Thursday, December 17, 2009

Second Wedding and Killer Exams

In the last post I did about Indian weddings, it was true when I said I hadn't attended one because I never got to see the ceremony. Last Sunday, my host parents took me to see one as my host father's cousin's daughter was getting married. I put up the pictures of the ceremony above so that you can have a small taste of what it was like. It started with the mother of the bride preforming a prayer or pooja for the husband to be and the bride welcoming the groom by putting a wreath around his neck.
After about thirty minutes, the groom went to the stage, having a big entrance as he had to go under some dancing peoples arms to get there and another pooja was preformed with the mother. Because the bride's brother couldn't make it for the wedding, they had a constant feed of the ceremony going back to the US for him to watch. Then the bride came in on a palaquin, which is one of the platforms that 4 men have to hold up. While she ascends the stage, the priests and one of the friends held a cloth in front of the groom's face to shield it from the bride. When she sat down, they dropped it and the rest of the ceremony begun. The bride and groom had to put wreaths once again, this time on both of their necks, and members of the family came up for give blessings. Auspicious presents were given to the bride and groom, like a sari for the bride and an expensive watch for the groom.
The final ritual is the sacred fire. The bride and groom usually have some piece of cloth or they hold hands and go around the fire seven times, each time presenting another promise. While they are going around, friends and family throw handfuls of flowers and petals on them. After this has finished and the priest has given the final words, they are married.
It was all very beautiful and there were so many colors. Indians dress up in their brightest and most beautiful clothes for weddings and there was no holding back here. Despite how long it was, I really liked it. There is nothing that compares with an Indian wedding and the only way to get the whole experience is to see it in person. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend going!
On to my second topic, it can be stated plain and simple: Exams suck. Especially in another country. As I mentioned before, I am trying as best as I can to do well in school since everything is in English anyways. But it's my own fault at times for forgetting my study habits after being so overwhelmed with everything here. So with the closeness of exams, I tried, really tried to study hard. But I'm a horrible procrastinator and something else cropped up that didn't help.
On the day before exams were supposed to start, one of the 9th graders who attended my school died in a car accident on the sealink. This caused significant disruption among the entire school, especially those teachers who taught him and the classmates who knew him. We got the next day off to respect his death but I also think it was because it event would still be too fresh in everyone's eyes to concentrate on the exams. The school postponed the exams to this week and on Thursday there was a special prayer ceremony for the boy.
Personally, I didn't know him but it is still something that affects everyone. His friends and classmates set up a petition for better surveillance of the area as well as the use of seatbelts in the backseats. This may surprise you but for two years, seatbelts aren't required by those riding in the back seat, which unnerves me quite a bit at times, considering the traffic and driving. It is also to say that the drivers of both vehicles were unharmed by the absent while this classmate and the one riding in the back of the taxi were killed.
In any case, at this point I have completed 4 of my 5 exams and thank goodness the last one is Hindi. I swear, I have never felt so dumb in my life. Although the horror of DAIMUN is coming up (I say horror because I have no idea what to expect), I can't wait until my trip to Baroda/Vadodara in a week! If you didn't know, I'm participating in my school's Model UN conference as Kazakhstan in the Human Rights Commission. Austin and I are both very scared but hopefully, it will turn out okay. Hopefully. :/
I'll update soon!
(the pun created in the title was unintentional. I just noticed it...)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving, 26/11, and Mid-stay Orientation update

So the last week has flown by and quite a few things have happened. For one, I had my mid-stay orientation in which the American YES girls staying in Delhi came down for the week-end. Least to say we had a blast. Because of our limited talking, we all took the opportunity to catch up and share our experiences. I actually ended up really enjoying it which I wasn't expecting since the last time I had an orientation, I felt like they were just repeating the same things over again (sorry AFS, just being honest). Anyways, we showed them a little bit of Mumbai, watching the gateway through the bus windows, driving down Marine Drive, going to Juhu beach... Almost the works. Plus I got to do a little bargaining with Sarah in order to buy a bag, which is something I haven't done yet. Shameful, right? But I hope I get more opportunities soon. It's a valuable asset to have.
Now, though, I am missing the rest of Team India dearly. Austin just isn't enough anymore... ahahaha just kidding. I really do miss everyone though. Especially Aru, who is one of the volunteers and is on the board of AFS India. How cool is that? She gets to make suggestions to improve our experience and such, plus she's only 19! And we get along so well ;] Actually Aru was there during my D.C. orientation so we've already gotten to know each other. I think this is another perk that I've been given. Since the YES program is only a few years old, a lot of the alumni are younger and excited to encourage other students. When I go back to U.S. I hope also to take up such a responsibility. Well I don't know about Aru's position, but definitely, working as a volunteer. Along with her were Mayank and Dushyant, both of whom I've known for a while and are also younger college volunteers and two older employees of AFS. It was sad saying good-bye but we'll all see each other again soon.

Thanksgiving in India was slightly more interesting and not just because I had to figure out what to make for my host family. First, I'll backtrack though. On the Wednesday before the holiday, Austin and I were invited for a celebration at the American Consulate here which we agreed to go to. We got there at the end, since we had school to escape from, but there were still turkey sandwiches and pumpkin cupcakes to eat. We got to talk to some of the employees and afterward set out for doughnuts and coffee. I hadn't really been to see much of his side of town so that was nice since I'll be moving there soon. Austin is moving to Bandra, one of my favourite places in Mumbai. But anyways, we had fun, just trotting around and talking.
On Thursday we had a school assembly and it wasn't at all about being thankful. It was instead in remembrance of the 26/11 terrorist attacks that took place in Mumbai a year ago and affected the entire city.The assembly consisted of some song performances, a poem reading, and a translation of a passage of the Q'uran. It put me into an interesting mood, one of both sadness and thankfulness. After getting back from school, I took the opportunity to write out my thoughts on Facebook. This was my note:

I don't think many people will read this but that's okay because in the end, this is really for me. You could probably look at this and say I don't know anything. It would be accurate because according to TOK, none of us really do. But to me this is something I am sure of and I feel the need to put it out there, even if you will never absorb it.

