Saturday, June 29, 2013

Orientation

I just made it to my hotel in Kolkata and have plenty to share about the journey, but I am due at a welcome lunch in only about an hour and I still have to shower.  I thought that I would share my journal entry from the first leg of my flight.  I promise that I won't always write this much and that there will be pictures soon.  For now, if you want assurances that I am being well cared for, just check out my hotel's website at http://www.oberoihotels.com/oberoi_kolkata/, and be jealous that I plan to be poolside sometime in the next 24 hours (awake or asleep).


6/28 – en route from Dulles to Dubai after a 1.5 hour delay due to storms
This morning during our cross cultural communication orientation and discussions, I had a chance to reflect on my personal competencies and shortcomings.  In some ways, I have come a long way from the na├»ve farm girl from PA who never even thought much about life outside my personal sphere.  Perhaps I was lucky that my first introduction to real diversity was at Governor’s School where I was young, impressionable, and enamored with those who were different without some of the preconceived notions, political correctness, or personal reserve that may come with age.  Of course, as illuminating as that experience was to rural me, I was young and embodied all the heedlessness and egocentrism that youth seems to spawn.   While it seemed a bit odd at the end of summer to return to a town where everyone looked alike and shared (for the most part) religious, political, and cultural beliefs, I quickly transitioned back to life as I had always known it.  I even went on to a college that cannot boast about her diversity (I love you anyway, Alma). 

Teaching was my next real chance to practice cross cultural communication, and in the early years, I was learning as much about other cultures as my students were about literary elements.  I still remember a few moments that exposed me to experiences that I hadn’t even contemplated were happening.  At the end of one year, a shy and polite 9th grader who I had adored all year, revealed to me that for many years of his life he had been detained under house arrest due to his father’s political activity.  For years, he and his family shared a small house with several other families and they were not even allowed to step outside the crowded walls.  This remarkable and well-adjusted young man had never once alluded to his past, and I remember being struck by how much I didn’t know about who my students were or where they are coming from.  I showed up to work each day with my own agenda; I was there to correct subject/verb agreement and facilitate discussions about the allegory of Animal Farm.  And while I knew intellectually that my job required more of me than my content knowledge and public speaking ability, it took years for me to emotionally accept my responsibility as a model of how people interact in mature, empathic, and appropriate ways.  Of course, this reluctant acceptance of this role meant that I had to apologize every time that I didn’t respond to students in mature, empathetic, and appropriate ways.  I have obviously issued many apologies over the years, and the more I learn and grow, the more apologies I realize I should have made when I consider how I could have handled situations differently. 

I know that in India I am going to face situations and interactions that confuse me and leave me desperately fumbling for an appropriate and empathetic response.  I hope that I am able to adapt quickly and behave suitably, but I also know that there will be moments where I behave boorishly (unintentionally of course) and that I will need to apologize and learn from my missteps.  From everything that I have heard and read about the warm and hospitable Indian culture, I feel assured that they will welcome me despite my limited cultural acuity.  

Later as we were driving to the airport, I was reflecting on what Caitlin (our resident director) shared about the ways that she sometimes felt uncomfortable with how out of place she was in this new culture.  I wanted to reject that idea with assurances to myself that I was too confident and flexible (and millions of other complimentary adjectives) to be bothered by my status as a cultural oddity.  Of course, these self-delusions faded when I remembered that even recently I had a near meltdown during one afternoon at a backyard barbeque where I felt socially isolated and “other.”  It was a bit sobering to realize that for more than a month I will be almost completely outside my comfort zone.  Intellectually, I know that this is vital for my growth, but once again, I am emotionally reluctant to accept my new role – this time as a stranger hoping that everyone extends me the cultural empathy that I have slowly been learning to show to others.  

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Oily hair and an overflowing heart


Tomorrow, I leave to begin my Indian adventure.  Tonight, I am feeling a bit a bit anxious, overwhelmed, and excited.  I am currently plagued by the realization that I didn’t buy the extra can of dry shampoo and that I might disgust my hosts with my super oily hair.  Then, I realize that my suitcases are already quite full and that surely if oily hair is offensive in India, the offended parties will sell me some dry shampoo there.  Crisis averted.  Welcome to my thought process. 

Luckily, my thoughts keep returning to how amazing my life is and how much I am leaving behind for the next few weeks.  Starting with India ice cream cake and ending with last night’s farewell happy hour, I have been showered with love and well wishes for my summer abroad.  All the people in my life seem genuinely glad to be rid of me for a few weeks.  Or maybe they are just intuitive enough to know how much I need this summer away. 

I have been well loved my entire life, and my support system and safety net are infallible.  I am truly lucky to have the best (and biggest) family ever and a vast network of selfless and devoted friends.  As I am preparing to travel alone, I am reflecting on the fact that not everyone is so lucky.  I have no idea what lives my almost students are living and whether they will ever have the chance to study abroad.  If they do, I hope they feel this grateful for the life they are temporarily leaving and this excited about the new opportunities that await them. 

One of the missions that we have been tasked with this summer is forming collaborative relationships with educators and students from India.  We are supposed to have a real exchange of ideas about education and culture and literacy and global cooperation.  I am so thankful that I get to be part of this discovery and that I get to expand my horizons, meet new friends, and be refreshed and inspired as an educator.  I promise to do my best to authentically and positively represent myself, my family, Bowie High, and America.

I never studied abroad in college because it was too costly and I couldn’t have torn myself away from campus for a whole semester.  So, in some ways, this is an experience that feels a bit delayed, but mostly, it feels like an opportunity that is coming at just the right time.  I am the best me that I have been, and I am ready for whatever comes.  I have always been a lucky girl who seems to be a favorite of fate, so I feel pretty sure that magic awaits.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Welcome

In case you hadn't heard (how could you not since it is ALL I talk about?) I am going to Kolkata from June 27-August 5 to study the Indian education system and teach a few classes.  You are invited to see what I see and read some of my impressions through this blog.  Hopefully I will be able to keep up with updates.

Above is a picture of the school where I will be teaching.  Adorable.