37,000 ft. over Россия



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

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