October Already?

(In case you can’t tell from the title, I wrote this post a few months ago and somehow it never made it up… Even though it’s a bit late, I figured you might still enjoy it.)

About a month ago was Ganesh Chaturthi, a Hindu festival to celebrate the elephant-headed god Ganesh. After several days of special worship, the festival concludes with a procession to the river to immerse the idols of Ganesh. This procession includes singing, dancing, and throwing red, purple, and pink paint. At one point, someone threw some paint at me when I was laughing, and I ended up with purple teeth.

Our campus is on top of a hill, and it took quite a while to make it to the bottom because the cart carrying our staff’s Ganesh kept getting stuck. When we did finally make it, we joined many of the villagers also headed to the river. It was fascinating to watch the immersion ritual when all the Ganesh idols ranging in sizes from 6 inches to several feet tall were put into the river with flowers and candles. Afterwards, there were sweets to celebrate, and I somehow ended up a large chunk of coconut from a very friendly old woman.

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Me and Adala from Nairobi. (Thanks Alex!)

To get a brief introduction to some of my classmates, including many of the people in the above photo, check out this super awesome  video. We watched it the first week we arrived as an introduction to our class. At the time, it was exciting to see so many diverse people. It’s strange now to watch it again and realize that I actually know them. They’re more than just names and faces with all kinds of nationalities and backgrounds; they’re my classmates, roommates, and friends.

A few weeks ago I had homestays, which is when all first-year students spend an evening and a night with a family in one of the villages in the valley. I was lucky enough to be with another MUWCI student who speaks Hindi, though my host sister Pratiksha spoke English very well. We met Pratiksha at her school, a few miles walk from MUWCI. Both her parents are teachers, and they live very near the school. They have a two room house with one bed, electricity, and no running water. Pratiksha’s mother cooked dinner for us-  paneer butter masala, dal, and roti. By far the best food I’ve had here so far!

Pratiksha took us around to met some of her friends and show us the local temple. At one point, we had to scramble into some bushes to avoid an angry water buffalo running down the road. The three of us slept on the floor on top of a mat and a few blankets. Pratiksha “slept in” to avoid disturbing us, but apparently she usually gets up around 4:30 AM to study for a few hours before school.

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Sanjana, Pratiksha, and me laughing at our poor selfie-taking abilities.

In the morning, Sanjana and I unsuccessfully attempted to help with the daily routine of collecting water from the communal well and boiling it. I’ve cooked a few times here, and while it takes significantly more effort for me to make anything here than it would at home, I now also feel deeply grateful when I can use running water that I can confidently know is clean.

This week is what is called Experience India week. Instead of classes, we all travel to different parts of India. I leave for Kolkata (a.k.a Calcutta) in a few hours, where I’ll be learning about Indian classical music and dance and how it’s changed over the past several centuries. I’m looking forward to some great adventures!

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A Typical Day

To give you a better idea of what life here is like, I’ve decided to guide you through my day Wednesday November 30th.

7:05 Wake up and get ready for the day.

7:30 Math class. (Or maths, as most people call it here. I still don’t get British English.) Today we’re covering radians and arcs.

8:20 Breakfast- scrambled eggs, upma (a dish made from semolina), cantaloupe, and coffee.

8:40 English Literature. We’re currently reading the play August: Osage County by Tracy Letts. Be on time for this class, or else you have to write and perform two lines of (quality) poetry for every minute you’re late.

10:00 History. We have our second major test of the term today on the Kosovo Conflict. Previously, we have studied the Rwandan Genocide, and next week we’ll move onto the Cuban Missile Crisis.

11:35 I am supposed to have Film now, but apparently the class is cancelled today because my teacher is ill. So, it’s back to my wada for some housekeeping and a bit of a break. (Wada is the Marathi word for “dwelling,” and it’s what we call the residential areas here.)

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Somehow my housemates and I have all gotten into the habit of doing our laundry at the same time, which makes for quite a crowded courtyard.

12:30 Free block. Normally I eat after school ends at 2:10, but I’ll take advantage of the opportunity for an early lunch.

1:20 Peoples, Nations, and Cultures. This is MUWCI’s version of a Theory of Knowledge class. Today we discussed the question “What is knowledge?”.