I remember 9/11. I remember sitting in front of the TV while getting ready for school, not knowing why two buildings were crumbling or why the newspeople were so shocked. I remember rubbing one girl's back because she was crying and hoping her brother in New York was okay despite the fact that I didn't like her. And I remember what followed. The countless TV shows of psychics who predicted it and the documentaries on those who lived through it. The girl who said she was now scared everytime she heard a plane overhead. I don't think I'll ever forget it.

Around this time last year, I was preparing my application to go abroad and India was my top choice. When I saw the attacks on the news, I was stuck in place. The next few days were spent religiously following the news for what was going on. My parents said not to worry and that it probably wouldn't affect me going abroad. But I wasn't worried about that. I was worried about the people. I've never heard a gunshot before and I know even less about hiding in a corner a few meters from a door where someone could kill you. The fact that it took place so far away made it even less realistic in my mind. But I knew it was happening. I know it happened.

So maybe you feel more because you were there and they killed your people in your city. You can play a blame game, we all have, and recite the events over and over in your mind until it becomes a distorted fantasy of violence and terrorism that consumes you with hate for those people. I wouldn't put it against you. 365 days isn't that long when you think about it. But just because your innocence has been broken doesn't mean you should let your impression of all of them change. I know it's the most cliche thing to say but honestly, haven't you changed? You work hard on improving relations but to how much are you working to understand. Your ignorance can be laughed at with the small mistakes you make in every day but when it comes down to it, how much do you decide based on what you haven't experienced? You have met me. Has your perception changed? You might call me a weird American, but do you know Americans? Sometimes I question myself too, do I know America, can I represent America? Well I am myself, that is as close as I can get to representing my country.

You can decide for yourself, you have that ability granted to you. I will remember those who died in such unfortunate circumstances and will be upset that I can't do much to ease anyone's suffering. However shallow it might seem, I know the feeling of loss closely, it is universal and connecting. I will not blame anyone for what has happened. It's already over and done with and the focus should go to the aftermath and toward securing ourselves for the present and future. And since it's the American holiday of Thanksgiving, I would like to give thanks to all of my family, both natural and host, as well as my friends for everything that they do. Also for the government for working hard and for those in my community. Thank you. We all go through so much and I'm thankful we're all still together.
An interesting conversation followed between myself and a classmate, but for confidentiality purposes I won't put it up. The note was basically to explain my own feeling on the results of terrorism attacks in no way related to it being because of religion, etc. Just loss and looking to an end to the blinding rage that stops our reasoning. Of course, that's a bit of a utopian ideal but I was thinking of my own classmates' predisposition to those types of feelings ( XD sorry for being wordy). Since I am an exchange student, offering my own views might be interesting to them so I wrote. And even then, the topic had been on my mind for a while, so I wanted to put it down before it went away forever.
In other updates, I saw an elephant on the road today. It kind of made me happy.
And a cow too. He was at the intersection, waiting to cross the street.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Almost First Indian Wedding

Ever since I first saw an Indian wedding in a movie, I've always want to see one in person. SO I was really excited when I was told that a close friend of my host sister's would be getting married this year. I went to her engagement earlier during my stay and in these past few days the wedding happened. Well not just the wedding, as anyone who knows the Indian traditions can tell you. Many ceremonies and gatherings happened starting 5 days before the wedding and I got to even participate in one.
Each Indian family and group has it's own traditions and one that is common is what is called Sangeet (which means music). Basically, it is a reaffirmation that the couple is engaged by an exchanging of rings and they eat cake. There is also a pooja between the groom and the bride's brother. Afterward, there is a performance by the close friends and relatives (and sometimes the bride and groom). I was asked if I wanted to participate and so I said yes, doing 2 dances. Okay I'll back up and explain. The bride and groom employed a choreographer to make a compilation of dances set to Bollywood songs to be performed. There were about 14 or so songs and I learnt the steps to 2 of them while other like my host sister, participated in many. Despite the fact that I wasn't quite sure I knew the steps all the way and ended up messing up the first song, the second song went fine and I was happy.
That was Saturday night and on Monday was the Mehendi party and pooja in the girl's home. There was a DJ, singer, and Indian drummers playing music while the bride and friends/family danced in a circle. Numerous times, people would circle money around the bride's head as a blessing and give it to her. She had already gotten her mehendi done earlier so all the other women were getting it put on. I was waiting for a call from my mom so I left a bit early, after having cake (of course) and but soon got a call form my host mom saying to come back up and see the banglewalla. I was interested and so I went. The banglewalla wouldn't make one for me but I atleast got to see how big clay bangles are made. Basically, the banglewalla had a big stick of clay on which he put the heated painted and after letting it cool, spread it out like a thin stick and then wrapped it into a circle (sorry I don't have pictures).
The next night was the wedding or, as I have mentioned, the almost wedding. No, there wasn't a runaway bride or a secret girlfriend. Instead what happened was that first we missed the entrance of the groom because I had homework to finish so we figured we would go later, which is a shame because I've always wanted to see the groom riding on the horse with the band and everyone dancing around them. So after we were all dressed up, we got there during reception (backwards from American weddings, I know). Everyone was eating or going to congratulate the bride and groom + family up on stage. We had been there for quite a while when I was told that the wedding wasn't going to take place until 1:30. In the morning. Well it just so happened that I of course had school the next day and in no position to stay up late (more on that later).
So we ended up leaving early, not without also going up to congratulate. Despite not seeing the wedding, I had a good time anyway. Of course, I was the only white person there and so there were some awkward moments but at the same time, I loved dressing up in my new kagra choli.

