I got sunburned and my students think it’s hilarious

It’s week three of teaching, folks, and I haven’t imploded yet! I think we can call that a success. We’ve been in India for almost two months now, and it’s crazy how time is flying. I don’t know how I would’ve survived without Mina. She gets 2,341,677 shoutouts for preventing me from going crazy.

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Mina and I in the Old City

I spent my first few weeks at Vimukti Girls School without a permanent schedule. I showed up each day prepared to teach any class from 6 to 11. Now that I have a set schedule, I’m finding it much easier to plan lessons and get to know my students. Each class has its own personality and challenges, from my 30+ giggly 6th graders to my four 11th graders. Many of the girls are complete beginners when it comes to conversational English, so we’re starting out with simple sentences and phrases.

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Class six. I love them to pieces.

In working with the girls at Vimukti, I’ve encountered some difficulties designing lessons that are useful and accessible. Many online ESL activities include topics such as traveling/vacations. How do you approach this subject with girls who may have almost no experience traveling outside of their neighborhood in Jaipur? My students are fascinated by the fact that I came to India on an airplane. More than once, a wide-eyed student has asked me, “Mam, did you come here on an airplane? A real airplane? How long did it take? What is it like?” For many of my students, travel by air is almost an abstract idea, like something out of a story. Language is best learned in context. For me, it will be essential to get to know my students on a personal level so that I can contextualize our language lessons in ways that are applicable to their lives. I am already starting to get glimpses—when they show me their dancing and singing, when they talk about evening trips to the Gurudwara, when they point out their mothers standing in doorways as the school bus pulls away from Jawahar Nagar. Some love to draw, others stitch their own clothing, and still others delight in showing me the mehendi they’ve styled on their sisters’ hands. They want to be dancers, army officers, doctors, engineers, singers, police officers, teachers. My students lead rich, full lives that are still mostly a mystery to me. I can’t wait to learn more about them, and in turn to introduce new knowledge and ideas about life in America.

There are many challenges in learning English…until I started teaching, I didn’t fully appreciate how quirky English can be. “So” has become the bane of my existence. We use “so” for so many things…variably it can mean “for this reason,” “for the purpose of,” “more than,” or it’s simply used as a filler word. There’s no equivalent in Hindi, which has made explaining it all the more difficult. “Or” is a close second on the list of English-words-that-drive-me-crazy. In Hindi, the word for “and” is pronounced the same way we pronounce “or.” So when I ask my students to make a choice (candy or ice cream?), they simply respond, “Yes, Mam,” because they think I’m saying “candy and ice cream.” I love how teaching has made me more aware of my own language and cadence of speech.

On August 15th, we celebrated India’s 70th year of independence. I wore a sari to Vimukti’s celebration, to the delight of my students, and I got to watch them dance, sing, and perform skits in honor of India’s liberation from British rule. The program began with a skit about women’s rights, with an emphasis on ending child marriage and sati (a traditional practice in which a widowed woman throws herself upon her husband’s burning funeral pyre, sacrificing her life to be with him…in theory, this is an act of self-sacrifice, but the reality is more often death at the hands of relatives forcing sati).

Several girls came out dressed as prominent women in Indian society—politicians, astronauts, sports players, and beauty pageant contestants. When Principal-mam addressed the assembly, she said, “All girls must become what we have seen today.” On a day meant to celebrate freedom, I loved my school’s focus on women’s freedom and girls’ access to opportunities. My students face more barriers than most, but Vimukti aims to provide them with the educational foundation necessary to reach these goals and more.

That evening, Mina and I went out with our new friend Alex to see the lights at the Birla Mandir (a local Hindu temple) and the Albert Hall Museum. True to India, the electricity went out in the museum while we were in the basement Egyptian tomb/mummy exhibit, thus fulfilling my worst childhood nightmare. August 15th also happened to be Krishna Janmashtami, the birth day of the god Krishna. As with many Hindu holidays, this day is observed according to the Hindu lunar calendar, so it doesn’t usually fall on the same day as Independence Day. Needless to say, seeing the Birla Mandir lit up in honor of the holiday was a sight to behold.

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Jesus Christ on the side of the Birla Mandir, a Hindu temple. Holy figures from a variety of spiritual traditions adorn the temple walls.

