite consequence of the NSLI-Y experience is a heightened awareness of the role of diplomacy, both formal and informal, in the world’s functioning, and I’m definitely more interested in studying international relations and affairs sometime in the future.

One fifteen-hour and uneventful plane-ride later and I find myself in America again, where this trip began eight long weeks ago. Immediately after arriving at my original “home,” I realized how much I had actually taken in throughout my time in India. America seems completely different to me now—its streets quite sterile, its roads quite peaceful, its food honestly quite bland. I joked with my mother that I had more trouble adjusting back to the food in America than I did in India, as my stomach has not handled the large portions of meat and fried food particularly well upon return from a vegetarian diet. The only homesickness I really experienced on the trip was when I actually returned to my old home, only to miss my new one.

Now, however, the only way for me to really cope with this withdrawal and “homesickness” is to provide due thanks to everyone who contributed to such a wonderful experience.

First, the American side. Thank you to all you taxpayers for (unknowingly) funding such an amazing program as NSLI-Y. Government-sponsored exchanges, in my mind, are extremely important because they ensure that any willing and qualified American can study abroad and contribute to such a crucial cultural diplomacy process. Thank you to AFS USA for being such great implementers and support, all the way from when I struggled with the complex visa expedition process back in May (upon learning that my Turkish program had been canceled) to when I couldn’t figure out how to redeem my miles on the flight home. It was truly an honor to be part of such a historic and successful exchange organization and I look forward to being an active member of the alumni network. And a large thank you to all of my 16 new American friends I made through NSLI-Y, especially my Shishukunj classmates. As much as I loved integrating into Indian culture and making cross-cultural relationships, it was quite the relief to relax in the comfort of other American students, and we had too many fun times together to count!

After such a stay, I truly feel such an empathic gratitude to my new community in Indore—now, I finally understand what is meant when people refer to “Indian hospitality” and I am so honored to have been welcomed to and shown around your culture so eagerly. Shukriya to every last bus driver, vegetable vendor, and ticket officer who put up with my (once-)meager efforts to speak Hindi and with my constant stares and amazement. Dhanyavad to all of my new Indian friends made in and outside of school—you really created a lot of fun times for me and I’m so thankful that you included all of us Americans in your birthday parties, movie outings, Model UNs, and basically everything. I’m simply amazed that I have now over 200 Indian teenage friends on Facebook to keep in touch and practice Hindi with. Bahut dhanyavad to all of my wonderful teachers, who contributed the most to my rapid acquisition of basic Hindi—you were so helpful, patient, and kind. Now I understand why Indian students always perform so successfully in the United States! Lastly, bahut bahut dhanyavad to the Nyati household for not only offering me a place to stay but also making every last effort to fully integrate me into the life of their family. From day one I was shown the warmest hospitality and it was clear that they were trying their best to show me their city, introduce me to friends, and make sure I was having an enriching, fun experience. I’ll really miss Dadaji’s stern orders, Maaji’s amazing food, Chachaji’s playfulness, Chachiji’s advice, Pitaji’s enthusiasm, Mataji’s care, Ishaan’s companionship, Kunsh’s energy, Akshita’s creativity, and Suryansh’s loveable rowdiness. You were such an amazing group of people to spend 6 weeks with and I can’t wait to see you again, whether in America, India, or elsewhere.

This concludes my final blog post. One final note: for any of you interested in languages, cultures, foreign relations, or travel in general, I highly encourage you to apply to NSLI-Y. It’s really the most amazing summer option out there for experiencing another culture and learning another language in depth. I could rant forever about how much I loved the program, but all I will say now is that my time spent on it was truly the most enriching, interesting, and fun stretch of my life. For anyone interested in learning more about the Hindi program or the experience in general—join the FB groups “NSLI-Y Applicants 2012-2013” and “Ask NSLI-Y Alumni,” and friend me on FB. I’d be more than happy to answer your questions and blab on more about my time in Indore. You can also email me at blissperry123@gmail.com.

Thank you all for reading my brutally long posts, and I hope I have inspired some of you to really consider studying abroad, learning another language, or even just trying something different. It’s been an honor to have been shared and read by so many people. For that, and everything in the last few months, I am eternally grateful.

Phir Milenge!

Bliss Perry

P.S: I will be uploading a large stock of photos quite soon.

 

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“Home?”

Update #2: Outdoors in Indore

Greetings from Indore!

It is very difficult for me to think that my time here is almost two-thirds through and that I have already been in India for a whole month now. Seems just like yesterday when I boarded the late-night haul to Delhi and passed through Indian customs for the first time. The reason that time has passed so quickly is definitely because I’ve been having such an engaging, fun, and memorable stay.

Especially these last ten days, though. Now that all of us American students are fully settled in at Shishukunj and truly at home with our host families, we are doing more special events and field trips. Therefore, in contrast to last week’s general life/routine-based update, I will be concentrating on just a few experiences that have been astonishingly eye-opening.

A self-professed history buff, I especially enjoyed recent field trips to the sites of Maheshwar and Mandu. The abridged historical summary is that, basically, Maheshwar was typical of Central India’s strong indigenous Indic, Hindu foundation while its counterpart in Mandu represents centuries of Persian and Muslim influence.

