My Last Blog Post, Revisited

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With Saksham and Younus a few days before leaving India

A couple days ago, I stood in my new bedroom, surrounded by the dozen or so boxes I have been lugging around from house to house for the past three years. I picked up piles of junk and, unable to decide what to do with them (do you throw away some chap stick when you have five tubes you haven’t touched in years?), immediately placed them in some new location on the floor. I felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of my possessions as well as bigger life issues. I worried about upcoming job interviews and the decision of what classes to take. These are standard “start of the semester” concerns, but, even though I am a senior, I felt more stressed than ever before. Giving up on my personal mess, I decided to check Facebook. Caro had just uploaded dozens of photos from Chirag, and, before I knew it, I was sobbing. In that moment, I would have done anything to be back in the Himalays. But, after throwing myself a pity party for the rest of the afternoon, I started to actively think about the things for which I am grateful now that I am back in the U.S. In my last blog post, which I wrote just a few days after leaving India, I talked about the things I expected to miss about India. I do miss them, often even more than I had anticipated. Yet rather than living in the past, I am doing my best to use what I learned in the past to shape the way I perceive myself and my life in the present. So, here is my previous blog post cast in a new light, written precisely one month after I left India.

From a Nokia to an iPhone – When I check my email for the tenth time in an hour, terrified I am going to miss something (who knows what) important, I sometimes want to drop my smartphone in the toilet. But the ability to map where I am going and talk to my family without factoring in a twelve and a half hour time distance and an exorbitant cost are priceless.

From cheap carbs to an endless array of options – Though I miss the simple pleasure of eating second-rate chow mein that is redeemed by the fact that it was made to order and cost less than fifty cents, I feel tremendously healthier and happier. I went from eating basically the same thing everyday to enjoying a variety of food in two of the best food cities I have ever visited—Singapore and Portland, Oregon. Back in Philly, every morning as I struggle to decide if I want yogurt or oatmeal or eggs or cereal, I remind myself that in India I would have died to have the ability to make such a choice.

From hiking everyday to walking when I can – I always loved nature, but trekking through the Himalays everyday gave me a newfound appreciation for the outdoors. I hiked whenever possible during my vacation in the beautiful Sierra Nevadas and Pacific Northwest. Now that I am in the city, I make an effort to go on a lengthy walk everyday. As I learned in India, there is no better way to clear one’s head.

From kurtas and leggings to kurtas and shorts – The key difference between my attire in India and my attire in the U.S. has been that my legs have finally seen some sun. Yet when I am faced with the dreaded daily decision of what to wear, more often than not I still reach for a kurta. I get compliments every time I do, and I take this as proof that kurtas are a damn near perfect clothing item.

From a language barrier to information overload – As I lay on a beach last week, I could not help but listen to a group of girls discuss a recent rowdy trip to Las Vegas. They were discussing personal matters that I did not want to or need to know about, but I am the sort of hypersensitive person who tends to notice everything happening around me. At times like these, I miss minding my own business as people chatted in Hindi. The overwhelming majority of the time, however, I am thankful for something I took advantage of before living in India: the ability to express myself.

From sleeping like a babe to sleeping like a college student – Though my irregular sleeping habits of late have elicited some fascinating dreams, I miss how consistently well I was able to sleep in India. The drop-off in the quality of sleep I have been getting is most likely due to the fact that I am stuck on a pullout couch while I wait for my mattress to be delivered as well as the returned presence of one of my worst vices…

From chai to coffee – As I grab a cup of coffee in the morning, I think back longingly to the good times the interns had at Mohan-da’s (and cringe upon realizing that I just paid thirty times what I would have there for my caffeine fix). Though I miss the social aspects of this summer’s chai breaks, I have been reunited with my favorite beverage in the world, and I am thrilled about it.

From hitchhiking to getting places without a hitch – This summer, getting anywhere seemed to turn into a massive ordeal, but this is mercifully no longer the case. With the help of GoogleMaps, a car or public transportation, and my friends, I have yet to get lost. The sense of adventure I felt travelling in India was a blast, but now I am left with some good stories and gratitude for being able to get places in a reasonable amount of time.

From new friends to old friends – In Singapore, I visited a friend I met in London, something I never expected to have the opportunity to do. In Reno and Portland, I was reunited with high school pals as well as my family. Now I am back in Philly, where I am headed into my senior year with some of the best friends I have ever had. Every single one of these loved ones has commented on how much more relaxed and healthy I seem. I owe much of this to the people I met in India. As our lives head in separate directions and we contact each other less and less often, I have to remind myself not to cry because it’s over but to smile because it happened. I cannot thank these people enough for the lessons they taught me and the memories they gave me.

I catch myself wanting to say, “I miss India,” every five minutes. It is difficult, but I have start saying, “You are not in India anymore. But the experiences you had are part of you now.” I talked to Dani Castillo last night, and she said she is experiencing a worse culture shock coming back to the U.S. than she encountered going to India. It is hard to believe that it would be harder for a person to adapt to the culture they were raised in than to a completely foreign culture, but I agree with Dani. I think the reason for this is that we are too wrapped up in our crazy little lives when we are at home and so open to new experiences while we are abroad. If my time in India taught me anything, it taught me to live my entire life—not just the parts where I am abroad—with a carefree spirit and openness to new things and new people. It is too easy to put up a wall and keep going about the same daily routines, eating the same food, walking the same routes, being with or avoiding the same people. We can only grow through experiential learning. Even though my time in India is done, I am going to seek out new experiences wherever I possibly can. Who knows what could happen?

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With my father before leaving for my senior year at Penn

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About stacm20

University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2015. Studying Economics and Visual Studies. Interning with the Central Himalayan Rural Action Group in the summer of 2014.