Today is my last day in India, and I am spending it relaxing in a hotel in New Delhi, reflecting on the past few months and the upcoming stage of life as I return to Canada.
A couple of months ago, I stumbled upon the blog posts of previous interns during the period of their return to Canada. They were rather sad, so I stopped reading them; I didn’t want to think too heavily about the end of my internship lest I be faced with the same.
Now I am in that period. I’m faced with a lot of thoughts, certainly, but mostly I’m excited to go home and start the next chapter. Throughout the past three months, I constantly checked myself whenever I complained about anything—the bucket showers, hand washing my laundry, food being too spicy, the language barrier—because it was eventually going to end, and knowing myself, and being a student of psychology, I knew that I would most likely idealize this time later on in my life, and want to return to some of the moments. The grass is always greener.
I developed the habit of really pushing myself to not take things for granted (i.e. I sat in the kitchen and meditated over how lucky I was to have such a unique experience while I drank coffee in the morning) because I have been down a similar process of arriving and leaving during my time on exchange in Singapore; so many things bothered me as I adjusted, and then eventually, after ten months of living there, it became home.
The funny thing about home however, is that, like family, you get the sense that they will always be there.
But I had to come back to Canada after exchange to finish my studies…and my heart was aching. I daydreamed about Singapore all summer long, and affectionately remember those months as me being a sad, whiny baby; I just wanted to go back to what I knew as home at that time.
Udaipur, Rajasthan, India did not become my home, but it would have if I had stayed longer. I felt the tug of familiarity and comfort that I had been met with in Singapore. But I was thankful that 3 months doesn’t tend to be long enough for someone to adjust to living in another country, let alone start to feel at home. And now, as I look back on the past three months, and remind myself of my similar experience on exchange, I want to describe, for the sake of my future reflections of it, how I really feel about living in India.
Let me start by saying that I don’t feel like I fully understand India, or that I ever will. I think you could visit this country ten times, and not understand. There are so many people; the cultural implications are vast and endless. It’s incredible.
Rajasthan, in particular, filled my life with colour and mesmerizingly good food. People were shockingly kind to me at times, and I loved trying out the small amount of Hindi I had learnt from my Indian friends (I most certainly want to try to learn Hindi one day). And I think that the hilly terrain in Udaipur is so definitely beautiful; simply breathtaking. I could stare at those hills all day long.
But there were many times in India that I was frightened and confused. This is partly because of my own anxiety as a traveller, but also by the circumstances I found myself in. For example, it was truly hard to reconcile myself to the style of transportation, and I was unsure of how to proceed when I learnt there was an H1N1 epidemic in Rajasthan this past couple of months. At times, I just wanted to hide in my room, which I found very debilitating when it came to socializing, or pursuing hobbies. I miss fully expressing that side of myself.
Though the vast majority of people were kind to me, there were rare moments of men taking small liberties with me that I found unacceptable. I’m also not sure that I have become accustomed to the staring, or of having my picture taken without my permission.
On the other hand, I learnt how to barter, and I’m starting to think I almost prefer shopping this way; it’s nice to have a say in the interpretation of pricing. I feel empowered by it. I also adore Bollywood movies, and the culture of movie theatre in India; everyone cheers and claps when they like a part in the movie, almost like cheering for a sports event.
And like I said, the food is amazing. Everything is fresh and I’ve rarely had a dish I didn’t like. This is the healthiest I’ve felt in a long time. I have to learn to cook some of the dishes I fell in love with here in India (i.e. palak paneer).
I also learned to appreciate the unavailability of some of the things that comfort me in Canada (i.e. netflix) because it gave me a lot more time to focus on other activities that I usually neglect, like reading books, or writing in my journal. I did a lot of reading and writing the past few months, and it was delightful.
Probably the most important thing I experienced, which I will neither put in the appreciative file or the dislike file, is the constant realization of how privileged I am in my country. This made me uncomfortable at times, but it also came as a sense of relief; I knew that I at least had language to describe what I realizing; it wasn’t a foreboding and unfathomable entity—I was privileged and that informed much of my lens on the world. Will I ever be able to say I understand the day-to-day struggles of someone less privileged than myself? I hope I can, but I wouldn’t say I have to this day; I think India has humbled me too much for me to claim that.
The last time I returned to Canada, I had a harder time adjusting compared to living abroad. I found that I had become accustomed to certain norms that weren’t present in North America, and socializing with friends threw me off; everyone seemed overly friendly and affectionate. It was also pretty chilly in comparison—I can count on one hand the amount of times that I wore socks in Singapore. I suddenly had a lot more responsibilities than I did before; my schedule was full and stressful again, which only poured salt into the wound of returning.
The thing I missed most, interestingly, was the confusion of being in a foreign environment. Though I complain about the anxiety of being abroad, there is something to be said about how stimulated you are in your environment. It’s exciting and seems adventurous in retrospect. I think this was the hardest thing for me in Canada; everything seemed too familiar, and, dare I say it, well, boring…
I haven’t figured out yet how to combat these feelings that you should always be on the move. The travel bug is definitely in my blood. But returning, surely, is an adventure—perhaps even a more challenging one than coming to a foreign place. You suddenly become a presence again in an environment that you know, but something has changed and you’re not sure what. Is it you? You’re not sure. Is it them? You’re not sure. Should you just start making plans to go back? Maybe—or maybe you’re just not remembering that place correctly; maybe you should recall all the things that you struggled with.
Conjuring up a bit of reality is what I was attempting to do with this blog post, but I think I actually failed; I’m not sure that future me will be convinced to not come back to India, or desire adventures in other far off places.
I know, especially after a day of realizing that I’m leaving—actually leaving—that I’m going to miss this time, and this place. It’s an inevitable experience in the landscape of a person’s life that they will have to say goodbye to things they love, and learn to move on to other great things. This is the lesson I’m left with at the end of the day, after all the fantastic experiences and adventures; now is the time for the next part, and this time around, I’m a lot more appreciative of the process.
In conclusion, and most importantly, I’m so excited to hug my loved ones.