Maheshwar is a large historic complex located south of Indore on the banks of the Narmada River, which is (along with the Ganges et al.) one of India’s most sacred rivers. After a long, bumpy, yet fun two-hour ride, we hopped off the bus to find ourselves in the midst of one of the only sunny days we have seen in India so far but this, however, meant scorching hot heat. This sort of weather only added to the trip’s ambiance as I felt like an Indiana Jones-type explorer on route to discover hidden temples in steamy jungles. The first thing we saw was the royal Palace, which featured interesting construction quite different from the many rococo buildings I have encountered during my European travels—I may have heard the guide incorrectly, but apparently the palace was built without a single nail! Next came an even more astonishing structure: the fort complex. Located so close to the Narmada that its lower steps were flooded with riverwater, these stone buildings pose a formidable sight for all travelers arriving by boat. Inside the ramparts were a few temples which captivated me with their symmetries, interestingly shaped spires, and excellent preservation. After touring this area, we sat at the foot of the fort’s steps, feet dipped in the river, for about fifteen minutes—followed by an excellent lunch of the usual Indian fare: various breads (including, of course, the omnipresent roti as well as my favorite, rarer, naan), minced vegetable curries, paneer, and daal. Then, we played a traditional Indian version of duck-duck-goose with our host siblings, followed by a very American game of Mafia, all the more fun while using our new Hindi vocabulary.

While such a complex of Hindu temples sprinkled next to a slow-moving river might strike the average American as a backdrop typical of historic India, Mandu seemed much more characteristic of Iran or Central Asia (I’m referring to you, ‘-stan’ countries). Located in the middle of a range of small mountains, the place posed an immediate contrast from Indore’s much accustomed flat, tree-dotted plains. Inhabited since the sixth century A.D, the region was conquered by Muslim invaders in 1305 and ultimately added to the powerful Mughal Empire a few centuries later. This continuous rule by Muslims explains the different, Islamic architectural influence I referenced above, with domes, Persian inscriptions, reflecting pools and arches quite abundant. In addition, the day was particularly rainy and foggy, and, because of the added elevation, we found ourselves in the middle of a cloud—this made it even more stunning every time when the pointed spires popped right out of the mist. We saw so many sights to keep count, but highlights surely include the Jahaz Mahal (ship palace, thus named because of its placement between two artificial pools and subsequent boat-like appearance), Hoshang Shah’s tomb (the first marble building in the area and inspiration for the Taj Mahal), and the Jami Masjid (Friday mosque, a large courtyard featuring hundreds of columns and small domes). Similar to Maheshwar, after the morning’s visits, we enjoyed a delicious lunch followed by more games. The fact that everyone was sleeping on the bus-ride back surely illustrates how much of a jam-packed day it was.

A related side-riff on language and culture (bear with me for a few paragraphs please!)—my visit to Mandu definitely confirmed the Islamic influences on Indian culture I had particularly been detecting through the language, and sparked an interest in exploring these further. I first started to truly notice this pattern when, as my Hindi ability started to take off, I noticed many Persian and Arabic words serving as synonyms with indigenous Hindi words. These words can be distinguished by heavy kh and z sounds (ख़ and ज़, respectively) not traditionally found in the Hindi sound inventory and the extra dots, known as nuqtas, Devanagari uses to denote these sounds. For example, kitab (Arabic) vs. pustak (Hindi) for “book,” and kharab (Persian) vs. bura for “bad.” In addition, many of these words have even become the norm for Hindi speakers, such as aakhbar (newspaper), darvaza (door), mushkil (difficult), hãsmukh (jolly, cheerful) and khaali (empty)—I recognized this last one from hours of studying maps of the Arabian Peninsula, a prominent feature of which is the Rub’ al-Khali (Empty Quarter) desert. Originally, I thought that these words were pick-ups from Urdu, the neighboring language of Pakistan—it seemed logical to me that Urdu contained these words given Pakistan’s Islamic culture. However, I was soon informed that these were not “Urdu words,” as some had previously informed me, but rather “Persian or Arabic words.”

After doing some more research, I can explain this answer quite well. It turns out that Hindi and Urdu are, according to most linguists, two registers of the same Hindustani language, just like the European and Latin American variants of Spanish. The grammar and core vocabulary of both are nearly identical, and speakers of the two can easily understand each other in day-to-day conversations. However, there are key differences which set the two apart. Most obviously, Hindi uses the left-to-right Devanagari abugida while Urdu uses a modified version of the right-to-left Persian, Arabic-based abjad. The main difference in spoken language, though, is the vocabulary. Basically, Hindi tries to draw from Sanskrit while Urdu likes to take words from Persian and Arabic. This reflects the religious inclinations of India and Pakistan, respectively—Sanskrit serves as the liturgical language for Hinduism, a role similar to Latin’s in the Catholic Church, while Persian and Arabic (especially the latter) are languages extremely important to Islam. However, the Hindi-Urdu differences present Hindustani speakers not with two rigid, separate dialects but rather with what is known as a continuum, in which standard written Hindi and Urdu stand at opposite ends of a spectrum of mixture between the two sources of vocabulary. Basically, the more formal one wishes to speak Hindi, the more Sanskrit-based words he will use; colloquial and casual Hindi will use more Persian and Arabic words. The opposite holds for Urdu speakers—high Urdu and its famous poetry feature troves of lofty Islamic language, while Indic vocabulary trumps in day-to-day speech. Because I have primarily been studying spoken and informal Hindi, I have therefore been exposed to many words from both sources, inspiring me to formulate such an explanation. Such a diglossia reminds me somewhat of English—where highly formal language is filled with Greco-Roman derivatives and base, informal chat abounds with Germanic root words. The situation indeed fascinates me, and, after my Hindi has become more proficient, I eagerly await learning the alternate vocabulary and syntax needed to speak Urdu.

