My final moments of clarity in India
As difficult as it is to accept, my study abroad is over. I left Manipal four days ago at 5:30 a.m., sent off by my friends and loving resident director, who came bearing hot coffee. I don’t think even my own mother would walk a mile up a hill carrying a pot of coffee at 5 a.m. just to keep me sane on my journey south. As the car rounded the bend, leaving Manipal behind, tears started streaming down my face, the driver clearly uncomfortable with the crying white girl in his back seat.
During my flight to Kochi and the hours that I spent in the fancy hotel waiting for my parents’ arrival from Mumbai, I tried to come to terms with the fact that my study abroad had ended. Had I changed? What had I actually gained?
My parents and I spent the next couple of days bumming around Fort Cochin, a touristy enclave in the southern state of Kerala. Watching my parents try to adapt to India was hilarious: they were undoubtedly American, smiling and saying hello to each person they passed on the street, looking confused and shell shocked when auto-rickshaw drivers pestered us to get in and not knowing what the different dishes were on menus at restaurants. Each time they didn’t understand what somebody said, they turned and looked at me and I gladly translated Indian English to American English and vice versa.
Our third day there we went on a backwaters tour. For the first time in four months, I was with strangers who were not Indian, which was unnerving in an unexpected way. All were tourists who had been in the country for a month or less, and I couldn’t help but feel a little superior to them as they talked about how crazy the traffic was and other things I had long since gotten used to.
Halfway through the tour, our guide asked us where we were all from. He was confused when he got to me: “You have been in India a long time. I can tell; you understand me better,” he said. I could have died with happiness.
While I am obviously still seeking closure to my abroad experience, traveling with my fresh-off-the-boat parents through this overwhelming country has shown me that I have learned to be Indian, for the most part. On the Delhi Metro this morning, packed like sardines even though it wasn’t even rush hour, I didn’t notice the masses staring until my mom pointed it out. While my parents flinched at every close call on the ride to the airport, I slept through it, unfazed by the obviously unsafe driving. I know how to ignore beggars, touts and people selling just about everything like the best of them. I’ve become all but immune to the smell of urine and sewage. I’ve learned to appreciate the chaos and the hubbub; never will you find a country more alive.
Who knows what I actually learned this study abroad, but I know that India will never be a total puzzle to me again.
Alison Pease is a senior in the School of International Service and just finished studying abroad in Manipal, India. This will be her last column about her study abroad experience.