As I mentioned before, at this point in time I'm in no position to stay up late. You must be thinking for obvious reasons since staying up late means lack of sleep and you would be correct. In America, I rarely stayed up past 12 and still managed to get about 7 or more hours of sleep; if I go below that and have to go for school, I end up falling asleep in class. Due to stress because of projects and various other distractions, I've been staying up rather late recently, sometimes til 2 which has caused my work and concentration to suffer. Now, you must be thinking, why does it matter if you fall asleep in class there? You're not completing the program with the kids.
That's true but I'm still a student of the school and, since it's an international school, I can still obtain credits for graduation by attending. But you can't really pass a class unless you put in effort. Another reason for my regard towards my classes is my own respect for my school and fellow students. I'm attending one of the best schools in Bombay, not to mention India, on a scholarship. Plus how can I relate to my classmates if I'm not doing the work with them and struggling on common ground? I would rather be respected for trying and failing to keep up with my friends and classmates than to attend class and not do the work at all. Plus, all of my teachers are doing a big thing by giving me advice and helping me with time management to do my work and possibly change my schedule so that I won't be too stress with experiencing culture and keeping up with work. That's a big thing to have while on an exchange and I know it's a rare opportunity. Which is why I'm making the most of it :D
In other news, I recently switched my service project. Although I loved the kids that I went to see every week, I decided to move to a new project that is a Habitat for Humanity club at school. Being world renowned, I think it would be a good way to get involved and change some lives. Just your average service project aims :]
My dance class is going well. I started learning choreography last week or so but now I have a break since my teacher is going to be in her hometown of Agra for about 20 days for a wedding and some performances. While I'm a bit put out, it isn't too bad considering what happened last class. You see, I learned out to go around in a circle on my knees but because I'm not used to it, my knees got skinned up. Consequently we had to put antiseptic and some indian medicine on it. But somehow, the wound got infected and my knees feel super sore so it is a good thing I don't have class. Hopefully, it will get better soon.
Tomorrow's my mid-stay orientation here in Mumbai for the YES kids. Hope it goes well :] I'll update when it's over.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


So it's been a crazy week as we prepared for annual day. I know I've already explained a bit about it but basically Annual Day happens once a year and all classes participate in this huge production. Usually classes preform skits, dances, and songs but we actually put on a play this year. Well more like a musical. Anyway, class 11, my class did both an acting/speaking part and a dancing one. I was in the dancing section and it went well. No mess-ups, we just had to be scary zombie type things at the start and then turn into awake Mumbaikars dedicated to making a change in our environment. We're at the end of the show so it goes right into the finale where all the classes come on stage and we dance and clap.
You must be wondering who the strange looking guy next to me, my friend, and the other exchange student is. Well, he's none other than the famous bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan! His kids go to our school so he came to see the annual day performance. Right after it was over, we rushed into the audience to get the photo. The lady is somebody just getting his autograph so don't mind her. :]
Then today I went to a friend's house that was in the countryside for the day just to have fun. She's actually a close friend of my host sister's who goes to my school and all of their other close friends came along as well plus parents. It turned out to be a lot of fun! We played throw ball (like volleyball except you catch then throw) and football (soccer). They also played some poker and we generally just sat and talked, which is fun in it's own way. The house was big and very pretty, rustic type architecture that you would never find in Mumbai so it did provide a nice escape. Hopefully we can go for something like it again :]
That's all for now. I'll update again soon!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A quick point

I know I just posted yesterday but since then, I have something that needs to be said for everyone. Being an exchange student is hard and at times you face miscommunication and it disrupts your life for a while. I don't want to go into too much detail but this happened to me with my host mom and she heard a few things and I even got mixed signals.

Host families adjust a lot to you being in their home and you should always recognize that. But even so, know that you have adjusted so much to their lifestyle. Speaking out is also better or as my host mom says "be free with the family". If you have any concerns let them know immediately, even if it's not your nature around those you don't know so well. I know I'm the more quiet type unless I'm around friends but still, speak your mind. And lastly, be more realistic about your situation. If you feel you haven't been getting out enough, don't automatically blame your host family. Look at what's been going on around you while yu've been there, at events, etc. and see if there's been time for those things. Sometimes there wasn't at all. Maybe you did. But in any case, if you want to go out, ask your family to take you somewhere and stick to it. My German friend and I agree, in India especially, if you want something , it is you who has to make it happen. I wanted a Hindi class in school so I went to my coordinator multiple times. I wanted to take a dance class so I looked through the internet and newspaper to find one. In the end, you're experience depends on you and your perseverance so make the most of it. I know I have changed a bit over the past 3 months and I'm glad that I have developed this sense of will and hope it continues to grow.

So everybody, don't worry, everything's fine but think about what I've said. So many things affect you while you're in your host country but never be pessimisstic that it won't change. You yourself have to work hard and deal with it by yourself. AFS is there but it ultimately depends on you. So be strong, work hard, and put your heart into it. In the end, that's all that is expected of you.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


These past weekends were pretty hectic. My German friend came to hang out last Saturday and the next day we went to South Mumbai in order to do some sight seeing with other exchange students. In a way, it's not the best way to go see these things with other caucasians because... well people stare a lot. And ask you for pictures. And in the end, you end up feeling like a tourist in the city/country you live in which is exceedingly awkward.

But anyways, so when my friend and I got up, we took a rickshaw to the nearby train station to meet up with a boy from Belgium to go to south Mumbai. Trains can be crazy, especially during rush hour. Thankfully, it was a sunday and not too crowded in the morning. Actually taking a train isn't too bad, you just have to be confident in yourself. Well confident enough to push through the mass of people and watch after your belongings. Pickpockets are everywhere and while I haven't had any trouble, doesn't mean there isn't any.

We got safely to the Queen Victoria station and headed off. Our first stop was a quick drink at Cafe Coffee Day (kind of like India's Starbucks) and then this famous fountain which sometimes runs but not usually. And yes I don't remember the name. But it is very pretty. Then we walked for quite a while, passing through a church and a garden until we reached the Gateway of India. Oh and on the way there we passed a TV serial filming. I was kind of excited :] After taking the standard pictures of the Gateway, we went into the Taj Hotel to look around but didn't see too much as the ballroom was still closed because of 26/11. From there we walked a bit more to see the Leopold Cafe, another place hit by the attacks and then went to the Mahalakshmi area by train.

Mahalakshmi is actually named after the temple that it stays there and right next door is the Haji Ali, a durga of a muslim saint/priest? which many muslims visit. It was all really cool and at the mahalakshmi temple, we were given blessings by the priests. We had to go after that because I had work to finish so me, the German girl and Belgian boy took the train home. At rush hour, it was completely different, as I've said, packed to the brim. Besides being very late, we got home okay and I was able to finish my work. I actually had a project due the next day and had to finish putting the presentation fully together. All went well though and I got a 28/30 on it. Hopefully my luck will continue.