Mina and I were also lucky to have several other Fulbright ETAs visit us in Jaipur this past weekend—Payal and Tamar from Kolkata, Maddie from Santiniketan, and Kofi from Delhi. We had a great time visiting Chokhi Dhani, an artisan village near Jaipur where we stuffed ourselves with traditional Rajasthani thalis, watched fire dancers, and saw a Rajasthani puppet show. The next morning, we took an incredible hike up into the hills beyond Jaipur, where the Temple of Galtaji nestles in a lush green valley. A pre-historic site for Hindu pilgrims, Galtaji is colloquially known as the monkey temple due to the abundance of monkeys that gather in its courtyards and pools.

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No license required
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Every rickshaw ride where nobody dies is a good rickshaw ride, especially when you’re squished into the back.

We rounded out the weekend with what are apparently the best cold coffee and chocolate milkshakes in all of Jaipur, courtesy of our friend Simran.

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Despite starting our teaching jobs, Mina and I continue to take Hindi classes twice a week at AIIS. Last night we attended the CLS cultural program for the summer students at AIIS, who will be returning to America this week. As a former CLS participant, I found myself feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the teachers at AIIS and all they’ve done for me over the past four years. I just adore every one of them.

The first month of adjusting to life in India was difficult, to say the least. Between illness, the stress of integrating into a new culture and work environment, and the language barrier, I often felt overwhelmed by the task set in front of me. In many ways, India is an assault on the senses—we are constantly bombarded with new smells, tastes, and sounds. We eat heavy, oily, delicious Indian food seasoned with unfamiliar spices; when visiting people’s houses, they stuff us with enough food to feed four people. During my first few weeks teaching, I felt like all the other teachers and students were operating based on telepathic signals with one another, and I was out of the loop. They seemed to know where to go and when to go without being told. I struggled with how to become part of a new school as an outsider, especially as the first foreigner to work at Vimukti.

I’m still mostly out of the loop—sometimes a class period will inexplicably end 10 minutes late, and when I ask about it, the other teachers will give me an explanation along the lines of, “Of course we ended late. That’s just the way it is today,” leaving me totally baffled. But rather than overwhelming me, I now find these occurrences humorous. This is my life in India—a little chaotic, a little stressful, a lot challenging, and always rich with new experiences. As I’ve come to accept that India is very different from the U.S., I’m able to refocus my energy on appreciating all the unique and fascinating opportunities this country has to offer. Already I’m growing to love my students. In eight months, it’s going to be hard to leave.

I’ve got my work cut out for me, and I’m here for the long haul. Here’s to successful English sentences, cold iced tea on hot days, and not getting run over while crossing the street.

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“Good afternoon, Mam!”

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of traveling, training, and preparing to begin our work as English Teaching Assistants. Three weekends ago, Mina and I took a trip to Udaipur, catching an 8-hour overnight train to spend a couple of rainy days in the city of lakes (filming location for the acclaimed movie Octopussy, of which the residents are very proud). We explored Udaipur’s gorgeous 16th century City Palace, took a boat ride around one of the lakes, wandered through lush green gardens built for courtesans, waded in calf-deep water after the monsoon flooded the streets, discovered an old haveli, saw “probably the largest turban in the world,” and dined overlooking the city. It was a lovely weekend, although it ended in a pretty intense bout of stomach sickness for me (life tip—if you’re going to be violently ill, avoid doing so on an 8-hour overnight train).

Two weekends ago, Fulbright brought us to Delhi with the other north India ETAs (Dehradun, Delhi, and Jaipur) for additional training and teaching practice. It was wonderful to see our friends again. One of the Delhi ETAs cooked us dinner on Friday night, and then we went out dancing at a local club, where we were treated to a variety of music that seemed to consist mostly of songs in Spanish and American pop circa ~2008. We returned to Jaipur happy but exhausted.

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Delhi-area Fulbrighters at USIEF, take two.

