Elizabeth Ramsey

Major: Peace, War and Defense

Hometown: Statesville, NC

Study Abroad Program: AIIS: Intensive Hindi Language-Summer

I first landed in New Delhi in the middle of a heat wave.  It was 125 degrees Fahrenheit, and several planes weren’t allowed on the landing strip because it was so hot.  Eventually though, we landed and I boarded a train to Jaipur, where I stayed for the duration of the summer.  The heat was a foreshadowing of the intensity of the ten weeks to come.  Everything in India is extreme: the vast stretches of slums constructed out of tarps and cardboard; the elaborate temples strewn about, blasting beautiful music through the streets; the shopkeepers approaching on all sides peddling scarves or shoes, the vibrantly colored saris; the incessant honking on the street—it all melts together into a giant, enthralling and simultaneously exhausting experience.  Though I’ve had a great deal of experience abroad, nothing could have prepared me for what awaited me in India.

The first night I spent at my host parents’ house, I was far more than intimidated.  I understood very little of what they said to me, they had an Indian style toilet and a bucket to bathe in, and I was terribly tired from the heat and the flight over.  I got some sleep, and the next day things seemed much, much brighter.  My host family was, like so many Indian families, incredibly friendly and caring.  We sat around a number of nights conversing about family and friends, looking at pictures and, as my Hindi improved, telling stories.  I actually started to like the Indian toilet (it’s much more sanitary), as well as the bucket baths.  I enjoyed washing my own clothes by hand, probably because of the novelty of it, but now I will never take for granted the ability to throw my clothes into a washing machine.  I also now appreciate the ability to drink water from the faucet, the ease with which I can adjust the thermostat in my apartment, and all of the other little things that are part of our every day life in the West.

Our classes at school were remarkably well-structured, and my Hindi improved immensely, though not without a lot of effort.  I studied a good deal of the time and practiced my Hindi a lot whenever the opportunity presented itself, namely in stores, restaurants, and rickshaws.  I found that people were genuinely both impressed and flattered that my friends in the program and I actually spoke (at least a bit of) Hindi.  I found that they really appreciated the efforts we were making to learn about their language and culture, and while some appreciated only the opportunity to raise prices because we were foreigners, most gave us fair prices and tried to hold a variety of conversations with us because they were so fascinated by the very fact that we weren’t merely tourists stumbling from monument to monument.

However, being the Westerners that we are, a number of us did that from time to time as well.  We were given a long weekend during the middle of our program, so two of my friends and I took advantage of the chance to travel.  We went to Agra and Udaipur to go sightseeing, which was both amazing and exhausting, because, not only was I sick for the majority of the trip, we spent a good deal of time explaining to people in Hindi why we were wearing Indian clothes, where we were from, and why we were learning Hindi in the first place.  After explaining myself for the twentieth time in one day, I really began to miss Jaipur, and realized how comfortable I’d become in my daily routine.  I began to see just how much I had taken for granted that people in my neighborhood recognized the group of us as Hindi students, and that in our host families, clean food and water was readily available.

After we got back from seeing the Taj Mahal, Akbar’s tomb and Fatehpur Sikri, I was completely drained.  We had four more weeks of class, and the workload increased tenfold.  I spent the majority of the rest of the trip either conversing in Hindi with my few Indian friends or with my nose in my dictionary.  However, at the end of it all, when people began commenting on how impressive my Hindi was, it all seemed worth it.  The experience, though it was by all accounts very tiring, was absolutely amazing.