2:10 A short nap because I’m sleepy. I’m not saying I did, but I may have accidentally fallen asleep in the last class 😉

3:00 Shivaji’s cycling session. I’m part of a project here teaching women and girls from the nearby area how to cycle and swim. At the end of the year, some of them will be chosen to participate in a Himalayan expedition. It’s our last session of the semester, so we’re going a on longer bike ride to the village Asade so some of the girls can show their friends and families what they’ve learned. We are interrupted while visiting with one girl’s family because we have to move our parked bikes so the water buffalo can pass.

5:30 Time for homework. Right now, this includes adding a new method to a program for Computer Science, brainstorming ideas for a radio drama for Film, and drafting an essay for Literature on No Country for Old Men.

7:00 A walk in the bio-reserve to enjoy the stars.They may not be as bright as back home, but they’re still lovely.

7:30 Wednesday dinner is always themed after some country or region. Tonight it is America, but if I hadn’t been told that, I wouldn’t have guessed it. There are okra patties, jambalaya (which closely resembles the “Chinese” fried rice we’re sometimes served), and creamy pumpkin pasta. That’s right, pumpkin pasta; it actually tastes surprisingly good, but I don’t understand how it’s American. Just like I don’t understand Canadian cheese soup or Singaporean California. At least there’s good dessert: banana fritters with caramel.

8:00 Wada and advisor meeting. On Wednesdays we have  two meetings. The first is everyone in the wada coming together to discuss anything related to residential or community life, such as the laundry room or water usage. The second is in smaller groups with our academic advisors, which may sound boring, but usually includes snacks and sometimes boardgames.

9:30 Relaxing and socializing. I’m going to cook tomorrow, so I have a couple of things to prepare. And I also want to continue a very engaging discussion with my housemate from Dehli about the moral implications of treating autonomy as an ultimate value.

11:00 Bed time.

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My corner.

Kolkata (Part 1)

Last week I travelled to Kolkata (a.k.a. Calcutta) as part of my school’s “Experience India Week.” After 28 hours on a train, my group of 20 student and faculty finally arrived. We happened to be in Kolkata during Durga Puja, which is the largest festival celebrated in Bengal. From what I understand, Durga Puja is a celebration of the Hindu goddess Durga’s visit to her people. She is the daughter of the Himalayas, and once a year her husband Shiva lets her come for a visit. People celebrate by building and visiting puja pandals, temporary structures containing an idol of Durga in her moment of victory over the demon Mahishashura. At the end of the festival, all of the idols are immersed into the river so that Durga can return to Shiva.

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This man was inconspicuously photographing our group.

We spent a whole visiting pandals all around the city. Although some are small, set up by a family or a local community, pandals are often elaborate and expensive. Many have a specific theme. For example, we saw a train pandal that included an entire three train cars; as you waited in line outside, you could hear the sounds of a busy train station, and walking through the cars on the way to the idol, you were surrounded by the sounds of a train.

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A circus-themed pandal housed in a colorful big top tent complete with circus music and a motorbike cage.

 

 

Ok, I have lots more to add, but I need to go catch my bus. It’s Diwali here which means I get a few days off, and I’m headed out on another adventure! (No, not all I do is travel ;))

 

 

Settling In

 Too much has happened over the past two weeks to possibly try to describe it all. So I’ll start at the beginning, give just the highlights, and try not to bore you.

I arrived in the Mumbai airport without major incident. As I was waiting in line for customs, I met another girl on her way to MUWCI- Aimee from South Africa. We met up with the rest of our group and settled into the car for the four hour ride to campus. (Apparently, we were lucky to get a jeep; some kids were picked up in a bus, and it took them almost twice as long to make it to the school.)

One thing I noticed right away is that honking is used differently here. Whereas I’m used to honking being reserved for expressing anger or in legitimately dangerous situations, here it is a courtesy to honk around turns, before accelerating, before passing, or generally anytime you want to alert others of your location. This is probably a good thing considering the number and variety of people using the road, but as you can imagine, it adds up to quite a lot of noise. Somehow though, I managed to fall asleep in all of it.

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A mild demonstration of Mumbai traffic.

We arrived after dark, and the final drive around Mulshi Lake was beautiful, if somewhat disorienting, in the moonlight. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but it felt somehow anti-climactic to finally pull up and have to do something as mundane as stumble to my room lugging my suitcases along. Walking around campus now, it’s hard to remember my initial confusion and difficulty getting from point A to point B. But the first few days I mostly had to follow second years or ask for directions to get anywhere.

The first week was focused on integration, and it was a blur of names, faces, and nationalities. Thankfully, I’m now starting to consistently remember the names of most people I see, because initially, it was quite a struggle. I particularly enjoyed Mud-Games when about a hundred of us had a wrestling match on the very soggy soccer field. And Buddy Ball when I dressed as a nerd along with my buddies Kanek from Guatemala and Heda from Norway.