And in my case, still sick. That’s one of the not-so-fun parts of India…all the unfamiliar bacteria are rough on the stomach, especially when you’ve got a somewhat sensitive system (like me). Thus we found ourselves at the hospital a few days ago (which is less alarming than it sounds…many clinics operate out of hospitals, and it’s common in India to visit a hospital for minor ailments). As an aspiring healthcare professional, this gave me an opportunity to experience the Indian medical system firsthand. It’s fascinating to observe the differences in how they approach physical exams and medication prescription…whenever I’m sick in India, I always receive prescriptions for 4-5 different pills (including several vitamins), which is not at all the case in the U.S. Fortunately for me, the medication seems to be working, and I’m feeling a lot better than I was last week.

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Sign in hospital lobby. With my interest in women’s health, I was glad to learn that abortion is legal in India; access to reproductive care is so essential in the fight to give women autonomy, self-determination, and control over their lives. However, the 2011 Indian census shows a persistent imbalance in India’s child sex ratio (919 girls for every 1,000 boys ages 0-6). A 1994 law thus outlaws the disclosure of a fetus’s sex to parents, attempting to curb sex-selective abortions of girls. Sometimes, even a trip to the hospital for a simple stomach bug can lead to new insights…I am constantly learning more about India’s unique public health issues, knowledge that I hope will aid me in my future work as a physician.

This past week was my first week teaching at Vimukti Girls School. It’s been a crazy and incredible experience. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard the phrase “Good afternoon, Mam!” about a thousand times. Contrary to my last blog post, I will be teaching classes 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11, some of which are comprised of over 40 students. On Tuesday, I taught classes 7, 10, and 11. On Wednesday, I taught classes 6, 7, 8, and 11. On Thursday, several guests came to visit Vimukti, so I was asked to teach class 11. I went in expecting to teach for a half hour, which is the usual length of my school’s classes, but due to guests touring the school, our timetable was altered. I ended up spending the entire day with class 11—four hours! While I was not prepared to teach a four-hour English class, I had so much fun getting to know my 11th graders (there are only four girls in class 11). We spent a good long lesson learning to describe pictures using simple prepositions, which is not as easy as it sounds, because in Hindi, postpositions are used instead of prepositions. This makes sentence construction in English more difficult for students whose native language is Hindi. At the end of the class, the girls showed me their dancing. My students are bright and inquisitive…they asked me all sorts of questions about America (including, “Can a girl marry a girl in America? Mam, why aren’t you married?”). I was proud of their focus and dedication…having a four-hour continuous class in your second (or third!) language isn’t easy.

Working with a foreign teacher is an adjustment for my students as much as it is for me. I like to move around the classroom, which is not the norm in India; oftentimes, students will say, “Mam, please sit down,” or “Mam, there’s a chair for you right there!” When I call on a student to speak in class, she will stand up, and then she will wait to sit back down until I explicitly tell her she can sit. Sometimes I forget about this after calling on a student, and I move on to the next raised hand, only to have the previous student say, “Mam, mam! Can I please sit?” As I learn classroom etiquette, my students are having to adapt to a teaching style that’s different from their other classes. I’ve appreciated their flexibility this first week. With a few (often humorous) hiccups along the way, I’m hoping we will build a classroom environment that’s conducive to learning conversational English.

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Blurry selfie with the cutest 8th graders you’ll ever meet.

I love that Vimukti is a school run by women, for women. All of the other teachers I’ve met are women, as is Principal-mam. The teachers are such a wonderful group of intelligent ladies, and they clearly care about these girls a great deal. I’m so excited to get to know the rest of my students (although right now I’m pretty overwhelmed learning names…sometimes it seems like there are at least four girls named Kajal or Pooja in every class). When school is finished, we all pile into school buses and head back to Jaipur.

On Friday, Mina and I celebrated completing our first week of teaching with our new friend Alex. I still don’t have a set schedule at my school yet, as they are currently determining the final timetable, but that’s part of living in India (especially when you’re not quite fluent in Hindi, making miscommunications common)—being flexible and prepared to meet any situation with a positive attitude. I’m learning as I go along. Wish me luck!

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Celebrating Friendship Day in India with a trip to the Old City to purchase art supplies…my old friend Aarti is an art teacher, and she’s going to give Mina and I lessons.

It is H O T

Are we dying of heat? Possibly. Can we afford our A.C. bill this month? Remains to be seen.

