Friday, February 15, 2013

Alumni Post: Ashley Ober on Going Home

Adjusting back home is never easy. After studying abroad, it can be difficult to figure out how your experiences away fit into your life from before. Ashley Ober (Fall 2012) shares her thoughts on transitioning back home from India.

A Confession
by Ashley Ober

I promised myself that this time it would be different.  That my transition back from India wouldn’t mimic my transition from Ghana.  I told myself that I would be different and thought that through self-discipline and determination I could escape the ramifications of culture shock.  No one would feel the rockiness of my return home and everything would go smoothly.

I promised myself that I would internalize my cultural experience different than before.  I told myself that I would not take the weight of the world on my shoulders and that I would not claim sole responsibility for the poverty and hurt that inflicted many living in India.

I determined to come back a new person.  More confident, more spiritual, with a clearer understanding of where her life was headed during the end of schooling and post-graduation.

But I have a confession to make…India wrecked me.

It’s hard to even explain how exactly I feel so I’ll borrow a few words from someone who seemed to explain it quite beautifully.

“I wanted away, out from under what I had seen and felt. I talked about it a little bit, but it was so hard to explain, and so hard to go back into those places inside of me. I didn’t know how to tell my husband or my friends that [India] had done something bad inside of me, had demonstrated to me a part of myself I didn’t know I had.  For one of the first times in my life, my beliefs and perspectives bowed and flattened under the weight of my experience. Before I went there, I wanted to invest myself in the healing, in some small way, of [India]. But when I was there, I just wanted to leave, and I was ashamed and surprised by that part of myself. I wanted to shut my eyes and stop seeing the images of starving children.

I had to make things right within me. I had to confront the person I found on that trip, the one who wanted to fly home and pretend the whole things was not real. The one who, when faced with death and sickness, cried, instead of rising up like a prophet or a nurse.  That’s the trick I think. That’s why actually getting on a plane and going there is dangerous and very important. Because I could not forget about it, as desperately as I wanted to. Because once you see it, you will never be able to un-see it, and once you see it, you will be responsible for it, and for the self it reveals back to you.”
-Shauna Niequist “Broken Bottles”

I feel like something broke inside me; that piece of my spirit that was filled with hope that in the midst of the problems and the pain there was a hidden solution, and I was determined to find it.  I thought that if I went to India and immersed myself in the culture than I would find the cure , so I went and I immersed and came out with way more questions than solutions.  All the stats and poverty and hurt and problems sat on my hope and suffocated it.  Its still there, but I’ve got to do some digging to find it.

It’s hard to function sometimes.  Hard to study and remained focused in class when my mind begins to wander across the ocean to the friends I met and the people I got to know in the slums and on the streets, wondering how they are doing.  It’s weird to walk down the sidewalk and not have to walk around any people living or sleeping there.  It’s weird not to have a kid beside me, tugging on my shirt and calling me "Auntie".  Those things started to become normal for me and I’m still getting used to the transition and trying to understand why I saw the things I saw, because now I am responsible for it, and I have no idea what that looks like.

I have not, for one single second, ever regretted going to India and seeing and experiencing all that I did.  The unsettling discontent inside of me, the stirring in my spirit that craves for a different world, is one of the most fulfilling feelings I have ever had.

I hope that my confession not only moves you to explore the world around you, but also shows you that it is in the challenging and uncomfortable life experiences that God does some of the most beautiful renovations in the human heart.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Student Post: Kellie Carstensen on Home Stays!

Recently, students had a home stay, when they spend a weekend with a faculty or student from the college to get a taste of what their lives are like. Read about Kellie's experience which encompassed everything from herding goats to overwhelming amounts of food and hospitality.

Guests of Honor
by Kellie Carstensen

Kellie here! This weekend we did faculty home-stays, meaning that we went in groups of two (or 1 in Jason's case) to a professors house for Friday and Saturday to experience the real Indian life. I went with Abby to Sir Samuel Lovelyson's house, who is a professor of social work at the college. Jason actually didn't go to a professor's house, but he got to go home with his roommate Benzo.