Another one of my favorite parts of the week was hearing from our guest speakers. Arvind Gupta is an educator who designs science-based toys that can be made from trash or other materials that can be easily obtained in India. It was inspiring to see his applied creativity and unique approach to learning. Plus, most of his creations are just downright fun. (If you’re interested, watch his TED talk.)

We also heard from Sara Heinrich, who ran a fascinating session on “Complexity and Systems Thinking.” She’s part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an organization working to promote a circular economy that is restorative rather than detrimental to the environment. She’ll be leading a more in-depth course in November, and I’m already looking forward to it!

Last Saturday I went to Pune, a city of about 3 million an hour away from my school. I spent most of the day with Maya, my second year from Colorado, buying things like towels and laundry detergent. She also introduced me to some fantastic street food and showed me the ropes of riding rickshaws. It was great to get off campus and experience being a little more immersed in this area.

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Wada pav: a fried potato patty inside a fluffy yeast bun.

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A masala dosa served with red chutney and coconut chutney.

This past week was our academic induction. We had presentations on the different classes available to us and completed several group projects designed to help us explore the possibilities. The projects were a great way to connect with some of the students here and a fun taste of what (I hope) classes will be like. We had an intense and highly informative discussion on Brexit involving students from Britain and all around the rest of the EU, not to mention so many other areas of the world. I think I learned more from listening to dialogue between my fellow students than I could possibly have learned in a  more formal lesson; the sheer number of perspectives represented by classmates is astounding. Diversity is such an integral part of life here that it’s starting to seem somewhat normal. However, I still can’t help but feel wonder when I look around the dinner table and see people from Kenya, Italy, India, Colombia, Bhutan, Argentina, and Angola, just to name a few countries.

Last night was the First Year Show, a chance for my class to introduce ourselves to the rest of the school. It was full of storytelling, magic tricks, singing and dancing in a wide vareity of forms, including Bhangra, Tonight, the second years will perform.

Someone asked me today what my biggest culture shock has been so far, and I honestly didn’t have an answer. I guess it’s just the little things that surprise me, like waking up to find my sandals covered in mold or being served potato paratha for breakfast. It’s also eerie at night to hear the sound of drums from the neighboring villages. They’re preparing for Ganesh Chaturthi, an Hindu festival. I can’t believe I’m really in India. And I definitely don’t think the fact that I’ll be here for two years has sunk in yet. I’m starting to feel pretty comfortable, but it still seems like  I’m just here for a summer camp, or something along those lines.

This morning I went kayaking on a nearby lake. The pictures don’t do the beauty any kind of justice, but I’ll add them anyway just so you can get an idea. Our goal today was to scout out a landing area of the far side of the lake so we can return sometime and hike the hill in the background. Apparently there’s a fort on top.

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I particularly enjoyed this scene of loading up the kayaks.

Classes start tomorrow, and I’m really looking forward to having a little more structure in my life. Although it’s likely change, (after many hours of agonizing over the amazing options) I have tenatively chosen to take Computer Science, Film, and Math at a higher level and Global Politics, English Literature, and German Literature at a standard level. Tomorrow begins all our co-curricular activities as well.  Wish me luck because I’ve heard it will be quite hectic.

Wow! This actually got rather long, so I’ll leave it there. But believe me, it was just the highlights.

 

First day

I’ve been here for hardly more than a day, and already it’s somehow starting to feel like home. At least, I no longer jump when I encounter a frog in the bathroom, I’ve almost mastered the most efficient way to take off my rain boots, and I can now successfully navigate between my room and the cafeteria. Sleep and food-always the most important 😉

Speaking of food, I had nearly a dozen conversations on the subject today. I connected with a girl from Israel by comparing the relative level of spice in our typical foods, learned about the food politics of Maharashtra, and talked with an Angolan about the best number of meals to eat per day. But my favorite conversation was when I found out that as a Hispanic, I get to participate in the Latino food parties. Yum!

It’s all been a bizarre mix of the familiar and the exotic, although the line  between the two is already beginning to blur. For example: for breakfast on the airplane, I had rice, dal, chana masala…and a croissant with Smucker’s strawberry jam. (Not a combination I probably would have come up with, but in case you’re wondering, it worked quite well.)