Last weekend, Mina and I went out exploring in Jaipur. We visited the Hawa Mahal (wind palace), a major tourist destination in Jaipur’s Old City. Situated in the middle of a lively bazaar, this palace was built in 1799 to allow royal women to watch street processions without being seen. It’s a stunning example of Mughal architecture. We ghumed (wandered) for several hours, until I got too dehydrated and grumpy to continue. Yayyy Jaipur heat.

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Outside the Hawa Mahal/street view
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Me, sweating
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Inside the Hawa Mahal looking out at the street like a courtesan

Earlier this week I ordered some stuff from Amazon Prime India. Yesterday, the postman called my cell phone to ask for directions to our street (speaking only in Hindi, of course). I had to try to describe how to find Mangal Marg in Hindi without knowing the postman’s current location. Somehow, I feel like this experience aptly describes my entire life in India…nothing is ever quite as simple as you expect it to be, even something as uniform as ordering from Amazon.

Mina and I currently live in a temporary apartment. We will move into our permanent apartment (same building) sometime next week. Anytime we leave a window open, the pigeons attack. It’s insanity.

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Shifty pigeon, waiting for the perfect moment to strike

On the plus side, having a gas stove allowed us to cook this wholly American delicacy for dinner the other night: scrambled eggs, toast, and Sprite. Dining like queens.

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#TopChefstatus

Anyways, time for me to go roast alive in my room for the evening. Here’s to monsoons and cooler (hopefully) weather ahead.

Oh hey, I’m in India!

After three flights, two layovers, and zero sleep, I’m in India!

The Fulbright English Teaching Assistants arrived in Delhi on June 28th. The moment I stepped outside, I could smell India in the muggy air—a mixture of food frying in greased pans, trash, foliage wet with rain, and the cloying sweetness of flowers used for puja. Shrill horns sounded from the traffic clogging Delhi’s roads. I’d forgotten what it’s like to live in a constant press of bodies, of people rushing through the streets with an entirely different concept of personal space. I’ll have to get accustomed to the stray dogs and cats roaming the streets, their stomachs distended, and the hot water sluicing into my shoes during monsoon season.

Our Delhi-area group has been whittled down to nine from the original 24 India Fulbright ETAs: three in Dehradun, two in Jaipur, and four in Delhi proper. Getting to know the Delhi cohort has been the highlight of my first week here. What a kind, thoughtful, and intelligent group of people! I’m lucky to have their support as we move into our host cities. We spent the first few days attending orientation at the United States India Education Foundation headquarters, a gorgeous building situated in the heart of Delhi:

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The USIEF building in Delhi

Orientation was a whirlwind of presentations and panels, similar to our pre-departure orientation in D.C. We had the opportunity to work with an English Language Training specialist, who will help us plan our lessons and cirriculum. I learned so much about the Indian education system during orientation. The introduction of English under the British Raj helped standardize education across India. While English is seen by many as a language of opportunity, at the same time, it’s brought enormous privilege to certain groups and helped entrench inequalities. Under the Right to Education Act of 2009, children in India are guaranteed free and age-appropriate education up until the age of 14; schools cannot hold students back if they do not pass their current grade level. We learned more about the different school systems and the logistics of implementing this act across India. I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue my preparations under USIEF’s guidance, as I feel our teacher has provided me with essential context for my teaching endeavors. Vimukti Girls School is a Hindi medium school, with most lessons conducted in Hindi; however, they are transitioning toward an English medium model, with some lessons conducted in English. I hope I will be able to assist with this transition.

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Delhi Fulbright cohort!

On our first night in Delhi, we went out to Nizamuddin Dargah, a religious site where one of the Sufi saints is buried. We gathered on a Thursday evening to listen to Qawwali, a form of Sufi devotional music. Worshippers purchased pink flowers glazed in rose water to bring up as an offering. We took our shoes off before entering, and the uneven stone floors warmed my feet as we wandered through narrow alleyways laden with market goods before coming out into the open air near the mausoleum, where people thronged to hear the music. It was a headlong dive back into everything I associate with India…a country rich in religious traditions, crowds, heat, and worship.

