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Struggling is something to which no human is immune. For seven days now I have experienced India — the culture, the language, the food, and the people — and with that experience I have struggled. I recognize that struggle may seem an interesting word to describe such a wonderful program and experience I have available to me but if I’m being completely honest, there is struggle. I chose to illustrate my first week with the word struggle due to the words that are born out of struggle — determination and success.

At Vidya, the school within which my volunteering takes place, the children had been preparing all week long for an annual prize ceremony where students are awarded certificates based on merit and character. During the practice run of the ceremony, the Head Girl of the school practiced her speech. I listened, dumbfounded, as she outlined all of the feelings perfectly which had been swirling in my head, ones that I had been unable to concretely form or describe. There I was, sitting on the floor of the school, amidst my fourth graders, captivated by the eloquence of this young girl. She described her battle with the relationship of results and change, how focusing on the end results had lead her astray and that focusing on the actual process of change brought about a greater sense of clarity. I took her message to heart.

“The language barrier, in its peculiarity, has the potential to be both a dividing factor as well as a uniting factor. The determination in both myself and the students at Vidya unites us amidst the frustration and struggle.”

On the car ride home, I mulled over her words again and again. The faces of the people on the street blurred, and even the persistent car honking and terrifying traffic did not phase me. I had been resisting the inevitable struggles that come along with engaging in a new place, a new culture – resistant to the all too real phenomenon of culture shock. Sitting in the car I recalled a moment from school where I grappled to explain an English grammar concept to a student. I knew too little Hindi and he knew too little English for my explanation to be conveyed. I looked at him, my green eyes in his big brown eyes and what I had missed seeing before that I now recognized was a spark of determination between us. The language barrier, in its peculiarity, has the potential to be both a dividing factor as well as a uniting factor. The determination in both myself and the students at Vidya unites us amidst the frustration and struggle.

Struggle has the power to truly make or break a team. Team members are challenged through hard workouts, tough games and races, as well as the results, victory and defeat, to establish their character as a person and competitor. After so many years of being on teams I should have been prepared to welcome struggle once again into my life. I have been knocked down in my sport, literally and figuratively, mentally and physically, and I always make the choice to get back up because through struggle we have the opportunity to create ourselves – invest in who we want to be. I will be the first to admit teaching is an entirely new battle with which I am not familiar. But I am no longer competing for myself; my determination, drive, and resolve is geared towards the success of others, lifting others out of their struggles and encouraging them to get back up. I do believe the girl’s speech was profoundly apt to fall onto my ears. The trials and tribulations we face in order to achieve our desired end result is the aspect of life that is necessary. Struggle should be welcomed as an opportunity, not feared as a foe.

This is the mantra I will take with me headed into my next two weeks in India. Struggles will always be present; it is what we do in the face of adversity that defines us.

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