Cayley Pater

Major: Linguistics and Religious Studies

Hometown: Chapel Hill, NC

Study Abroad Program: AIIS: Intensive Hindi Language - Summer


My experience in India through Hindi language learning

After looking over my blackboard entries from the ten weeks I spent in India, I am reminded of the numerous emotional and physical peaks and valleys I experienced this summer.  I know that when I hear others’ recollections of their experiences abroad, it can sometimes be easy to glorify the journey in hindsight.  Since I’ve been back in the US, I’ve been asked over and over again, “So, how was India this summer?”  In an effort to make my response as informative and short as possible, I’ve found that I can’t really consolidate my story very well.  This task of summarizing the ten weeks is much harder than it may seem because I want to communicate the good and the bad all at once.  I think that my attempts to do so have actually proven to me the actual impossibility of this endeavor.  Sometimes I give a more idealistic picture of my experience, and other times it sounds much bleaker.  These different slants on my flashbacks probably depend a lot on my mood or energy level at the time that I need to come up with these two or three-sentence summaries.

I know that during this Hindi language program, I was forced to make several rather daunting adjustments as fast as I could.  First of all, it is scorching hot in Rajasthan during the summer time.  Before I left at the beginning of June, I had been warned about the heat, although I didn’t really realize just what kind of heat people were talking about.  Then I learned why the summer is actually the off-season for tourism in the northern part of the country.  Physically adapting to the climate change was the first of many challenges I faced in India.

One common theme I notice throughout my blackboard entries is that studying Hindi while in India completely shaped my experience.  I think that my understanding of the culture and my relationships with the local community would have suffered without my knowledge of Hindi.  I felt that showing the effort to learn people’s language (and Hindi is one of the many) overall brought me much closer to the Jaipuri community on a day-to-day basis. 

As this was my first time traveling to India, I was naïve in many ways.  I had studied Hindi at UNC for two semesters and had taken a few classes on religion that covered Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam; so I had some idea of the complex diversity that exists there.  Even with this knowledge, I was overwhelmed with a new kind of society.  One huge difference was the ratio of men to women on the street.  I would estimate that in my host family’s neighborhood, it was about 7:3.  As a white woman, this on characteristic of street life plays a huge role in my everyday experience.  Walking to class each morning, I was constantly aware of not only my race, but my gender.  I had to learn quickly how to act and potentially defend myself as a independent American woman.

I did eventually develop a routine; walking from my homestay to school each morning, going to the Old City with other students to walk around and go shopping; seeing Bollywood movies with my host sister and other students on the weekends.  Eventually, flagging down a rickshaw and bargaining to get a fair price, which was once a pretty difficult and stressful task, became relatively easy.  At the same time, each of these outings meant that I was faced with all sorts of little unpredictable challenges, even if it was the tenth time I had gone to a coffee shop to study.  With learning big and small lessons each day, Jaipur slowly became familiar and my home life became more comfortable with time. 

My journey began on June 9th when we arrived in Delhi for the first of several orientations in our AIIS program.  I was pretty tired yet eager to find out about the Hindi language-program that I was about to start.  On August 19th, I left Delhi after saying goodbye to my new friends in Jaipur.  The trip was pretty exhausting, but full of unexpected and eye-opening adventures.  In my program specifically, I met several driven, smart, passionate American students who were learning Hindi for a variety of reasons.  Many of the students were, to my surprise, graduate students who were specializing in areas such as South Asian Art or South Asian Religious Studies.  Learning about these students’ various interests in South Asia provided examples of pursuing my own future in graduate studies.  As I was a few years younger than the average student in this language program, I think that hearing about these other students’ experiences in India and other countries abroad provided great insight. 

Obviously, this attempt to consolidate my experience of ten weeks in India is a difficult task, even if I have two and half pages to do so.  I hope that these examples of the “highs and lows” of my time in Jaipur provides some perspective on my growth as an individual from this incredible opportunity, as I now know part of India.