Another reason why I am captivated by the Hindi-Urdu continuum is that it is in essence the linguistic aspect of one of the world’s greatest transnational rivalries—that between India and Pakistan. I’ll begin with a little historic background. At the arrival of the British in the Indian subcontinent, Hindus and Muslims had lived in harmony for centuries, benefitting from the exchange of culture, religion, and philosophy in many different ways. However, it was the policy of the British to enforce more separation between the two groups and to favor whichever suited their fancy at any given time—a practice which started to encourage increasing mutual animosity. This hostility boiled to its peak as the British announced their intent to “quit India” in 1947, the same year as Gandhi, the last preacher of a truly united, pan-Indian federation including Hindus and Muslims, was assassinated by a conservative Hindu. After such attack, all hope of unity sank and the two groups sought to grab as much land for themselves as possible. Many were slain during the subsequent inter-religious warfare, and millions more lost their homes and endured long treks to new communities. Emerging from that storm were India, the Hindu-majority state, and Pakistan, comprised mostly of Muslims. Ever since, the countries have gone to war four times and continue to maintain large armies at the border and supplies of nuclear weapons. Moreover, the territorial dispute over Jammu and Kashmir continues to harm bilateral relations, as well as Pakistan’s recent strategic cooperation with China, whom Indians seem to view as their number-two international rival given both countries’ rising political and economic power.

I’ve had the opportunity to discuss this political conflict with other Indian students over the past few days, and it seems as if, while still quite tense, affairs may be cooling down among the youth with the rise of social media. At a get-together with my host-brother and some of his friends, one girl mentioned that she would like to visit Pakistan one day. Someone else explained that it’s really only the governments that abhor each other, while the people harbor at least some openness to reconciliation. Still, the tensions can be seen everywhere—from Bollywood movies to cricket tournaments—and understandably so, especially among the older generation who actually experienced such turbulence; hopefully a path to improvement can be found soon.

Now I will continue the international-relations train of thought and return to my own experiences in India by talking about the recent Model United Nations conference I attended last weekend. My host-brother, Ishaan, is one of the more active and higher-ranking MUNers at our school, and therefore I was awarded the opportunity to sit through three days of debate spread over eight committees. Topics ranged from the NATO vs. Russia escalation in the Baltics to cyberwarfare, from women’s rights to historical preservation in combat zones. Even more fun was my participation in the various crises thrown into the discussions to spice up debate by acting the part of Vladimir Putin in a video update from the Kremlin and announcing a news report in one of the discussion rooms about a fake, yet realistic, terrorist attack. I was amazed with the effort each and every delegate, reporter, photographer, logistics volunteer, and administrator dedicated to their job and with the efficiency and precision the convention was organized; its success confirmed my overall impression of Indian students as hard-working, intelligent, and quite studious. Well done to everyone who participated—it really blew me away!

The most satisfying part of it all, though, was the opportunity it presented to spend such quality time with the local students. For much of the time, the only two Americans present were me and my friend Graham, who is, coincidentally, the only other boy en programme. Therefore, we were forced to reach out a little bit more than usual to reap our day’s share of interaction. This was indeed facilitated by the fact that the MUN, although strenuous, was not nearly as strict and serious as the regular school atmosphere and encouraged social behavior. Through one friend in the cyberwarfare committee we were introduced to everyone else in that room. These initial connections started a wave of introductions at dinner and, sooner or later, Graham and I found ourselves swamped with new friends interested as much as we were in conversing about international relations, India, America, television, sports, or really anything, for that matter. In fact, we managed to form relations with some of our peers so closely that we were invited by the administrators to a little after-party pizza get-together for some of the MUN participants from Shishukunj. Ever since, Graham and I have spent much more time at school during the lunches and breaks interacting with the Indian students and pursuing the NSLI-Y goal of making transcultural connections. We’ve made our way to some birthday parties and fast-food runs in the last week, and I’m enjoying integrating into the host brothers’ friend group. I feel blessed to have met and befriended so many wonderful people and look forward to strengthening these relationships during the rest of my stay.

Putting diplomacy aside, there have been other fun outings. Last Sunday, for example, I participated in a fashion show—with a large runway, fancy lighting, and trained M.C., this was a much bigger deal than expected. Don’t even ask how I ended up as part of this, as even I don’t know. In my new kurta pajama, which I also wore to the MUN’s traditional dress day, I was prompted to stroll down the runway, strike a pose, and walk back as part of an intricate, choreographed routine with nine other teenagers. What was not rehearsed, however, was when the M.C. called me back on stage right after our dance number. Again I headed down the walkway, albeit with much less conviction. It turns out that they wanted me to provide a self-introduction and short speech in Hindi to the hundreds of spectators—luckily, this was something I had done over and over again in class so I was prepared and executed my words without any error. Once more I exited the stage to applause, and, in turn, many of the audience members came to me afterwards to introduce themselves. Although it was somewhat nerve-wracking and amusing to be both the only American and traditionally-dressed person at the reception, I truly enjoyed the night’s experience.

Last week we went to play badminton at the club, where I proceeded to win a few points only to see my lead blown away as I was dominated by the more experienced Indian players who treat the game as a real sport and not the lazy yard-pastime it is in America. We’ve seen two more movies at the theater: the new Ice Age (dubbed, of course, in Hindi) and Dishoom, a light-hearted Bollywood flick about an Indian cop who teams up with an Arab counterpart to track down a lost cricket player in one of the Gulf cities, presumably based off of Dubai. During both I was amazed with how much of the Hindi I understood after only one month of learning—I even laughed along to some of the jokes. Yesterday, I went Pokémon-hunting with my host father, Ishaan, Kunsh, and Suryansh, all of whom wanted to experience the hit-craze that is Pokémon-GO. Carrying around my smartphone, a battery pack, and a mifi-router, we drove around town in search to “catch them all;” after three hours, however, we ran out of Pokéballs and stops at which to refresh our supply. We’ll be trying again very soon, however, so I’m not worried. Very interesting as well was the trip to one of Indore’s malls to sample the Indian versions of various fast-food chains: McDonald’s tastes quite different, with a markedly Indian flair (which even permeates into the naming scheme of the food items: the McAlooTikki and the Maharaja Mac, for example), while KFC was exactly the same as in America. My favorite recent dining experience, though, was last night’s Punjabi fare—although I can’t say I miss meat too much, it was certainly a welcome treat to sample some heavy, spicy, yogurt-and-onion-laced chicken curry dishes with the rarely-seen yet personal favorite naan bread.

