Asheville Blog Post by Haley Burniston
Waking up to an alarm at 6:00 a.m. to squeeze into the middle seat of an acquaintance’s small stick shift car is not what one would imagine a Saturday morning at college would be like. The eleven Elon students and eleven Maryville students enrolled in the India’s Identities winter term course made their way to Asheville, NC on September 27th. The ride was full of much needed caffeine and conversation openers; the car filled with a nervous excitement. Within a few hours we would be meeting and getting to know the individuals we will be spending a month with in India. Knowing that they will be the individuals that we laugh with on the bus, lean on in a time of need, try new foods with, and make unforgettable memories with made for an anxious eagerness.
Upon arrival, as expected, we tended to cling to those we already knew with a few individuals breaking the ice and introducing themselves right off the bat. Once all twenty-four of us, both sets of students along with our professors, Amy and Brian, had arrived to the Asheville house we broke into small groups to describe our schools to one another. Following this exercise, we partnered up with an individual whom we had never met, took turns talking about ourselves, and then had a chance to introduce our partner to the entire group. Slowly but surely we were all getting acquainted to the many new faces surrounding us in the room. The conversations were flowing at lunchtime and the forming of new friendships became much more apparent.
Since this was an academic trip, we had time set aside for class around the dining room table where Brian and Amy had set up a projector. We discussed the articles we had each read about gender roles in India and about hijras (referred to as aravanis in Tamil Nadu), the name for a third gender. It was interesting to hear about the stereotyped roles and life cycles, especially comparing and contrasting them with those with which we are used to in our Western culture. We also discussed the caste system and the hierarchy involved along with the role it plays in the life cycle, rituals, and many other aspects. As there was quite the range of majors in the room, many of the topics were review for some, but entirely new to others, which made for a learning environment filled with questions and attentive listeners. As we prepare to travel to India, it is important to prepare academically so that we are able to recognize different cultural aspects, for example, and better understand our experiences abroad. After we finished up discussing the coursework we then began to discuss things we are excited for and nervous about to draft up our expectations from one another moving forward.
While doing this exercise, an overall consensus when talking about things we are excited for was: food! We broke up into teams and worked to cook a very traditional South Indian plate, with many of the flavors we will come across in January. After given recipes, the house quickly became hectic as twenty-four chefs makes for quite a full kitchen! The aromas filled the house and we were all looking forward to trying the dishes. What better way to get to know your neighbor at the dining room table than making a fool out of yourself trying to eat a saucy dish with your hands for the first time; the struggles and successes caused laughter, satisfied hunger, and undoubtedly made a few messes. We all went to bed very full Saturday night!
We woke up on Sunday for breakfast and class where we wrapped up the weekend by writing our first entry in our journals, something we will surely all become accustomed to throughout our journey together. Prompted to write about what we are expecting, what we anticipate to feel, and our hopes and fears, we were given the opportunity to share our entry with a partner and respond to one another.
An excerpt from my journal entry is below:
“As prepared as we might all feel ahead of time this semester, there are many things that cannot be imagined and can only be experienced, which I will understand and be confronted with after we arrive in India… I think it is important to remember that the new experience that might make me nervous or uncomfortable is probably new to all of us and that I am not expected to necessarily know what I should be doing or how I should be feeling.”
After being surrounded by so many positive, excited individuals I was reassured that we will quickly become a tight knit group and can depend on one another in times of fear, homesickness, and anything else that might be thrown our way.
Waking up before the sunrise on a Saturday morning to sit in the middle seat of a newly made friend’s small stick shift could not have been more rewarding. January 2nd can’t come soon enough!