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.
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.
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!