One month into my trip and, clearly, I am enjoying it more than I ever imagined. It’s been quite the eye-opening experience as I try to grasp and soak in this wonderful country. It’s been such an honor to spend the last month with such a dedicated group of American students as well as to meet so many friendly Indians. Quite the shame that only two weeks remain, yet I look forward to making the most out of them!

A photo update will be arriving shortly, and I hope to make two more full posts before I leave India. Until next time!

Bliss

Update #2: Outdoors in Indore

Truly at Home in Indore: General Reflections at the Midpoint of my Stay

Greetings from Indore, India!

I’ll begin my first (and likely longest) update with a bang, by saying that these first two weeks in India have been among the most eventful and interesting in my life! Many apologies for waiting so long to provide an update, but I really wanted and needed adequate time to internalize everything in my surroundings before even attempting to describe in words what India is really like.

The simple reason: India and its lifestyle are about as far removed from America and its culture as possible, both physically and metaphorically speaking—there’s a reason one has to fly 15+ hours from New York to experience such a change. As one who has traveled somewhat frequently around Europe and Latin America, I have visited several countries heavily characterized or influenced by Western and North-Atlantic culture. India, however, has been a completely new experience for me, ever since I landed in the Delhi airport two weeks ago. The physical landscape, the food, the architecture, and every last cultural detail, even the way people communicate simple information, are totally novel. Simply put, I have had to carry a little notepad with me everywhere I go just to keep track of all I am absorbing with each and every one of my senses. India is a place where even the most commonplace five minute car rides are interesting opportunities to learn something more about the way life works here.

There’s a reason why Westerners of all ages—from Alexander’s Macedonian armies to the British colonizers—have been thoroughly intrigued by India, which they Euro-centrically deemed “the Orient:” the place is a wonderful sensory and cultural overload. This dynamic atmosphere pervades throughout this country of over one billion people. Unlike some of Southern Europe’s famously slow lifestyles, something is always happening here: loud mobs of people crossing the street, or a honking swarm of cars, auto-rickshaws, and motorcycles clogging the road, for example. Every morning I stroll out of my house to the scent of spices mixed with smoke, to the milkman’s cries of “Dudh, dudh!” (Milk, milk), to the sights of brightly painted buildings and flashing signs with a mixture of Hindi and English text. While, in Europe, historical sights are generally designated their own areas and separated from everything else, India is so rooted in history and tradition that century-old temples stand right next to modern office-buildings as if someone had created the city-streets as part of a Sims game. The clothing has been among the most colorful and vibrant I have ever seen. The land is so sacred and rooted in religion that people do not set off a designated time of the week to worship but rather breathe their faiths every minute of the day through lifestyle choices like vegetarianism and ritual greetings like “Jai Shri Ram!” (“Hail Lord Ram,” preferred in my household). Lastly, India is a heavily diverse land and, while many Western nations (America included) are struggling with such a concept, here, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, and even more groups live side by side, speaking over 400 different languages more unrelated to each other than even English is to Hindi.

Why has Bliss been so busy? Let’s begin with host family life. I’m so honored to have been so warmly welcomed into the Nyati household, a joint and exceedingly loving family. The grandparents are, typically to Indian familial hierarchy, the heads of the household—Indian culture constitutes a far greater respect for elders than in America. My grandfather only wears traditional clothes around the house and my grandmother is the only non-English speaking member of the household. Next come the mid-age adults in the house: my host mother, father, aunt, and uncle. Indian society dictates much more traditional gender roles than Western society, so the men are away all day working while, most often, the females stay home to work. Therefore, I have become particularly close with my host-mother as I see her the most out of everyone in the family—in general, though, Indian sons tend to be quite close with their mothers. Last are the four children, all of whom I interact with quite often. Ishaan, my technical host, is 14.5 and thus has been my roommate as well as my guide around school and town, also introducing me into his social circle! Kunsh and Akshita, the two middle children, have been my playmates at home. My personal favorite host-family member, Suryansh is a five and half year old tike who reminds me quite a lot of Jhorman, my toddler-comrade from Mexico last summer. He has taken a particular liking to my presence and, given his limited English skills, does not understand that I do not speak Hindi fluently and pushes me the hardest to speak in Hindi. We live in a villa in quite a vibrant area of Indore, filled with cows, auto-rickshaws, and the morning cries of the nomadic vegetable vendors. Residing with a large, noisy, and vibrant joint family has definitely been a different and enjoyable experience for an only-child like me!

Every morning we wake up at six to a breakfast of chaay (a special type of Indian tea) and some sort of spiced oatmeal or pancake. Even though I do not usually eat breakfast at home, I have gobbled every last morsel in the mornings. While eating breakfast, I read the newspaper and discuss current events with the other family members—especially this week, filled with breaking news such as the Nice Attacks and the Turkish Coup. At 7:20, I depart for the school bus with Ishaan and Kunsh, arriving at school at 7:40. The a twenty minute ride of cow-dodging, complete nonchalance regarding all rules of traffic, and observing India’s morning routines is a wonderful part of my day! The Indian style of driving, while at times seemingly life-threatening and always quite turbulent, continues to provide entertainment and a nice wake-up jolt before class.