This weekend was even a bit more crazy as I didn't have school on Friday so I once again had a sleepover with my German friend. Then when we woke up in the morning we took a rick to Bandra with another german girl. Breakfast was interesting though because it was the first time in 3 months that I had eaten eggs. You see, my friend's host mom is kashmiri and so she's non-veg (meaning she eats meat). So since she offered, I figured I would have one. Once we got to Bandra, all three of us went shopping including street shopping for shoes. It's a little stressful but oh well. I got some nice things in the end. From there I was supposed to go straight to school and I tried but unfortunately I got lost while taking a rick. So I called my friend and ended up bunking to go to her house.

My friend has been bugging me for weeks to get my haircut so we finally went that night. When we got back we had pizza (with chicken so more meat) and her driver took me home. I was tired when I woke up but had to get up because the chairperson of AFS India, one of the reps for YES, and another AFS India employee came to visit my home for lunch. We talked about the program and such and they gave my host family a certificate of appreciation to my host family for hosting me. After they left, I went to hang with my friend again for some coffee with my host sister and an AFS volunteer before I went back to her house to grab my stuff from our sleepover.

I'm sure reading it, it doesn't sound as crazy as it was. One thing that I was happy about though was the amount of hindi that I was able to use during the weekend. And I also did need to get few things. Unfortunately, I forgot that my camera was in my bag during this so I have no pictures of it. But there are some of my area and of our sight-seeing.

In other news, I've started my dance class and it's going well. I'm learning folk dance from a lady in my area so I'll have to end the classes when I switch families. But so far I really like the. Well, except for one thing. Since it's usually evening when I go to see her, both of her kids are there. And because it's so hot in India, parents allow their kids to take off their pants when they're hot... under which there is no diaper or anything. It caught me by surprise the first couple of times but now I'm getting used to it. But it is weird to me. America would never allow anyone to do that and they would immediately become someone you didn't want to know. But here, even my host cousins do it and my mom won't say anything.

Last but not least is Annual Day night school. Some kids like it, some don't. I like it. Of course, it's tiring to be at school at night when you might've done something during the day but still. You get to hang around with your friends and do silly things. Some people are studying because SAT are coming up but other wise, thing's are pretty lax. Hm well have to go now, there's a long day ahead.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Diwali vacations= <3

So I've been on vacation the past week and thank goodness! It's been such a nice break from school although I was a bit bored for the first half. Most of the planning was to take place nearing the end of vacation which really should only be reserved for homework. And unfortunately, I'm still trying to change my un-adventurous ways and go out during the day by myself more often. So most days were spent trying to do homework and going to one of the chain coffee stores in the afternoon for more work (trying to do homework being the key word). My host mom and sister did go out in the mornings but I was never invited along or else I would've gone. Let this be a lesson: if you're bored and someone is going out, ask to go out with them. Maybe they'll say yes.

I did go hang out with my counselor on Tuesday. She lives in Andheri, a neighborhood close to my own so I took a rickshaw to meet her. I guess now would be the time to explain these neighborhoods. Basically, Mumbai is broken up into sections and each are named, but they are basically like neighborhoods. Mine is called Powai, and is located in northern Mumbai, where two lakes are. Some kids at school like to joke that we live in a village but really, where I live is a huge complex designed by Hiranandani, whom my host dad works for. The best way to describe it is that it's like those suburbs where every house looks the same except here, they're all apartments. In a way, it feels like someone took 16th street mall, stuck beige plaster on the buildings, set it down in India, and let them run all over it. But that's a really blunt description. The area is really pretty though and we don't have any beggars around, just slums (but I think there are slums everywhere in Mumbai).

So anyway, I went to meet my counselor to hang out in her house in Andheri. When the rick dropped me off, I wasn't quite sure if it was the right place but thankfuly it was and my counselor came to meet me with her boyfriend. From there, we went back to her house which was really close by. Anaka, my counselor, is south Indian so the area of buildings that she lives in is a south Indian community. Birds of a feather flock together right? Her home is also an apartment but she lives on the first floor so she owns a garden too (which is kind of cool considering Mumbai's space issue). Her dog is so cute though! I'm not sure what type it is but he's small, black with curly hair and she can convince him that there's a rat around so he'll chase after it. It's been a while since I've been around a pet dog so I had a lot of fun.

Anaka is an actress (theater) and she had to go to practice for a new play she was going to be in. So after we dropped her off, her boyfriend, mom and I went shopping for groceries in a supermarket. There are quite a few of these and most people shop for food here. After that, her boyfriend helped me get a rick home and it was quite late so I was hoping nothing bad would happen. Which nothing did but you should always be on your guard. My area is much safer than most places in Mumbai and India because we have guards at every entrance to buildings. But that doesn't mean that they are everywhere so you still have to be careful.

I did get a chance to hang out with my school friends in Bandra and we had breakfast at McDonalds. I never go to McDonalds in the states but I ike it here because... well, the food is so much better. There's no beef so no room for disgusting burgers. Just aloo tikki burgers :] I don't know if it's necessarily more healthy but it feels healthier and the chicken nuggets are also okay. So we all caught up (even though me and another girl were an hour late because of traffic) and two of my friend's little siblings were there (so cute!).

When it was time to leave, we thought it was a great idea to buy some ice cream in cones. Of course, from there I had to go meet Juhi and we decided I would meet her at this store that was a bit far from Mickey D's. So, ice cream cones in hand, my friend, her brother and I caught a rick to take us towards her house and the store. I don't think western ice cream was ever meant for tropical weather because soon enough, ours were dripping all over the place, including my friend's little bro's lap! It must have been a pretty funny scene: two girls and a little boy in a rickshaw trying too eat ice cream out of cones. By the end of it, only the top parts of the cones were left and we had to toss them on the ground whle in the rick.