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Fulbright scholars gathering at Nizamuddin Dargah on Thursday night

The following evening, we had dinner at the U.S. Public Affairs Officer’s house in a gorgeous Delhi neighborhood (home to many embassy officials), which stands in stark contrast with the poverty and malnourishment that is so visually apparent in nearby parts of the city. The Public Affairs Officer was kind, gracious, and so welcoming to all the Fulbright scholars. We got to hear about his time with the Foreign Service in different countries across the globe. He told us that the world is much smaller now than it was before…when he first lived abroad, he was mostly cut off from friends and family. I am grateful that the Internet allows us to so easily share our experiences abroad, fostering discussion about the diversity we encounter in countries far from our own.

Our time in Delhi culminated in a night out dancing with several current Fulbright research scholars. The next afternoon, Mina and I departed for Jaipur with Pavitra, one of our Fulbright program coordinators. Jaipur has a different feel than Delhi. When we arrived, Mina exclaimed that it was beautiful…it’s strange, because I hadn’t really thought of Jaipur as beautiful for a long time, maybe because I’m used to its architecture and famous pink buildings (they don’t call it the Pink City for nothing). It’s a reminder, I suppose, to try to see this city through fresh eyes. This is not Delhi, that’s for sure.

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View of Jaipur from our hotel room
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Outside Mina’s NGO

On Monday we visited our schools. Mina’s school is situated in a mosque in the Old City, reached by a narrow staircase that opens directly into the main bazaar. The students seemed bright and eager to meet their new teacher. Nobody in her school speaks English…the language barrier will be a challenge for her, as it will be for many of us. Next, we took a trip out to Sanganer to see Vimukti Girls School. I found out only recently that my school has moved to Sanganer, which is a more rural area outside of Jaipur; previously, the school was housed in Tilak Nagar, a neighborhood near the center of the city. Because Vimukti is an NGO school, they must rent out facilities for classes. They are currently housed in a broad, spacious school building surrounded by sprawling fields (very different from Mina’s school), and girls from Jaipur’s slums are bussed out daily to take classes. This means I will have a fairly long commute compared to Mina. Although I was supposed to teach middle school, I’m actually going to be teaching third and fourth standard. I will be expected to teach English grammar as well as conversational English—another surprise. This is typical of my past experiences in India…nothing is ever quite as expected, so flexibility is key. My coordinator and principal both seem like wonderful women. Although we only visited for a half hour or so, I got to peak into the classes where I will teach, and seeing the girls got me excited to meet them and start our work together.

Mina and I began Hindi lessons this week at the American Institute for Indian Studies (A.I.I.S.), the same institute where I studied Hindi through the Critical Language Scholarship. For the next month, we will be taking Hindi classes and observing in our respective schools; we won’t start teaching until August. I was so excited to see my A.I.I.S. teachers again—Sunita-ji, Pramila-ji, Babulal-ji, Anjani-ji, and others. They’re the best! They wasted no time in noting that my Hindi is very kharab (bad) right now. I’ve lost so much. It’s frustrating knowing that I used to be able to express myself so easily on so many topics, but now the words just won’t come, although I understand well enough when others speak. But slowly words have begun to float back, as if they’ve been swimming in my subconscious, just below the surface.

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Aarti! Aarti was my peer language partner in Jaipur four years ago, and we are still friends today

I can’t write a blog post without a shoutout to my fellow Jaipur ETA, Mina, who is the best adventuring partner/roommate I could’ve asked for. We’ve already encountered setbacks since arriving in Jaipur, and I’m so glad to have someone who will share this crazy journey with me. We also owe so much to Pavitra, who fed us, guided us, and put up with our teasing as we apartment-hunted and settled in Jaipur. She’s been an invaluable resource and a great friend.