A few words about Indian schools in general since they are quite different from American ones, like everything else in this country. The underlying difference is that, here, education is viewed as sacred—as knowledge given from the gods to the mortals. This notion dictates many aspects of the Indian educational system, as I will outline. Teachers are rarely questioned and are treated with utmost respect (even more so than parents) because they are viewed as the messengers of such sacred knowledge. With all this talk during my last three years at Exeter about “student-centered learning,” it has been interesting to adjust into a teacher-centered educational system as far removed from the Harkness method as possible. Because of the fact that teachers are rarely questioned, Indian schools focus far more on rote memorization and factual knowledge than American schools (especially Exeter), which tend to emphasize analysis and discussion. Combine this particular emphasis with an application system stressing examinations much more than America’s holistic system and sheer masses of qualified applicants—you’ll find that India’s academic climate is one of the most competitive of the world. Oftentimes, in order to be accepted into a top university, applicants need to score above 99.6% on their examinations. Therefore, students here are much more studious than their American counterparts, and concepts like procrastination and “winging” homework assignments do not really exist here. The sacred nature of education also creates a much stricter atmosphere at school. All students at my school wear uniforms and undergo an inspection before entering the doors every morning, there is much more separation between boys and girls (with two separate entrances and dining areas), and the discipline system is much more severe. It’s been quite interesting to observe such a different style, and I do indeed think that America and Exeter could learn a few things from the way schools operate here.

My school, the Shishukunj International School, and the Indian system of education never cease to wow me. Shishukunj is an English medium K-12 school of over 4,000 students, encompassing a large, modern, and immaculately maintained campus. Along with the other 7 NSLI-Y students placed there, I attend special Hindi classes from 8 AM to 1 PM, although Indian school is currently in session so there is much interaction with the Indian students. We, Americans, are basically treated as celebrities around school: through the hallways we are followed by packs of Indian students of all ages, teachers drop by to introduce themselves to us, and a “bouncer” sometimes stands outside our room to prevent crowds from forming outside the windows.

After a quick Sanskrit prayer and self-empowerment meditative exercise at 7:55, our first Hindi teacher arrives in the classroom at 8. We have a plethora of different Hindi teachers who each teach us for 45 minute periods. Most focus on conversation, while I have definitely detected an emphasis on grammar in one’s classes and on writing in another’s—the colloquial emphasis is definitely to fit with NSLI-Y’s goals of oral proficiency, which, for a modern language, ultimately matter more than reading/writing ability. We’ve already learned quite a bit of Hindi for only two weeks—one of my classmates joked that we’ve to this point covered a whole Spanish 1 course typical of most American high schools. As Hindi is an Indo-European language related to English, Latin, Greek, and all the others I have studied, it has been quite interesting for me to observe all of the linguistic connections, especially the lexical (tooth: daant, compare with Latin dens, dentis and Greek odous, odontos and English words like dental).

It’s also different enough, however, from English that it has posed an engaging challenge to learn—even the pronunciation has posed a challenge, with many aspirated/unaspirated distinctions, retroflex consonants, and nasalized vowels non-existent in English. Syntax is also quite different, with sentences following a rather strict SOV (subject-object-verb) order, prepositions (rather, postpositions), often made of multiple words, following the word they govern rather than preceding it, and the possessive construction working differently (English: the B of A/ Hindi A ka/ki/ke B). Grammatical gender matters quite a lot—with even types of words such as postpositions and verbs being dependent on the gender of associated words—and plurals can be quite irregular. Although the Sanskrit case system has long since broken down, similarly to how Italian has lost Latin’s declensions, nouns and adjectives still have two different forms—subject and oblique—dictated by sentence usage and propositions. Transitivity seems to hold special significance as well, with transitive and intransitive forms governing different subject pronouns and forms of the past tense—in the perfect transitive tense, the verb’s gender and number actually agrees with the direct object and the noun subject is put into the oblique case and followed by a special ergative marker. Enough of grammar for now, though; I’m sure that’s not what you want to hear!

Hindi classes continue all morning, interrupted somewhere by a CCA (cultural activities) class. Usually we select the sculpting option and work in the clay studio, but, one day, we tried out traditional dance, which was, to say the least, quite an experience. Besides these two options, singing, traditional instruments, and drawing are available as well. At 11:50, lunch is served, consisting of typical Indian “veg” foods like rice, daal, a vegetable dish, and a dessert. The food is much better than American school foods, offering plenty of flavor and spice. It’s different from American school lunch in other ways as well—students stand rather than sit, and there is no line for food, but rather just a crowd that must be pushed through. Lunch also provides a great chance to interact with the Indian students and to make new friends and cross-cultural relationships. After lunch, we generally have one more Hindi period and then a sports block. Usually we play badminton, because it is indoors and the last few days have been filled with torrential monsoon rains. At 2:30, I catch the bus home and spend time playing games en-route.

Outside of school, my family has gratefully been committed to showing me as much of Indore as possible. My host city, Indore, centrally located in the heart of India’s central province, Madhya Pradesh, is a metropolis of two million people, although you’ve probably never heard of it because so many Indian cities are of that nature. Together, my family, my classmates, and I have explored its famous palaces, bazaars, and temples—as well as experiencing more modern experiences such as attending birthday parties at the shiny glass malls, swimming at the pool of the renowned Yeshwant Club, and watching Bollywood’s newest hit, Sultan, at the movie theater. Walking around the streets has been, like everything else at this point, a new experience: the streets are utterly jammed with an irregularly moving current of people, cart-vendors, bikes, motorcycles, auto-rickshaws, and cars—not to mention, the cows and herds of goats and sheep, who are the true dictators of traffic. My classmates and I draw stares from all directions, as Indore does not draw many foreigners at all—in fact, the only other non-Indian I have seen these last two weeks was the German exchange student at Shishukunj on Saturday, who is nevertheless half-Indian. For the Indore locals to view a group of white Americans walking down the streets would be akin to New Yorkers observing a Papua New Guinean tribe strolling through Times Square. It’s always positive attention, however, and the locals have been quite interested to show us their culture as well as learn about ours—in essence, the goal of the NSLI-Y program.

