Vanakkam

We’re only a sixth of the way into our studies, and we’ve already hit the ground running. So let me catch you up:
Tamil Language Lesson #1: Vanakkam → “Hello”
Cultural Lesson #1: Indian Head Shake→ “Ok” “Yes” and/or general affirmation
Now that we’ve established these two highly important norms, we can begin.

Today is currently the fifth day of UF in India. And let me just say how happy I am that one of the assignments for our courses is keeping a journal, because boy there sure has been a lot happening.

For instance, yesterday we had the privilege to meet and interact with two NGOs surrounding Chennai-SOS Village and FORWORD. SOS Village works to provide a safe community for orphaned children, while FORWORD is rural women’s empowerment group. To accomplish our two visits, two presentations, and four discussion sections (conducted on a moving bus might I add), we left our hotel at 8am, and didn’t return until 13 hours later, when we had sufficiently also met with executive directors, taken tours, and met the community inside these NGOs.

The day before, we had the opportunity to visit two NGO operated schools, Sethu Bhaskara & Sevalaya. We had the chance to interact with the classrooms at Sethu Bhaskara for culture exchange, and were given a campus walkabout at Sevalaya to see their multitude of projects (Elderly Care, Organic Farming, Community Medical Center) up close and personal. The best thing about this was our royal welcome to Sethu Bhaskara, where we were greeted by 8,000 students. No I’m not over-exaggerating. Every. Single. Student. Came. To. Greet. Us. No wonder this tour was on 7/7/17-it was one of the most extraordinary days I’ve experienced, and the only welcome I’ve had or will have akin to a welcome fit for Princess Diana in my life.
The day before that, we had all-day lectures taught by Dr. Kumaran, and the day before THAT (which if you’ve been keeping up was Day 1 of UF in India) we had an all-day tour of Chennai. So as you can see (or read, really), it’s been a non-stop adventure already.

In seriousness however, there is no doubt in my mind that every five minutes we spend here provides abundant cultural insights for our group. Thus far, we’ve come to learn and experience India’s beauty standards, gender norms, traffic standards, and eating habits. Granted that many of us are waiting in anticipation for the day we visit Eatopia so we can have tacos and pizza; but that is another story. To put it holistically, these first five days in India are bringing waves of romanticism for our new country, with abundant color, smiling kids, and jasmine garlands constantly adorning our necks; and waves of nostalgia for creature comforts, such as western food and road rules (although I’d like to note our respect for our bus driver that seamlessly manages Chennai traffic). But that is the beauty-finding the balance.

Thus tonight I sign off to go and relax before our next big adventure tomorrow. So I leave my final parting words as this:

Look out Tamil Nadu-UF in India is here and we’re just getting started.

UF in India students playing soccer with the children of the SOS village during our NGO field visit on Saturday

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