After deciding to go to school across the country and overcoming bouts of homesickness my freshman year, I never thought I would be nervous to travel again. Though it would only be three weeks, I woke up the morning of my nine-hour flight to Frankfort and eight-hour connection to New Delhi, with a distinct flutter in my stomach. Despite the Skype calls and orientation meetings held in preparation, my understanding of the city and my relationships with the other student-athletes that I would be spending all my time with, was still very limited. Excited but undoubtedly nervous, I had no idea what the next three weeks had in store for me.
Looking back on how I had felt in the days leading up to the trip, there are a few things I would want to tell any future ACE India members to help prepare and ease hesitations they might have:
1. Come ready to handle the heat by building up a spice tolerance will allow you to fully appreciate the cuisine. My family is full of hot sauce fanatics, so I luckily had the pleasure of trying and enjoying many different spiced dishes during our time in India. With that being said, even the slightest heat caused trouble for some and prevented them from tasting a few dishes that were really delicious!
2. When you find yourself halfway around the world, any sort of commonality can open the door to intimate conversations and really bring people together. Typically, I find myself to be more reserved when surrounded by new people; however, in this setting, that was certainly not the case. It was amazing how fast we all became comfortable with one another. Also, in the twenty-one days that we were together, I can recall so many instances when the air was occupied with such genuine laughter. By the end of the program, I knew a great deal not only about most of the other student-athletes on our program, but about their teams, hometowns, and families as well.
Before participating in ACE, I had never heard of most of the events in a heptathlon, I had no idea swimming had so many nuanced terms and rules, and the thought of diving from anything higher than three meters would make me run in the other direction. While the last one still rings true, after spending so much time discussing each of our sports –from the rules, to positions, to events, to technique – I now have a newfound respect and amazement for each of my ACE teammates and their respective sports.
3. Ignorance is what fixates your frame of mind. As I mentioned, going into this program, I had very little understanding of the languages, religion, and culture I was about to step into. Because of this, I was left both extremely intrigued and somewhat confused by the drastic contrasts between Western and traditional Hindu ways. For example, it wasn’t until about a week and half in when Abid, our on-site program leader, touched on the importance of reincarnation which allowed me to better appreciate why the Hindu caste system so fervently transcends other modern social structures.
Since the law of karma is believed to dictate reincarnation, people are born into their caste on the basis of how they followed that law in their past life. With this revelation, I learned that if you want to truly understand and empathize with someone else’s perspective, you have to read, research, and most importantly talk to people and ASK questions. I am so grateful to have had Abid and our incredible translator, Rajashree, with us for all of their stories and history lessons that put everything we read and saw into context.
4. Reflection is so important and powerful. When it came time to sit down and write a final blog post, I couldn’t seem to slow down or organize the frenzy of mini memory reels that keep competing for attention. There are repeated flashes of daily commutes on the wonderfully air-conditioned Delhi metro, long hilarious rides with our favorite taxi driver, and early morning shouts of “sabjiyaan” – Hindi for vegetables – from the local produce vendors. These observations are also mixed with images of incredible ancient architecture, beaming smiles from one of the children I was assisting in the Action for Autism occupational therapy rooms, dozens of hands pouring spoonfuls of rich butter chicken and garlic naan onto their plates, and vats of Marigolds lined up one after another.
Some of these are captured on my phone, but most would be just fleeting memories if it were not for my journal entries. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, there some words and some moments that can’t be construed from a single still.
These memories are meant to be dissected. These are the moments that may have taken place over a mere fraction of a second but that still stick for one reason or another. I am so happy for the routine group reflections and personal reflections that we completed during our time with ACE; these taught me how to find these moments and figure out their importance. I know that these ruminations will be integral in shaping my path moving forward.