One particular experience that I have quite enjoyed has been the Indian wedding, of which, to this point, I have attended six. They offer a colorful atmosphere in which tradition prevails: from the interesting rituals of the procession to the Sanskrit chants in the wedding structure. Every event that I have attended has been luxurious beyond belief—decked with celebrity singers and mile-long buffets containing all cuisines from South-Indian to Mexican, each and every wedding did not disappoint. One of them was even held in a palace-like structure, with others in fancy hotels, conference centers, and exquisite tents.

Speaking of food, I would like to now elaborate on that which I think has been another important part of my experience. When I was notified before departure that my family would be vegetarian, I—a self- professed “carnivore” and slim eater of vegetables—couldn’t help but be slightly concerned. However, all of such worries have since been alleviated. The vegetables and meat substitutes such as paneer (a type of cheese) here are so fresh, well-prepared and spicy that, in essence, they taste like meat. Additionally, all the necessary protein and more is provided in lentil dishes like the ubiquitous daal. To this point, I have only eaten one small piece of chicken since my arrival in Delhi two weeks ago. I’ve gobbled down every last morsel presented on my plate, and have had almost no trouble adjusting to the spiciness of the food. Also, I have quite enjoyed the usage of bread, whether roti, naan, or paratha, as a utensil—it soaks up the flavor of the other dishes quite well. On another note, I have become quite more aware of regional differences within Indian cuisine, from local specialties like poha and jalebi to South Indian dishes like dosa. Lastly, I have experienced the Indian embodiment of other world cuisines, such as Chinese and Italian—just as we Americans have adapted other cultures’ foods to our tastes, so have the Indians. Indian Chinese food can be characterized by even more spice than Indian food itself and a gravy-like sauce called Manchurian, while in restaurants under “Italian-food,” one can order the spicy “red pasta” or the cheesy “white pasta.”

My first two weeks in India have been so wonderful and I am already learning so much about a part of the world previously unknown to me. More importantly, I feel that I have already forged relationships and lifetime connections with my host family. It has been a delight to have meshed into the complex household atmosphere. I’m looking forward to another eventful and enrichment-filled month, one that will hopefully bring many more updates to this website. I feel so grateful to my host family, my host school, and the United States government for providing me with such a fundamentally life-changing opportunity.

Until next time! My next update, to be posted in the next few days, will outline my eventful last week–consisting of a model UN convention, fashion show, and field trips to historical sites in Maheshwar and Mandu–and more cultural observations.

Bliss

Truly at Home in Indore: General Reflections at the Midpoint of my Stay

37,000 ft. over Россия

EXCERPT WRITTEN FROM PLANE TWO WEEKS AGO:

MUCH MORE HAS BEEN WRITTEN SINCE. MY INTERNET HAS BEEN SHAKY AND I’VE BEEN DOING NEW THINGS EVERY DAY, SO JUST DECIDED TO SUM UP MY FIRST TWO WEEKS IN ONE POST COMING TOMORROW. MORE FREQUENT UPDATES WILL BE FOLLOWING SHORTLY:

Greetings from somewhere over the Caspian Sea! We’re about three-fourths of the way through our ultra-long haul flight to Delhi and definitely starting to feel it—I only decided to start writing this post after I had exhausted all of the viable in-flight-entertainment options.

Apologie for all of the confusion regarding my two websites; Joonho and I decided to collaborate on our Orvieto website, joperryorvietojournals.wordpress.com . Now, however, Italy is long past—I’m back for round two of cultural immersion after last year’s Mexico trip: India!

Currently, I’m en route to Indore, India—a city of about two and a half million located in India’s central province Madhya Pradesh—where I will stay with a host family for a whopping six weeks through the US Dept. of State sponsored NSLI-Y scholarship implemented by AFS. The primary purpose of my trip is to learn Hindi in an intensive setting at the Shishukunj International School, a nationally-renowned private school on Indore’s outskirts. Moreover, I want to learn a lot more than just Hindi—India arguably possesses the world’s deepest cultural heritage: one, certainly, quite different from America’s.  Thus I look forward to attaining fluency not only in Hindi but also in a new culture!

Enough reflection for now: there’ll surely be a lot of that coming over the next few weeks. All NSLI-Y students, no matter which language, location, or program implementer, are required to attend a three-day pre-departure orientation before heading abroad. The reasons for this are various: the orientation provides a good space to prepare students culturally for their host countries, remind them of the NSLI-Y rules and regulations, introduce them to program alumni, and, in my mind, it’s most important advantage, allows the students to meet their classmates and fellow travelers for the next seven weeks before entering the stress of a new culture.

On Wednesday morning, bags packed, I drove out from my NYC apartment to LIU’s Post campus, in Nassau County, Long Island. The drive was a familiar one for my father and me—we’d gone that way hundreds of times to escape from city life in Long Island’s peaceful woods. On the way we made three stops: one at a shoe warehouse to buy dress shoes for Shishukunj’s uniform, one at Barnes and Noble to buy some Hindi books and reading material for the plane, and, most importantly, one final stop at Shake Shack to grab a final hamburger and fries before heading off for a country in which beef is seldom to be found. (In fact, we learned during orientation that India has the lowest meat consumption per capita worldwide)! Soon enough, it was time to say good-bye, immediately after I arrived on-site, and my adventure had only begun.

Arriving at the site, I learned that this orientation hosted both the Chinese and the Hindi AFS groups, and thus I was eager to meet my Deyang-bound comrades as well. I joined them for lunch in the cafeteria and conversed with outbound students and alumni alike. As time passed, more India students started to arrive as well as Chinese students, and we began to break into two separate groups. Personally, I was quite astonished to see that there were so many former Turkey students—having been relocated from Turkey to India following the last few months’ incidents of terrorism, I expected to be the only one in my group in such a scenario. Within the Hindi group alone, however, there are four of us, with even more in the Chinese group. I must say that, after only  a mere three days, I am so proud to be part of such an extraordinary ensemble of students—everyone is so unique, international, and genuinely interesting and it’s been a true pleasure. I’m so excited to get to know them throughout the next seven weeks and I’m sure we’ll create life-long relationships.