I'm not necessarily proud of littering but that was just food, so in my eyes it was okay. But I do hate littering and make a conscious effort not to despite how supremely common it is here. Even at home, my host mom will just throw trash like packaging on the ground for the maid to clean up or people will leave wrappers lying around. But I will only put things into the trash can; it seems degrading to leave it on the ground for the maid. I really like my maids and not because they help to keep the room clean. In fact, because they move stuff around, it can be annoying sometimes. But both of them are cute (even though sometimes I don't understand what they are saying) and our cook is nice.

Diwali was this weekend though starting with visiting family on Friday. I went to see some relatives on the more northern side of Mumbai, a very gujarati community, which was very pretty and didn't feel like the city at all. I hung out with my host cousins, playing Uno and cards (which I'm very bad at) and after having dinner, we went to see Blue, a new movie touted as the pricest Bollywood film ever made. It was completely horrible. There are barely any other words to describe it and I'm not talking funny horrible.

The next day we spent preparing for a diwali party in our apartment and I got to wear one of my new churidars. I got to make diyas which are like candles. Basically you take cotton, roll it into long pieces, put oil into the bowl with some water, dip the cotton into the oil and light it. They're really pretty! And we also put food coloring into glasses and put oil into the with little threads things that you burn candles with... if that makes sense (oh! wicks, that's what they're called). The whole house was lit up. The party went nicely, with our building friends and some relatives attending it. One of the best parts was seeing our fireworks go off. I know that fireworks cause so much pollution and I hate how noisy they are. But I got to light one off and it was the best so there. :p

The next night we went to another party, a "kiti party". Basically all of the people who live in our building who are apart of my host parents social circle get together. It was a bit boring but the uncles and aunties are so funny and amusing that it became fun. My host sister and I left after we ate dinner. I should have done homework when I got home (at 12:30) and I did try to finish but... I didn't. Then yesterday I was supposed to hang out with my friend which never happened and ended up going to my nana and nani's (maternal grandparents) home and my aunt's home. I got to see my little cousin again and received some unexpected money. You see, during diwali, elders give the younger children money but I didn't expect any as I'm not a relation. But my nani did give me money in an envelope that said "America". Cute right?

Which leads me to today in which I'm just starting to finish my work after coming back from one of the German girls homes. Oh for woe is I :[ I'm really not looking forward to the next few hours.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Obama and Cockroaches

Part 1:
I found out yesterday while in school that Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize for inspiring hope and change. I won't lie, my first reaction was "What?" because it came as a major shock. Not that I'm not proud of my president but that's a big accomplishment and he's only been in office 9 months. In a way, I don't think he should have gotten it just yet as he is still in office and hasn't completed all of his work. I believe he has inspired many people and that it is very good to have a person with a goal to improve the global situation in power. Basically, I think the award was given too soon and if, by chance, Obama does not succeed with his plans during his turn, criticism will be put upon him. Plus this just adds more pressure to his already packed schedule.
Still congrats Mr. President, we're proud of you.

Part 2:
It can happen at any moment. I go to the bathroom before going to bed but close the door quickly at the sight of movement. "Didi!" I yell and walk quickly towards the kitchen and the TV room where the maid looks questioningly at me. "Kya didi?" She asks and I reply, "Cockroach didi, bara cockroach." She gets the spray and follows me to my bathroom where we go about hunting down the buggers, me pointing and her spraying. And this hasn't just happened once, but several times although I'm still not used to it. The creepier part was finding a dead one on the floor of my room with a tiny baby ones surrounding it. Freaked out yet? Yeah I felt the same. Fortunately, it's becoming normal to me. Just another example of unexpected situations, I guess.

Aur Kuch (And More):
Well... I'm mostly use to life here now. At times, it can be frustrating especially with classes. I love my school, it's quite fun and all of my friends are really nice. But classes... trust me sometimes I wish I could bunk all the time. As I mentioned, since I've been put in one of the best schools in Mumbai, my credits will most likely transfer so I'm working hard to do well in class. But with some classes that's hard, specifically math and physics. In Indian schools, they start with the basics of Biology, Chem, and Physics much earlier than in US schools (like in 8th grade and earlier). This makes it considerably harder for me to get along and study when everyone has already covered the basics. So I'm diligently trying to catch up but also trying to complete other work it's all so... tiring. Then again, I didn't really go on this to relax, did I?

Diwali break just started for us and marks the end of Saturday school and 10 days of no school. Which is nice (excepting my load of work). Diwali is the festival of lights and so my family is decorating our flat for it. Diwali day is next Saturday and we are celebrating Friday and Sunday. For it, I have another chuni choli coming and am having two salwar kameez made, which I can also wear for the weddings coming up. Kind of cool right? I'm excited, especially to see all of the lights in the city. It will be almost like Christmas almost but in 30 degrees C.

A couple of days ago, one of the ladies in my building was holding a mehendi party because of a festival the next day. So I went down after doing some of my homework to have dinner and have mehendi put on. I've always like mehendi and I got to talk to the aunties from my building and my sisters' friend. Speaking of sisters, my older host sister has gone back to UK for school so now my other sister has the room all to herself.

Lastly... Annual day is starting soon so a week after diwali break, we will start having night school. Interesting right? No school during the day but practice at night... Hm oh well.

