The past few days have been challenging. They’ve been filled with frustration, anxiety, and doubts. I’ll be honest, I’ve failed to post something because I was feeling defeated. And this defeat is hard to explain. I don’t know if I’ll be able to completely express the feelings–both physically and mentally–that have been running through me, but I can tell you one thing, they’ve been overwhelming, yet completely necessary.
I say necessary because I think I needed to experience everything I have since I’ve been here. India is unreal. It really is a place one has to encounter face to face. Not in pictures and books, not through social media, but in-person, physically immersed in the culture; a place that one needs to see, smell, hear, and feel all at once. At first it’s a lot to handle. It can leave you feeling angry, sad, and a little helpless. You may want to lock yourself in your room and burrow in your bedsheets, escaping from the realities that lie outside your hotel walls. You may even consider packing up and heading home, but you shouldn’t. You need to put your big girl (or boy) pants on and face the challenges of being apart of a different culture, you need to adapt and learn to accept.
I was beginning to feel like the effects of culture shock had officially triumphed over me. The widespread poverty, the starving animals, the mounds of trash, the shacks and tents, and the children running around with bare-feet and skinny legs have left my heart feeling empty. The language and cultural barriers have made me feel isolated and stuck. I’ve never felt like such an outsider, but I’m now beginning to understand what it’s like to be one, even though I’ll never truly know.
I’ll never truly know because I’m still an American and resemble many of the people in the advertisements that fill India’s streets and shopping malls (I was so shocked to see so many white faces on billboards and store signs). I’m also treated with the greatest hospitality and warmth despite the fact that I don’t completely fit in. I’m not used to this kind of hospitality having grown up in the States, nor the attention. The kindness Maddie and I receive, without a doubt, lives up to the Indian saying, “guest is god.” And it’s these moments of welcome that have made my anxieties dissipate.
There have been instances like last night, where Maddie and I, feeling drained and exhausted, were asked to join a party as we walked through the hotel lobby. The girls at the front grabbed us by our hands and dotted our foreheads as a token of honor. We ate, laughed, and danced. We even did karaoke in front of everyone after Maddie jokingly told them I wanted to sing (which was so much fun despite my initial desire to run away from the microphone). Our exhaustion went away and we felt like we were just hanging out with close friends. I felt so warm and at ease and forgot everything I had been feeling this week. I realized that, yes, it has been difficult trying to get used to a country and culture that’s so different from my own, but there will always be times like these that will bring me comfort, no matter how much we all differ.
Then there have been moments like a few days ago, when Maddie and I woke up at 3 am because of our jet-lag. We ran up to the roof of our hotel in baggy sweats and mis-matched shoes to watch the sunrise in the pouring rain. As the sun lit up the clouds, I couldn’t help but think how lucky and strangely grateful I am for all the frustration, confusion, and sadness I’ve been feeling.
The culture shock has not only tested my emotional and mental well-being, but it’s forced me to look at myself, my life, and, most importantly, a new culture with a fresh perspective. Though I always try to remain humble and thankful, it’s safe to say I’ve gained a new appreciation for the privileges I have. I have it so good it feels unfair sometimes, but I know I shouldn’t feel guilty. Instead, I should appreciate my privileges and try my best to spread kindness and use my advantages to make a difference. Not many people get to travel across the world and stay in India for three months. And not many get to come to India to help teach, empower, and learn from young girls who have too often felt small and unable. (P.S. I finally got to meet a group of girls from Avasar, but the experience deserves a separate post…stay tuned).
I don’t know, guys, I feel so blessed and I’m so happy to be here. It hasn’t even been a full week and I’ve already seen and felt so much–both good and bad. How lovely it is to grow and open your mind and heart to new things, especially in matter of days!