Orientation was non-stop, with two days of twelve-hour lectures about safety protocol and travel logistics. There were definitely some highlights besides simply meeting the other students, including an address by a U.S. Dept. of State representative, an interactive cultural-simulation activity, and a trivia game. Overall, the experience was quite important, and it provided ample time for all of us participants to acquaint with each other before departure.

Then, around mid-afternoon yesterday, we set off for the Newark airport. This two-and-a-half hour drive had its perks: we were lucky to travel right through midtown Manhattan. Many of my new friends had never seen the area before, so I pointed out Grand Central, the Public Library, Bryant Park, Times Square, Broadway, and the Port Authority bus terminal—quite an eventful lineup.

We reached the Newark Airport at around 5:30 PM, about four hours before our scheduled boarding time. This interval gave us ample space to check in over 30 NSLI-Y participants and get us through security as one group, a task harder than it sounds. Afterwards, a group of us went to the food-court, where I proceeded to binge on both dim sum and tacos—two cuisines I will assumedly not be encountering much in India. After learning that our flight was delayed, to pass the time, we spoke with a quite amicable Indian man from a city near Indore and practiced some basic Hindi.

Now I am happily writing from the plane, seated next to two of my comrades and in the midst of the easily identifiable, t-shirted AFS group. Immediately falling to sleep after take-off, I woke up right as the plane was passing over Copenhagen. Since then, we’ve flown over Vilnius, Minsk, Volgograd (where the legendary battle of Stalingrad was fought), and, now, the Caspian Sea—although the flight attendants did not allow us to open the windows to maintain a dark, sleep-friendly cabin atmosphere.

It will be late at night when we arrive and I’m sure I will just crash into sleep. On Sunday, we have one more day of orientation in Delhi, followed by an overnight train ride to Indore, where, on Monday, we will meet our host families. I’ll provide another update in a few days when I’m all settled in there. Until then!

37,000 ft. over Россия

Update on Updates

Hello everyone!

I have decided for a few reasons that, for the duration of my trip to Italy, I will only be updating my other blog. For my trip to India, I will switch back to this blog. I’ve been waiting until now to post because the wifi signal is patchy and I am not allowed to publically share many photos of the trenches and artifacts found therein. In the meanwhile, please check out my scholarly daily field journal/blog co-run with my friend and fellow digger Joonho Jo at www.joperryorvietojournals.wordpress.com. It’s been a lot of work updating this page daily and I would rather have one high quality entry per day instead of two low quality ones.

See you guys on June 29th, when my NSLI-Y adventure to India begins. Ciao a tutti.

Sincerely,

Bliss

Update on Updates

I’m Back. Summer ’16: Italy, India, and Beyond

Ciao a tutti, नमसते, and hello to all!

You might be wondering why I chose the languages above to begin the long-awaited reboot of my blog from last summer. Isn’t Bliss a Classics guy, you might be wondering. Or isn’t he the guy who went to study Mayan in the Yucatan last summer? Yes, all that’s true. However, I have decided to restart posting on my blog to encapsulate a new chapter of lingblisstic adventures, as outlined below.

I’m currently sitting in Terminal C of Newark Liberty-International Airport, with about an hour until my flight departs. The destination? Rome, Italy. Along with my friends from Exeter Joonho Jo, Kofi Ansong, and Grace Stinson, I have been selected to participate in a three week archaeological project digging Etruscan ruins at a site outside Orvieto, Italy, a wonderful hilltop town situated right on the border between the regions of Tuscany and Umbria. The field study is led by Professor David George and a team from Saint Anselm College, who were generous enough to let a few of us high schoolers tag along.

For many reasons have I decided to accept this opportunity. First, the Etruscans captivate me greatly as the native inhabitants of the Italian peninsula, before the (allegedly) Trojan-descended Romans under Aeneas settled in Latium’s furtile plains. Just as I studied an indigenous culture (Mayan) last summer, I am thoroughly excited for the chance to study the material culture and traces of the Etruscan civilization. Another particular part of this field study which appealed to me was the prospect of working with and attempting to decipher Etruscan language inscriptions. Etruscan, just like Mayan is to Spanish, is a language completely different from Latin and to this day has not been deciphered. Professor George, when presenting at Exeter back in the fall, outlined some of his efforts working with actual snippets of Etruscan found in the trenches and I, as a budding linguist (lingblisst, whatever you want to call me), would love to partake in such linguistic cataloging and puzzle-solving. Third, for someone like me who intends to study Classics through college and beyond, archaeological experience is a must, and I am curious about digging methods and technique. Lastly, I would love to practice my Italian and acclimate to Italian culture just a little bit more before spending all of next winter studying in Rome— more about that later, though.

Okay, he’s explained the Italian— but what is that other language? If you’ve already identified it as Hindi (the word is quite familiar— namaste—just a different alphabet), you might be wondering why I, a non-Hindu, Western-studies focused, classicist, would have any interest in such a language. The short answer: long story.

A few months ago, I received news from NSLI-Y (National Security Language Initiative for Youth) that I had been selected to receive a scholarship to study Turkish in Bursa, Turkey for 6 weeks from early July to mid-August. For those of you who don’t know, NSLI-Y is a U.S. State Department sponsored initiative which offers fully-paid scholarships for U.S. high school students to study a critical, or national security language— one vastly important to U.S. diplomacy but not commonly taught in schools—in countries across the world, from Morocco to Estonia to South Korea. I had originally applied to participate in the Turkish program because of an interest in Turkey’s fusional history and the complex linguistic nature of the Turkish language.