Although these home-stays are intended to give us a taste of real Indian life, because of the way hospitality works here we felt more like spoiled guests than just another part of the family. We did get to witness some typical Indian living, but we were certainly fed above and beyond the normal.

Abby and I got to Sir Lovelyson's house and were immediately given tea, then "breakfast" a few hours later, then a huge lunch of fish and crab an hour after that, and then snacks a few hours later, and then dinner around 9 pm. I have never met more hospitality in my life, and my stomach probably has an extra pound or two to prove it.

In between all the eating Sir Lovelyson would tell us all about the social customs and concepts of Indian life in regards to marriage, family, and other issues. We also got to herd some goats roaming near his property, play shuttlecock, and visit some of his neighbors. One woman even gave us pure butter fresh made from her cow that morning... that was a new experience for sure.

Then in the evening he took us for a ride to the nearby "forest"(much drier foliage than how you would picture a forest) in this awesome Jeep:

His two kids came with us everywhere and loved having new friends to play with.

The sun set on the mountains around us and set an amazing landscape. We were right outside the limits of Coimbatore, I think, and the mountains gave us incredible views of the city below.

One of the mountains also has a Hindu temple on top of it, with a long set of stairs to climb to get there. We didn't actually go in the temple since it was almost dark, but we climbed the stairs to see the view.

That's me! And yes I got some weird looks because I had my scarf wrapped around my head, but it was mostly to protect my face against the ever persistent mosquitos.

By Friday night we were exhausted, so after dinner we conked out early in order to get a good nights rest. It was necessary too, because the next morning was Indian Republic Day so we had to get up by 7 am to have breakfast and go see the festivities. Republic Day is similar to Fourth of July in the U.S. since they are celebrating independence from British colonial rule, gained in 1947.

Sir Lovelyson's wife works at an elementary school nearby so we went there to watch the flag-raising ceremony and interact with the kids. It was fun to meet them all, but I will admit that for an introvert it got overwhelming very quickly. We were surrounded by the kids nonstop and they asked our names at least fifty times each, plus the constant attention is a lot for me to handle. We managed alright though and enjoyed their funny questions.

The rest of the day was followed by even more food. Once our host found out we loved fresh fruit we were lavished with every kind imaginable, including palm fruit which we had to squish out of the actual large nut with our fingers:

They also surprised us by taking us to get henna at a nearby shopping center. It happened rather quickly, but before I knew it I was plopped on a stool and had some guy piping beautiful designs onto my arms. I can't complain, but it was definitely a funny confusing moment. There again Indian hospitality beat us in any attempts to return the favor.

Overall it was a crazy two days, filled with more food than I could possibly ever eat and funny moments to last a lifetime. I am basically exhausted after all of that socialization, but that is an element of Indian culture I am still trying to adjust to. Thankfully, today we get some down time to do homework and relax. I am procrastinating a paper right now actually, so I am planning to go work on that next.


Friday, February 1, 2013

In Pictures: Amazing Race: Coimbatore

After the family dosa, one of our favorite parts of orientation here at ISP is the Amazing Race. At that point, students have been here for a few days and are beginning to get their bearings in this new city so we send them off for their own adventures and exploration.

Welcome dinner with peer mentors and a family dosa to share!
They are given a list of landmarks to find around Coimbatore, braving buses and autos to find everything before meeting up with staff for a fabulous Indian dinner over which they share their stories. 

Kari meeting the local tailor.
After hunting for some local sites, each group was sent off to a different part of the city. Each area of town has its own distinct personality: Town Hall overflows with pedestrians, Gandhipuram is bustling with street-side stalls, and RS Puram is a sprawling shopping district. 

Wandering Town Hall.
Batch 4 proved to be rather competitive and each group completed their list, some even with time to spare!

Providence holding up the leaning tower on Race Course.

Abby and Jason discover Shah Rukh Khan movies.

Bekah and Abby making friends at the Gurudwara.

Adventuring in the poo market (flower market). 
We are excited to see what other adventures this semester has in store for us!