One of the best experiences on this trip was prepping for the cultural day. On Monday, January 8th, 2018 we celebrated culture day by dressing in our traditional clothes and show up to class. We were also informed that a special meal will be arranged for us on that day and would be something to look forward to. A day of cultural representation and appreciation; I couldn’t wait.
I must admit, I wasn’t prepared with any cultural clothes from back home but it was still important for me to participate. The other girls from the US and I decided to dress like an Indian woman and to experience their culture! So it was set, on Sunday afternoon we ventured out to purchase our very first saris for the next day of class. I was looking forward to it. Being the shopaholic I am I knew that this experience would be one for the books.
We arrived at the sari store and as we entered the store were asked to take off our shoes. We were invited to sit on padded mats with the sari seller. We formed a small circle and left an open space in the middle for him to display the saris. It was familiar to story time back in third grade except for this time the sari seller was the storyteller as we navigated how the story would be told based on our comments and questions. We started off my mentioning our budget to him and he started to call out to his co-worker who was in charge of getting the saris off the shelf to him. It was beautiful the process that is. One by one box of saris were open before us and thrown unto the mat one after the other. Whatever we liked we were asked to select and put to the side for further consideration. About 50 saris later I found it! The perfect color combination and pattern. I tried it on in the mirror and got feedback from Laura. “You look like a queen” she said and was finally convinced. After getting the saris we visited nearby shops to purchase our tops and the skirt that went underneath.
The next morning some aunties from campus came by to get us ready. When we arrived to class I was pleased to see how many people participated. Everyone was dressed so nicely and colorful. We took lots of group pictures and ate a beautiful culture meal for lunch that was served on a banana leaf!
As we approached the ending of 2017, I sat at outside the scholar house watching my new friends play an Indian game called Lagori which required a ball, and pieces that were stacked one on top of another. One member of a team was to throw the ball and trying to knock the pile over. The team tries to restore the pyramid as the other team tries to get them out by touching the person with the ball. Getting to watch them, reflecting on the year and enjoying the sun was exactly what I needed. I reflected on how far I have come. I thought about all the things I was able to accomplish this year as well as the things I am yet to accomplish. I thought of the struggles I had to overcome as well as the long-lasting memories I was able to create. 2017 was a year of definition…
Later that night was our new year’s eve party. The scholar house quad area was separated into a dining area and dance floor. A DJ system was set up with two large speakers. Our festivities started around 7:30 pm. Everyone ate dinner and presumably gathered to the dance floor. We listened to all types of music while gathering in coordinated dance moves, pumping our fists up and down and taking pictures with another.
11:50pm came around and we all walked over to the field to perform some activities they have during their new year’s here in India. We watched as fire workers were set off by our peers at 11:58 pm. We hugged one another shouting Happy new year! We then all surrounded a delicious chocolate cake and three representatives from each country was to cut it. One from India, one from America and one from China. After cutting a slice of the cake the tradition is to feed it your neighbor. Each representative started it off my feeding their neighbor and from there, everyone was invited to cut a piece of cake and feed another person. I ate about 3 bites of the delicious chocolate cake and cheered with my friends. After the cake, we proceeded to light up lanterns and set them in the sky. It was beautiful to watch and even more fun to try out. After the lanterns and socializing we all headed back to the scholar house and were off to bed to prepare for the next full day of exploring Hubli; seeing the temple, malls, and bonding with our friends.
This new year has been my first new years away from my family and friends. It was different from what typically do No church, no Chinese food, and no afrobeat music to start the year but the experience I had here made me feel just at home.
As I got dropped off at the Boston airport, it hadn’t hit me yet that I was going to India! I began to get nervous, panicking hoping that I packed everything I needed to. Hoping that I would make friends and most importantly do well in this class in such a short period of time. I said my goodbyes to my boyfriend and headed to my gate E.
Shortly we boarded the plane. First to Frankfurt. I sat in the seat on the plane mapping out what I would do on this 6-hour plane ride. I picked up my new read The Thing around your neck by Chimamanda Adichie. 2 meals and 2 snacks later we arrived in Frankfurt. The layover was long. I wanted time to fly by but it didn’t. I decided to finish my book to ease up time and soon enough it was 12:05 pm and time to board the next plane. We boarded and as I sat in my seat I knew that this would be it. Final stretch. After this flight, I will be in India! I braced myself with some music and watched movies. Girls trip, Wonder woman were my picks. 2 meals and 2 snacks later we arrived in Bangalore. I was one of the last people to get off the plane. I began to get nervous again. I walked around the corner and followed the signs that led me to the e-visa tourist line where we were to check in. After checking in I met up with the rest of the UMass Lowell team. We conversed about our journey, our expectations, and discussed currency in India. We were all happy to see one another but very tired as well. You could see it in our faces.
Soon enough we met up with Professor Mehta and his wife and boarded a bus to head to KLE Tech. As we embarked on the 7-hour journey in addition to the 24 hour one we just ended to get to India, I thought about how long this journey was thus far and how exhausting it was but I then thought about how amazing this opportunity was. Being able to meet all of these amazing people and having the opportunity to work with different people with different skills, backgrounds, experiences, and passions is something I dream of.
A little over 30 hours later we arrived at KLE Tech and were welcomed by professors, students, and kids. Everyone was so friendly! It was our first impression and set the tone for what this experience would be like. I am confident that it will be a great one.