However, about a month ago, NSLI-Y notified me that all Turkey summer programs had been cancelled. Many of you have probably heard about the recent turmoil and tourist-directed bombings there, and when there was in explosion in Bursa, NSLI-Y decided to pull the plug. Mercifully, though, the administration offered us the chance to choose another language and country for relocation. And, confronted with a choice between Hindi and Russian, I decided upon Hindi.

My program information soon followed—I will be studying Hindi in a city named Indore, situated right in the center of the country, about halfway between Delhi and Mumbai, for six weeks beginning June 29th and ending August 18th. I will be living with a host family, details of which are to be announced soon, and my in-class learning–five hours a day for 6 days a week– will be supplemented with cultural instruction in traditional Indian history, music, dance, cooking, and more.

Although India had never really been on my mind before I was faced with such an opportunity, I am now quite excited for the chance to study there for six weeks. India possesses arguably the world’s greatest cultural heritage– from the Indus River civilization of Mohenjo-Daro to today’s booming Bollywood cinemas. Although Hindi is one of the top-five spoken languages in the world, it is sparsely taught outside of India, and learning it would prove a great first step towards unlocking one of the world’s most up-and-coming nations of one billion people and its culture. (That’s nearly a seventh of the world!) . Hindi is also a descendant of Sanskrit, an ancient language crucial to research in Proto-Indo-European; as one who revels in historical linguistics, Sanskrit is a must-know language and Hindi would be a great gateway. Lastly, after so many years of studying Greco-Roman culture and influence, it would be a welcome relief to learn more about another equally great but wildly different society.

I could go on and on and on, but the announcement for my flight’s boarding just sounded, so I’ll end there. I’m so grateful for both of these opportunities and the chance to represent Exeter and America in general both in Italy and in India. Stay tuned for more updates!

Until next time (very soon),

Bliss

 

 

I’m Back. Summer ’16: Italy, India, and Beyond

Reflections

Hello, Hola, yeetel Ma’alo’ob Ki’in!

It’s been a few weeks, and I would like to apologize for the considerable delay on this final post. I’ve been moving around quite a bit over the last few weeks, and I have not had much time to sit, reflect, and really think deeply about my experience.

First of all, I have to express my extreme gratitude towards everyone involved in my Yucatan adventure this July.

To my host family, the Pat Cocam familly: thank you so much for accomodating me in your home for three whole weeks! For an only child like myself, it was such a wonderful experience to live with such a vibrant, engaging, and interesting family like you. I will never forget all the experiences we had together during my stay with you: getting lost while hiking in the jungle, arguing about how to name the new rabbits, watching dubbed television, riding on the moped to pick up tortillas, biking as a pack to go swimming in the pool, celebrating Jnorman’s 5th birthday with a traditional piñata and music— the list never ends! From the first day in your household, I really felt welcomed and at home. Only after a month I miss you all so much, and I extend my best wishes to you in your future endeavors. Once Javier learns more English we would love to host him in New York in return!

To Catherine, Molly, Poppy, and everyone else at Na’atik: as much as I love speaking other languages (both Spanish and Mayan in this case), it was honestly a much welcomed relief to talk in English with you guys. Thank you so much for supporting and watching out for me during my time in Carrillo! I really enjoyed meeting you all, and I really hope to return back in the future to soak up even more Mayan. Also, expect more Exonians soon!

To my teacher, X-Linda: although we were not able to speak each other’s languages at first, we clearly understood each other from the very beginning of my Mayan classes. Despite the difficulty studying Mayan, the most complex and distant language I have every studied, for five straight hours every day, I truly enjoyed each and every hour of it, from reciting verb conjugations for minutes on end to memorizing the name of each and every bird, fruit, animal, and tree in Na’atik’s backyard with your flashcards. I’m looking forward to sharing my new knowledge with interested students at Exeter and beyond. Thank you so much for all your time and patience with me!

As much as I hate to admit it, for a city boy like me, it was indeed a little bit of an adjustment at first to sleeping in a hammock, spending leisure time sitting on the dirt floor of a Mayan hut watching dubbed television, and eating food spicier than I had ever encountered before, not to mention using a tortilla as the main utensil. However, I not only accustomed to all these changes within days, but also embraced them. After all, what I really enjoyed about my experience was, as I predicted in my pre-departure reflection, the opportunity to acclimate into another culture and live as a local and not a tourist. As one of very few Americans or English speakers in Carrillo, I certainly achieved that goal. I learned so much about both Maya and Mexican culture, language, ritual, and daily life, and I am very eager to raise awareness of that at Exeter and America in general. For too long have the modern Maya people been unknown to the rest of the world, and, while I cannot change this, I intend to combat it.

Learning a language not commonly studied was also quite rewarding. Yucatec Mayan, as described in some of my previous posts, was quite the linguistic challenge for several reasons (foreign vocabulary, grammar wildly different from english, tonal pronunciation, etc), and I really enjoyed every minute of it. In general, one of the aspects I found most interesting about the language was its reflection of its Maya speakers, their history, and their geography— from its rich vocabulary of local flora and fauna to its heavy borrowing from Spanish. Although studying for 5 hours straight a day was often tiring, every single minute was well worth it and highly rewarding.

Overall, I’m really happy that I undertook this experience studying Mayan for three weeks in Felipe Carrillo Puerto. Living in a culture so close yet so different from mine really broadened my perspective as a person, and I have come to appreciate much more the very things back home in America I used to take for granted. I deeply miss everyone in Carrillo, from my family to Na’atik, and I am strongly considering to learn even more.

Thank you all for reading my blog! Don’t worry, I’ll find a way to recycle it in the future. Stay tuned…

Until next time,

Bliss

Reflections