Monday, September 28, 2009

School, Ganapati, Goa, Navatri... phew

People aren't joking when they say that Mumbai is a fast city. And still despite that, it can take you an hour to get to the other side (sometimes 2). Living in the suburbs, of course is a bit more relaxed and where I am, you'll find quite a few foreigners. But the further into town you get, the more packed everything is and the taller the buildings get. But anyways, this isn't the subject of my post. Instead let's talk about school.
Being at school is fun. It's an IB school and is a lot like American schools except they go way faster here. I enjoy all of my classes and the teachers are all very nice. Like most schools in India, I have to wear a uniform to school of a striped blue button up shirt and navy blue skirt. As bad as wearing a uniform sounds, it is a nicer uniform compared to some others which make you wear a pinafore (dress) plus shirt and maybe a tie with your hair braided with ribbons. Get my point? But as much as I like school, I hate the homework that comes out of it. And yes, I do have to do homework since my school is taught in english (and I need credits). I would prefer not to since in most cases, homework is usually given when there is some Indian holiday. Like today is Daseera, in which Ravana is destroyed by Ram. And I have two essays to write and a case study plus trying to figure out physics and memorize the hindi alphabet. I don't know how I'm going to survive. Also I've been having saturday school because of swine flu vacation (we had a scare here a few weeks back) which basically also sucks.
As I mentioned previously, Ganapati occured a while back. Ganapati is a hindu festival celebrating the god Ganesh, remover of obstacles and one of Mumbai's most favored gods. I got to celebrate with my family and their friends in the building, going down for a pooja (prayer session) and going down to the lake near where I live for visarjan (after a few days of having the Ganesh idol, they submerge it into the lake by ceremony). The whole 10 days I could hear the beat of drums from the balcony and the streets were well populated with people covered in fuschia powder pulling wagons of ganapatis. I was also able to see some of the much larger idols being submerged in the lake on one of the last nights. It can be amazing to see, these huge plaster statues cover in flowers and color. And maybe a few hours after the sun rose on the last day, there were no drums at all.
As per stereotype, the traffic here can be very bad Indians always find someway to get through. Maybe it runs in the genes but if there is space between the cars, someone will find a way to fit between. Also because the speed on the roads isn't as high as in America, seat belts are not required in the back seat, only in the front. I cannot count the times I have reached for a seatbelt only to be looked at weird. I've gotten used to not wearing one now but every so often I'll end up reaching. By now I've been in a rickshaw plenty of times but have just now started to be able to get my self home in one. I usually take the bus to school (which sucks. Imagine going over a pothole every 5 mins at 15 mph. not fun) but sometimes I have to stay back or am late to school so I take the rick. It's actually convenient and cheap despite the anxiety that the driver might not know where to go or even finding an empty one.
A couple weekends ago I did go to Goa for a nice vacation. We stayed at a resort with 40 other family friends and I had a good time although I didn't end up going to any of the touristy spots. We swam in the pool though and I got a small tan. And the festival Navatri or Durga was this past week too. Basically it's a dancing festival and you dance dandiya (couple dance by hitting sticks together... it's hard to explain). I got to go once with a group of AFS people and as well at school on Friday, when we had Indian-dress-as-you-like. By now, my teachers and classmates have figured out how much I like dancing and as my english teacher says," Annah, you're Indian." yeah.... What can I say? I'm here for a culture experience so why no participate? :]
I've also been to quite a few parties lately (another thing Mumbai is notorious for). On saturday I went to two birthday parties and was suitably tired on Sunday (which was yesterday). I stayed awake though because that night I finally got to go see a movie in the theater (I've been seeing ones only at home :[). Despite all of the good reviews, I didn't like it that much but it was nice to go anyways. A friend from school and I are planning to go see a movie that already opened soon and it looks good.
So it seems I've been very busy and I admit, it is a change of pace. Hopefully, I'll get into the vibe of it.

If you want to see any of my pictures, please go to:

Friday, August 21, 2009

Finally in Mumbai!

Hi everyone! I've been in Mumbai for about a week now and it's been crazy! I left home on the 8th for orientation in D.C. and met up with all of the other YES students. I actually like orientations a lot because it really helps you get ready to live without your family. Of course, everytime someone asks me what I miss about home, I get a little teary-eyed but otherwise it's okay.
So while in D.C. we got to look around a bit, see the government part of the city and drive past the capital. We also got to meet the inbound YES abroad kids who were all very sweet. All of us got to talk to kids from our host countries except for the malayasia kids. With them, we visited the department of state (which is super strict and makes you take an escort to the bathroom) and the embassies (which were all very pretty). There was a talent show for all the kids as well, but specifically only Egypt and the Phillipines preformed. It was awesome!!! I especially liked the phillipines dance because there were two-three groups dancing at once and all of the costumes were matching (well same with Egypt but their's wasn't as colorful and diverse. Not that their wasn't interesting, I just like the phillipines one a lot). We had a nice dinner before we left for the airport and then we were off.
Because there has been a swine flu scare in India (well people are dying but seriously, you can treat it like any normal flu, I've been told), the embassy made us wear facemasks on the flight which was really awkward. People gave us all kinds of weird looks and anyone who has worn a facemask before can tell you how unfun it is. Basically, it's just like having a swamp around your mouth. Once we were beginning to land though in India, other people started putting on their masks too. We got through customs all right and were soon ff to our guesthouse in Delhi.
Now, mind you, it was the middle of the night plus swine flu, so I didn't experience the steriotypical "all the cabdrivers want you in their car". Also we already had a driver but that isn't the point. I was really thankful that didn't happen either. Oh, Delhi is much hotter than Mumbai, like painfuly hot even at night. Although I was only there for a while, I can say so.
Our orientation went well there and we met quite a few people, like Angela the chairperson of AFS India and the American ambassador to India (sorry I don't remember his name). In fact we met him in his sweaty running clothes which was kind of awkward but oh well. There were 3 Italian girls with us there as well and they were very nice. Finally, we were getting on the plane to Mumbai, Dushyant from AFS, Austin, and I. It was a noisy flight since two little boys sat in front of us and I made the mistake of amusing them with making silly faces. Plus one kept on poking Austin. Hmmm it wasn't very pleasant.
At the airport our host families came to pick us up and I finally met my family. They're very nice; I have a mom, dad, and two sisters. We live in this "posh" area called Powai in a large apartment complex and it is relatively quiet when compared to the other more populous areas. The apartment is very big, and has a balcony overlooking the lakes called talab (a view you can only get here). I have my own room that used to be my sisters but she is sleeping with the older one. You see, the older one goes to school in London so she's here for vacation. Once she goes back in October, we'll decide who will be in what room. Also, my host sisters speak in english a lot not so much hindi, while my parents do. They also wear more western clothes than the traditional types.
Around the house, I don't have to do any cleaning since we have three maids and a cook who comes everyday. They all speak in hindi so I can't understand what they're saying except for "Didi, chai lelo". There is a misconception about India that all of the women wear saris. In reality only the married ones wear saris usually. So I asked my sisters if the one maid who wears a sari is married and they said yes but her husband left her and she has a three-year-old daughter. This is kind of surprising huh?
But enough about my house, you must be wondering about the city. For one, it is huge! There are thousands of people in the streets all the time, plus cows, trucks, cars, taxis, rickshaws, goats, and dogs. Yes, it is quite common to see cows and goats in the cities, pulling carts and heating hay. Sometimes one is right next to your window. And the reason that people walk in the streets is that the sidewalks are so disgusting. Rarely do people walk on the sidewalks unless they are going into a store or a house. And with the dirty roads, everyone has shoes with higher soles, sandals, tennis shoes, everything.
The slums.... are everywhere, you cannot escape them. And I will be honest, for me, I am not bothered when I drive by. Being in India, you have to expect everything to be a bit more in your face: the colors, the religion, the poverty. I mean, the first full day I spent, we drove right past a huge slum. And what can you do? Nothing, atleast not at the moment. You might be thinking I'm heartless but it is true what I'm saying. At the moment you are in your car, you cannot do anything for those people except maybe buy whatever the're selling if you want it. And that is not very often. I can recognize the slums instantly, they're not hard to miss. Buildings of concrete and brick with openings covered with blue tarp and dirty clothes and wet clothing hanging over the railings. But at the moment, my heart doesn't ache and pain and make me want to cry when I see the small children running around with dirty hair.
Of course walking along the street is different. I dread the times when the small children tug on the clothing of someone next to me, asking for money. I feel awkward because giving money might support whoever has governship of them, their alcoholic fathers or slum lords. I was given the advice to buy them small treats but with my host mother shooing them away, that is hard to do. After my family changes in january I expect to see more of this since there are no beggars where I live right now (I can see a slum from my balcony but that isn't the same).
I only started school yesterday but I had to "bunk" today so that I could go to the foreigner registration office. But because our visas said Delhi, Dushyant has to get a letter and we have to go back tomorrow. And because school shut down because of swine flu, we have school that next 5 sturdays. So I'm missing two days of school. Not that I especially mind, it's just very tiring. I'm already behind the other students plus they're all geniuses anywa, so it will be difficult to catch up. Oh and yes, I do have to wear a uniform but it's fairly nice compared to others. It's just aa button-up short and skirt plus black shoes and you have to keep your hair tied. Some schools make you wear shirts, pinafores (dresses), and make you braid your hair and tie with ribbons. I sa some of those kids around today and I'm so glad to have my uniform be so simple.
Anyways that's all for now. Ganapati (or the festival of Ganesh) starts this Sunday so I'm very excited for that. I'll write again soon!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Only one month left!!!

