Friday, February 3, 2012

Student Post: Celiz Aguilar on Culture Shock

We spent the evening writing and talking about culture shock last night. Celiz's post on the same topic seemed perfectly appropriate to share with you all.
{Unrelated photo by Kandyce Pinckney, General Bazaar, Hyderbad}
a post by Celiz Aguilar, originally posted on her blog

I was not anticipating the first wave of homesickness. It had been a week since I was in India and I was seriously enjoying myself. It was all so foreign and there was so much that needed to be done and taken in that, in retrospect, I didn’t have much time to realize what I had left behind. We were constantly going and doing and seeing and meeting and experiencing that the reality of it all hadn’t set it. And if I wasn’t doing something for the program or trying to learn how to do something for myself I was getting to know my group and the other students here.

But certain circumstances left me away from any sense of familiarity, on a crowded bus, in the middle of the city. It was the first day of internships and I had two student guides, who I had met earlier that morning, going with me to Families for Children. I had been looking forward to my internship experience since the day I learned of my acceptance into the India Studies Program. And any time anyone asked what I was looking forward to about my study abroad trip, I always mentioned something about my opportunity to intern with a non-profit. But nervousness set in when I started to realize just where I was and what I was doing.

I was disoriented. I was away from my group in a big city, away from my family in an entirely halfway across the world, and going off to do something I felt I was incapable of. I stared out the window and realized: I am in India. 

The smells, sights, and sounds hit me all at once.

I couldn’t get around without the help of these two student guides because I would get lost.

None of the advertisements on the street were recognizable.

I didn’t know the songs blaring on the bus speakers.

I couldn’t talk to the woman next to me because I didn’t speak her language.

And I felt absolutely alone.

I missed the familiar. I missed the known. I just missed home. 

{Totally unrelated photo by Kandyce Pinckney}
On previous bus rides, I had someone from America with me to either be enthralled or uncomfortable by it all. I had someone there to experience and understand it with. But it wasn’t even about the bus ride. Once I arrived at the Families for Children location I began to doubt. I was expecting so much from this internship but I started to realize it could all just be a huge disappointment. What if this isn’t what I wanted? What if I’m not capable of doing what they need me to do? What if I can’t understand them because of the language barrier? What if it’s just not worth it? And so on and so forth…

Before the tour we were directed to the library to help with different, menial tasks. In all honesty, I was relieved to not have to interact with anyone. I am a people-person. I thrive off of relationships and I LOVE being with others but at that point I just needed to be away from people and do something I knew I was capable of doing. I had never found so much comfort in a library. And let me make it clear that I love libraries. In that Families for Children Library, while filling out info cards, I felt like a natural affinity towards the children’s books I used to read (which included everything from the Bernstein Bears to the story Quasimodo in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and anything that had any remote relation to America (including American Graphic Art of the 1920’s [which I had never previously been interested in before]). I was desperate for anything that came from, or was about, America. 
{Photo by Kandyce Pinckney}
And as I’m writing about it now, I can’t help but laugh at myself and find comfort in how amazing my God is.

We eventually went on our tour. We visited the children with cerebral palsy and watched the physical therapist as he worked. I held a little boy’s hand the entire time and played with him in his crib while the therapist helped another girl learn how to rotate her shoulders. In the few minutes we spent in that room, the boy got a strong hold of my heart and thinking about him now makes me so much more excited for Thursdays. I want to visit him and see him try to stand. I want to hold his hand and play with him. I want to hear him laugh again. Another part of the tour included a visit to the room of the patients who had various sorts of diseases. A lot of them were special needs children, some had polio and couldn’t walk, and others were bedridden. I met Joti, a twenty something woman who, from what I observed, was confined to her bed. She greeted me warmly and asked me to sit down as she pulled up a chair next to her. We talked and talked and talked and talked and the entire time she just held my hand. I asked her what she liked to do and she said “read my Bible”, which was positioned right behind her at the head of her bed. I pulled it on my lap and tried to show her what I had read that morning only to realize that her Bible was all in Tamil, the local language. We laughed. I definitely cannot read Tamil. I asked her about her family. She shook her head, looked around, smiled, and replied, “These people are my family.” 
{Photo by Kandyce Pinckney}
We spent the last hour or so at the library finishing the task we were working on earlier that morning. At that point, however, it was a completely different experience. No longer did I want to be in that library out of fear, nervousness, or anxiety. I wanted to be out there. I wanted to hold and listen to others. I wanted to laugh just BE with others. No longer was the library a place for me to escape from everything else I was scared of. Instead, I took pride in completing that menial task knowing that in some way, I was serving those people who I had just met. If I was going to be in that library every Thursday for the rest of the semester, it would be alright with me knowing that this would be the way I could contribute to those people.

For a while I prayed for God to just give me peace, strength, and a deep love for this country. I missed home and I just wanted my love for this country to overrule my (strong) desire to be home. I still pray for those things, but not as fervently as I used to when I first got here. Instead, I pray for the Lord to show me His heart. I want to know what His heart breaks for. I want to understand more of His love for these people. Each of my own desires reminds me of how much more I want to desire Him. I want to know I’m capable, but He is my strength. I want to feel known and understood and I can be confident in the fact that my creator knows me better than anyone else every will. I want home but He is my home. All familiarity, comfort, and peace ultimately comes from Him. 

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