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Mina and I with Pavitra from USIEF

So what’s it like, living in Jaipur? This blog post is already too long, but I’ve included here some observations I jotted down last night before bed. Jaipur is greener than I remember, even if it lacks Delhi’s rain. Palm fronds and pink flowers shade narrow alleyways. Within a one-kilometer radius you can find pits of trash stewing in the mud and gorgeously carved buildings in shades of pink and yellow. Cows wander the streets freely, and autowalas chug through the morning haze. Carts bearing fresh fruits and vegetables line the streets. Traffic is typical of India—chaotic, noisy, and filled with cars that seem to defy physics by slipping through the narrowest of gaps at speeds that are (frankly) terrifying. There are no seat belts; driving in India is an experience unto itself. When we push through the markets of Raja Park or the Old City, stares follow us, and sometimes men call out. I am never more self-conscious of my body than I am here, of being female. The heat is at times oppressive, pasting sweat across our skin like a sticky, ever-present blanket, but the rains came early this year, so it hasn’t been too unbearably hot. Unlike Delhi, the smells in the air don’t seem to coat the insides of our lungs, clinging to our hair and clothes long after we pass by…that’s a function of Delhi’s humidity. Instead, smells come in waves, receding as quickly as they arrive: mithai sweets flavored with saffron, exhaust fumes, curries swimming in oil, raw sewage, and swollen monsoon season mangoes. At lunch we scoop up dahl with floury roti flatbread (the A.I.I.S. cooks are fantastic, whipping up a mix of thalis for our afternoon meal). Our plates overflow with spicy chana (chick peas) and fried aloo parathas stuffed with potatoes and poha rice. We drink chai three times a day at least—milk boiled with masala tea, ginger, and cardamom. Tea and biscuits are a staple of every house visit, no matter how short. After signing our apartment lease, we stopped off in a narrow roadside store, where a dukanwala pressed fresh pineapples and pomegranates into juice before our eyes. When we missed America, we ordered pizza for dinner, only to realize that Indian pizza doesn’t much resemble pizza from back home. I searched the nearby bazaar for peanut butter and pasta sauce, looking forward to the day when I can move into my apartment and cook something bland and wholly American, sans masala. I relish having cold coffee with my breakfast—milkshakes can be found almost everywhere we go. It’s a rich, bustling, beautiful, dirty, fascinating city, and I know I’m gearing up for a year that will both enrich and offend my senses.

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Random camel, just because

I am overwhelmed. I am excited. I am living an adventure in Jaipur.

 

I make impractical life decisions, aka we went camping!

One of my best friends, Jennifer, lives in Portland, and we’ve been camping buddies for several years now. Our ultimate goal is to visit every single National Park in the United States. The camping trips we take always seem to frame important life events—graduations, getting sick, receiving life-altering news, getting well, and, finally, my trip to India. When Jen told me she planned to visit Utah before I left, I thought it would be too hectic to arrange a camping trip so close to my departure date (she planned to visit June 24th-26th, and I left the U.S. on June 27th). But I make not-so-great life decisions sometimes. Especially when camping is involved. So on a whim, we decided to pack my car and head down to southern Utah on the eve of my year in Jaipur.

And what a trip! We got in a good 15 miles of hiking, and I managed not to drive us to our deaths off the edge of a rather scary cliffside road in Escalante National Monument. We also checked off one more National Park from our list—Capitol Reef. From scrambling up slot canyons to wading in gorgeous waterfalls, it was a trip to be remembered. Jen is one of my few close friends with medical school aspirations, and I love how we can talk for hours about what medicine means to us and how realizing this dream of being doctors will fulfill us in essential ways.

Here are some photos of us exploring, feat. the My Little Pony bandaid they gave me at the Department of Health when I got the aforementioned typhoid fever shot (refer to previous post).

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Camping is probably my favorite escape from the stress and pressures of everyday life. When you’re exploring the red rocks or stargazing in Joshua Tree or taking inappropriately long hikes through the Tetons, the outside world seems so far away. I don’t know what to expect in India—there are so many unknowns. But I’m glad I’ll still have camping with good friends to return to once I’m back in the states.

So now I’m off! I’ll check back in soon, assuming I haven’t melted in Delhi’s summer heat.

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Me, trekking off to India

 

 

 

Fulbright ETA India Pre-Departure Orientation 2017

Well. This is it. In seven days, I’ll be leaving the country for approximately a year.