At one point today, I discussed the literal meaning of the Hebrew word for woodpecker while sitting in a tree house. And I just got back to my room from a dance party featuring mostly pop and Bollywood. Many things are different from what I’d expected, but I certainly can’t say I’m disappointed!

Alright, I better get some sleep; tomorrow is when things “officially” start.

 

(Almost) Goodbye

It was unbelievably strange to wake up this morning and think that the next time I’ll sleep in a bed will be in India. Somehow, despite the months (one could even say years) of anticipation, it’s hard to believe this day has really come. At one point yesterday, I realized that I had about as many hours left in New Mexico as I will spend in transit, assuming all goes well. I find myself simultaneously trying to finish packing, enjoy my last breakfast burrito, and say goodbyes.

As this chapter of my life comes to end, I am overwhelmed with a confusing mix of emotions- sorrow, excitement, nervousness- underscored by a deep sense of surreality. Most of all, though, I am filled with gratitude. Goodbyes have been bittersweet because it’s only now, as I’m getting ready to leave, that I’m becoming more fully aware of just how blessed I’ve been. I’ve been surrounded by so many wonderful people-friends, family, teachers, mentors, and a number who cross categories-who have challenged me and supported me all along the way. Thank you for being a part of my life so far! And know that this is not the end. As cliché as it may sound, I hope this is less of a true goodbye and more of a see-you-later.

So, as my tia used to say, Hasta Luego!

I’m headed to MUWCI!

I have received a Davis Scholarship to spend two years in India attending Mahindra United World College India, or MUWCI. (As one of my second years lovingly described it, this acronym is pronounced like “pukey.”)  United World College (UWC) is an organization comprised of 16 international schools in 15 countries around the world. To give you just a taste of what they’re about, their mission statement is, “UWC makes education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.”

Each year, there are 50 scholarships available for American students to attend UWCs, and I am so fortunate to have been chosen as one of this year’s Davis Scholars. So, in two weeks I will be leaving Los Alamos for my new school near Pune, Mahrashtra. You can follow my adventures on this blog.

Here are some questions you’re probably wishing you could ask me right now:

-How did you hear about this program?

My dad has a friend who used to work at UWC-USA, which is in Las Vegas, NM. When I was there for a track meet several years ago, my dad took me to visit the school. I fell in love with the idea of UWC right away and have dreamed about going ever since.

-Why INDIA?!

Because I’m going on a scholarship, I was actually assigned a school rather than getting to choose. But I was extremely lucky because I was assigned my first choice! I want to go somewhere that is very different culturally, as India certainly is. Not to mention the food and the clothing…both of which factored into my preferences more than most people are willing to believe.

-So, you’re going to miss your senior year?

Yes, I’ll actually be spending two years in India-my “senior” year and one additional year.  I will be working towards the International Baccalaureate Diploma and will graduate from MUWCI.

-Are your parents ok with this?

Believe it or not, I think they are. My parents spent a few months living in India and had a wonderful experience. They’ve been extremely supportive, and though they’ll miss me, they’re also very excited. Plus, I’m giving them a great excuse to come visit!

-Are you afraid?

Usually when people ask this questions they expect me to answer with something about illness, snakes, homesickness, etc. To be honest, these don’t scare me, although I expect I will have to face them at times. The one thing I’m a little worried about is being somewhat overwhelmed. But mostly I’m excited for the experience and eager to be challenged!

-Do you know Indian?

First of all, “Indian” isn’t a language, so you’d be surprised how many times I’ve heard this. There are more than 20 different languages spoken in India, although the most widespread are Hindi and English. I was fortunate enough this summer to be able to take an online beginning Hindi course through STARTALK. I would highly recommend STARTALK to anyone interested in language-learning! It’s open to students K through undergraduate, and offers summer programs in a number of languages, including Arabic, Swahili, and Chinese, just to name a few.

-Where is your school exactly?

MUWCI is located in Paud, a small village about 30 km (18 mi) outside of Pune.. Pune is the 9th largest city in India with a population of approximately 3 million. For another reference, Paud’s about 150 km (90 mi) southeast of Mumbai. My campus actually consists of a biodiversity park and a conservation reserve, so I hope I will have a good mix of living in natural beauty while also being near a large city.

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-Wow, Katie. How do you know what I’m thinking?

Because I’ve been asked these same questions at least 30 times in the past 6 months. You’re not an original question asker 🙂 And if you’ve tried asking me any of these questions recently, I may have directed you here.

But if you do have more questions, please feel free to comment.

Or if you’re interested in learning more about MUWCI or UWC, check out their websites.