In one month I will be in India and I'm becoming more and more excited! I found out a while back that I'm going to be living in Mumbai and going to one of the most famous schools, Dhirubhai Ambani International School. The school is huge and has almost everything! It is an IB school and I will be in those classes (which means a lot of work). But all the same, it seems very fun and will open many doors for me.

In fact, the school sent me some information on it a few weeks back. It consisted of the school magazine (like a yearbook), the school diary, and it's Annual Day DVD. Each school in India has what is called an Annual Day which is like a big performance that the students put on for their parents. So, for example, DAIS's Annual Day had a storyline that took place years in the future with humans who returned to earth to see what it looked like. There they met some remaining humans who explained to them the past of what happened to earth and why there weren't many people, etc. plus important wars and drastic events in history. It was very interesting to watch.

So along with finding out my school, I've recieved information on my host families. That's right FAMILIES. ahahah Usually AFS students only have one host family but I get two, one for aug-dec and another for jan-june. I have sisters my same age in both families that go to my school and have been talking to them a lot, getting to know each other. We get along really well from what I can tell and I think we're going to have fun.

My first embarassing sort of situation came up a few days ago. I was talking to my host sister and she had mention getting a SIM card there in one of her messages. She mentioned it again during our the chat messages and so I said something along the lines of," So you guys have cell phones?" The reason why I thought teenagers might not is that India is a rather conservative, thirld word country, so wouldn't teenagers not have cellphones? But my host sister told me that since Mumbai is so big, they really do need them. Plus the cost of having one is so cheap, some people even have two numbers! I was really surprised! Although maybe I should've expected it since my school is very up-class so the people who send their kids there must be pretty wealthy as well....

Oh! As I mentioned before, I love bollywood. So I was excited to find out that some famous actors' kids go to my school! Of course, they're all under 5th grade but I thought that was pretty cool. Oh! And my first host sister loves movies as well so we're probably going to be hitting up the theatres a lot :D heehee But I promise that I will focus on my grades! I do need credits for my school here. I will try my best and battle IB! I tried before and lost so this is my chance to redeem myself (in my freshman year).

Although my host families are fluent in english, I hope that they can speak to me in hindi very, very often. I'm pretty sure that becoming fluent is one of YES's goals so always speaking in english would halt that process. But my host sister says it's easy to learn and use, so hopefully I'll pick it up quickly and use it a lot. Plus knowing another language is a great asset, you know?

I guess this isn't that important but one of my best friends just came back from her own AFS exchange to Italy. As a present, she gave me a whole journal full of tips and encouraging words for during my own exchange. Talking to another exchange student is always helpful, even if they went somewhere completely different. One thing that she said to me was especially interesting: "it's like jumping off a cliff and then looking back up to see someone else do the same thing." I laughed at the time, but I still know what she said is true. Living abroad without family is kind of like jumping off a cliff :]

So that's all for now. I still have to submit my visa but the processing should only take a week since I've been in contact with the U.S. consulate. My presentation is still in the works... ahaha anyways, wish me luck!


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Getting Ready

I'm leaving for India in about two months. In response to any confusion, I did receive the full scholarship through YES Abroad to go to India for a year. This is a great honor as it was a very competitive process and I expect with each year it is granted to more US students, the more competitive it will get (to learn more about YES, go to .

Info on being a YES recipient:
As a YES student, I'm expected to attend a total of 5 conference calls, 2 of which have already happened. Each conference calls talks about different aspects of our exchange, what we should expect and what we are required to do. One of the conference calls is country specific so that the recipients of each country scholarship get a chance to talk to their peers and supervisors about being in that country. Along with me are four other recipients of the scholarship to India like all of the other countries (35 scholarships= 5 scholarships per country).