Last Monday, I took a red-eye to Washington, D.C. for the South and Central Asia Fulbright orientation. Needless to say, it was an intense week of trainings, seminars, and panels about living and working in India. I’ll be placed in Jaipur, Rajasthan, where I will teach English at Vimukti Girls School, an NGO school serving girls who live in poverty. India has significant gender disparity when it comes to education; according to UNICEF data for 2008-2012, for every 100 literate men in India, there are only 67.6 literate women. One of my greatest passions is women’s rights and healthcare, so I am excited to be placed in a girls’ school. In addition, I will have the opportunity to work at Santokba Durlabhji Memorial Hospital, a nonprofit hospital with a number of exciting outreach programs. They help provide free prosthetic limbs to amputees, and they do significant philanthropic work with anganwadis (mother and child care centers) in rural Rajasthan.

There are 24 English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) in India for the 2017-2018 year, scattered throughout the country. Orientation gave me the chance to meet the other ETAs. They are incredible people with so many different backgrounds and interests—music, law, medicine, sustainable development, and more. My roommate Julia and I both love creative writing, and we made plans to form a virtual writing group in India this year. Although my roommate-to-be Mina and I are the only Fulbright scholars placed in Jaipur, I am looking forward to visiting my fellow ETAs in Dehradun, Delhi, Kolkata, Santiniketan, Pondicherry, Chennai, Kanchipuram, and Hyderabad.

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Some 2017 India Fulbright scholars

Orientation brought up a lot of questions I’ve been pondering these past few months. As foreigners in India, how can we approach our jobs with sensitivity toward India’s fraught history with the English language and colonialism? How can we empower our students to take control of their futures, knowing that they face trials we can’t fully comprehend? I don’t necessarily have the answers to these questions, but I do feel grateful that orientation allowed us to discuss such issues. Many high-paying jobs in India require English proficiency. By educating girls, Vimukti Girls School aims to “combat and overcome the vulnerability of these girls through literacy and education and to make them self reliant and self employed citizens.” If I can contribute to this mission in some small way, then I will consider my Fulbright experience a success.

For me, learning Hindi is a big part of showing respect for the people of Jaipur. At orientation, we talked about the importance of studying the local language, both for practical and cultural purposes. We also got to speak with Fulbright alumni from India, who shared their thoughts on assimilating into Indian culture and engaging our students. Two experienced English teachers conducted teaching workshops for the ETAs, including an amazing mock lesson in conversational Swahili. It was truly an eye-opening and inspiring week…days later, I’m still reeling from all the new information. I’m glad I will have the support of the other ETAs and USIEF as I jump into teaching formally for the first time. Shoutout to my roommate Julia for making my orientation experience that much better. We wrapped up seminars on Friday, concluding the pre-departure orientation.

I haven’t been back to D.C. since the summer after graduating college in 2015. After landing a job at the National Cancer Institute, I convinced/bullied my best friend Katie into moving to D.C., and we spent a whirlwind three months sharing a single bed/dancing around our kitchen/living off ice cream and Easy Mac. Sometimes people ask, “What do you miss most about living in D.C.?” and the honest answer is, our landlady. After orientation ended on Friday, I got to spend a couple days with our old landlady, Emily, who put up with our ridiculousness and somehow doesn’t think Katie and I are totally crazy. We adore her! Catching up with Emily was one of the highlights of my week, and I’m so grateful Katie and I had the chance to know her as we floundered (okay, I probably did most of the floundering) into post-graduate adulthood.

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Emily!

Summer 2015 was a hot mess of a summer for a number of reasons, and being back in my old D.C. neighborhood got me thinking a lot about how lucky I’ve been to have such supportive friends. I’ve never liked change, and in the past few years, I feel like I’ve lived multiple mini lives—my life at Oxy, my life in D.C., my life in Utah, and now a new life in India. Each transition has been fraught with anxiety and exhilaration in varying proportions. But my close friends have been a welcome constant throughout these years, and change has gotten progressively easier as I’ve come to realize that it does not have to be completely unmooring. I’m looking forward to forming new relationships in India, and although I’m sad to leave people behind in the U.S., I have great faith in the ability of friendships to withstand time and separation. Thank you to everyone who has lifted me up and supported me these past few years. I wouldn’t be on this adventure without you!

So here’s to change, friends, and a year of surviving and (hopefully) thriving in India. Here’s to the students I can’t wait to meet. Here’s to somehow acquiring the typhoid fever vaccine I didn’t know I needed in the next few days.

Next stop: Delhi!