This has been yet another crazy week in India because I just moved into my new home stay and started classes at the university! This feels like the real start of my study abroad experience — finally living with an Indian family and going to classes at an Indian university. As I mentioned in my last post, I am staying in an apartment with my friend Jennie and our host family, Nivedita and Prerna. Nivedita, the mother, is an art teacher at a school in Hyderabad, and Prerna, her daughter, is 14 years old and goes to the same school. Nivedita and Prerna have been so kind and welcoming to us. They took us to the zoo on Sunday and drove us around the neighborhood so that we could learn how to get to the bus stop.
In the mornings before school, Nivedita packs us a breakfast-to-go and we start our commute to campus. Getting to and from school is probably the biggest adventure of our day! After taking the car with Nivedita and Prerna to the Manikonda intersection, a rickshaw to the main road, a bus to campus, and a bike to class, the commute takes about an hour and really wakes us up at 8 in the morning. Although it takes a while, traveling this route every day is an exciting way to see the city and integrate into the community. Come along on my morning commute in the video below!
Monday was my first real day of classes at the university, and so far the classroom setting has been quite a different experience from classes at Richmond. There is no “master list” of classes at the university, so departments and professors schedule classes whenever they see fit – and sometimes change them. Classes generally run for an hour on the hour, so there is no time to get between classes that are back to back. I was late to a few classes on my first day, but it is more common here for students to walk in and out of the room while class is in session. I have noticed that some things in India (class schedules, traffic rules, etc.) are much more relaxed than in the U.S., while there are other social expectations such as respecting the professor and dressing modestly that are much more strict. Because of this, I am starting to realize that when one of my professors said, “India is a nation of paradoxes,” he wasn’t just talking about its many cultures and languages. I am still processing this paradox and haven’t really made sense of it yet, but it seems that both systems work well despite how differently they are approached.
Now that classes have started, I have been struggling to decide how to balance my time in India among school activities, traveling, and volunteering. University clubs and volunteer groups have a large presence on campus here, and I hope to meet other students by joining something soon. I am also planning to take sitar lessons, which should start within a week or so.
Luckily, I don’t have class on Fridays so I will be able to travel to new places in India on the weekends. There are many cities in South India that have been recommended for weekend trips, such as Hampi, Goa, and Mysore to name a few. But since the majority of India’s vast population is rural, an Indian experience would not be complete without visiting a village or two along the way. Unfortunately, many of the great destinations in India are in the north, which are just too far away to visit during the semester, so I’ll have to wait for a long holiday weekend or until exams are over in November. It is impossible to see everything in such a diverse country in only five months, but I hope that in my short stay I will have a chance to see Darjeeling, the Taj Mahal, Varanasi, and Delhi.
I have also been thinking about volunteering for an NGO in Hyderabad called Sankulp. Sankulp works with victims of sexual violence in Hyderabad and supports them through the court process, therapy, and finding safe housing. As a more preventative measure, the organization also goes into schools to educate young girls and boys about sexual violence issues. The women at Sankulp are documenting the stories of the victims they meet, so I hope that I can get involved by transcribing these stories into English for a book they hope to publish in the future.
Looking back over the past two weeks, I am astounded at how much I have seen and experienced. Now that I am settling in, things such as navigating, haggling, and communicating that used to seem impossible are now getting easier. I know that I will always look like a foreigner here, but I hope that by the end of the semester I will be able to live like a local in Hyderabad.
Mera blog padhane ke liye shukriya! [Thank you for reading my blog!]