Along with this, like all exchange students, I have attended a Pre-Departure Orientation with AFS in my local chapter which is one day long (it is required!). AFS also provides a program called Culture Trek that YES supports us using in order to prepare for the exchange experience. These are very good programs read through and participate with. Although AFS and YES will not be checking up on our progress with these, it's a good idea to look at them. We all think we'll be just fine but I read through the booklet provided and was stunned with how much I have to consider! Being an exchange student is not an easy task.

For prospective students:
As with any commitment, being a YES scholar becomes a priority over everything. Receiving money does set you up for many responsibilities. You are expected to stay with the program the entire year unless there is a severe medical emergency or a death in the immediate family. I'm not trying to scare you but this is something to consider. You will hear this over and over again but even if an important event like prom or a meet is happening back in America and you want to attend, you can't. You are going to be an unofficial ambassador for your country, community, gender, ethnicity and this goes for being an exchange student anywhere. You should be prepared and you have to want to be in your host country.

Okay enough with that lecture :D and back to YES. While in India, in addition to being with a host family and going to school, the recipients also get to participate in community service type and culture activities. I'm not quite sure what this entails, but it sounds interesting and fun. I'm looking forward to experiencing as much of India as I can. Since I got the scholarship, the host family previously selected for me has to change since they want us to be in "clusters" for support and so that we can readily get together for activities. Atleast that's what I got out of it. It's always good to have others that you know in the area.

Personally, I have started to learn hindi slowly along with thinking about the packing and other miscellaneous things. I won't lie, it's sad to think about leaving everything and everyone I know to go live in a different country. I probably already mentioned this but I hope with this exchange I become much more confident with myself and others as well as being more worldly aware. Starting over with a clean slate in a new country where no one knows you is a refreshing and scary thought but it also means that you can just be. You may not be happy all the time but this is just one chapter in your life that will affect everything.

To my fellow YES recepeients, congratulations on making it here. I'm sure we'll have loads of fun mixed with misunderstandings and mayhem. Let's keep an open mind and listen to everyone we meet. I'm sure that there will be a story to tell at the end of every day even if it's a short one. And let's be realistic here. We're going to change and having any expectations about what will happen in our host countries is a silly idea. We can't always change others no matter what we do so trying will not help. The best we can do is participate and observe, making the most of our experience.

Hm well I don't know how enjoyable my blog will seeing how I keep getting serious :] I will try my best to be as accurate about my exchange process as possible to help you see what I'm going through. This might just be my main way of telling most of my friends what is going on but I would love it if people will send me letter while I'm over there. As soon as I find out my host family, I will give you the address to send letters to.

Until then, shantih


Friday, March 27, 2009

Hello :]

Hi, my name is Annah and this is going to be my blog while on my exchange experience. I am currently in 10th grade and hope to spend my junior year abroad. I applied to and was accepted by India through AFS and hope to be able to fulfill this dream. 

I say hope because we all know about the financial situation currently and I know personally I do not have $10000 lying around. So I thank AFS for already providing me with an $800 scholarship but I still need much more money. To help cover it, I have applied to the YES and NSLI-Y scholarship programs and will find out soon whether I have received one. The reality is that although I did apply with my first choice as India for those scholarships, the evaluators might decide that if I do get it, it might not be to India. But I feel that going to any location to represent my country and experience a new culture would be very valuable, if to India or not. So to all of you prospective exchange students who are reading this blog and are interested in getting those scholarships in the future, remember to be open to any location even if it is not your first choice. I met a lot of amazing people during the selection camp who were alumni of the program and from those countries, which gave me confidence to see that going to any place would awesome. 

In regards to fundraising, I'm planning to have a donation party inviting the community and family friends. My birthday is coming up as well so I'm planning to ask that my friends bring money instead of presents (because, honestly, I have too much stuff anyway :]). Other things include a possible garage sale and letters to prospective donors. I love how AFS has so many ideas to choose from and that they all sound fun. Ahaha how promotional am I? Anyways, I'm in the planning process right now but hopefully, it will all turn out cool.

Okay let's step away from the money issue and talk about the big question "why?". Well, like most students, I've dreamed of traveling and living abroad for quite a while. Unfortunately, I've never gotten a chance to before and have only been to Canada, which doesn't count in my book. You must be thinking "she's crazy, wanting her first abroad experience to be for a year!" But to me, I think that even if I went to, say, France for a week or every year travelled to a different country for some period of time, that would never set me up for a whole year abroad without my family. Not to mention that it is very difficult to see and become a part of a community if you are there for only a month.

In a way, that is one of my goals for going on this exchange. To me, it is crucial while on my exchange, that I make bonds with those around me and those that I meet. I hope to stop negative stereotyping of Americans and other people. I want to create a lasting connection with my host family so that I know I will always be welcomed in their home and they are welcome to come to mine. Along with this, I want to increase understanding of world views and assists, which is definitely crucial in today's global classroom. Or perhaps playground is a better word. hmm it's your pick.

Well, this has become a rather serious post o.o I wasn't expecting my first entry to be like this. Oops! I'm not always this serious, trust me! ahaha If you have any questions about the process I've been going through so far, please ask!

So a little about me: I have wanted to go to India for quite a long time, although I'm not sure when. I love elephants, they are my favorite animals mostly because their memory is way better than mine (just kidding!). Some of my favorite films are bollywood, and if you have never seen one I suggest Marigold first (it stars Ali Larter and Salman Khan, a big bollywood star. It's in english and gives some basic groundwork that is in all bollywood films). After that, see Jab We Met, means When We Met, starring Karina Kapoor, which is cute with some more culture thrown in. If you really just want to throw yourself into it, see Om Shanti Om, starring Shah Rukh Khan, and is, essentially, an homage to bollywood.

Ah that got a little off track... Anyways, I hope this becomes an informative and true representation of my exchange abroad. I don't know about the picture situation yet. I have an idea to buy 100 kodak disposable cameras and use those instead of my digital camera. Really nice and old school, and when I come back, I could just post them all up on here... well tell me what you think, hmm? 

Sorry this post is so long and pointless especially being the first one in a hopeful series. I will keep you updated!