Friday, June 27, 2008

Getting Oriented

Hello everyone! Sorry again for the lack of pictures. I should be figuring out a way to get my photos onto my laptop sometime soon, but it seems like just about everything in India takes significantly longer than expected, so, who knows! Anyway, while a lot has happened since my last post, I'm afraid none of it is very exciting. Classes here started on Monday, so I have been going through a long series of orientations that explain the unique ways in which the Indian Higher Learning System functions. I'm really thankful for these explanations, brief though they may be. So many of the basic methods of functioning that I took for granted in the United States simply do not apply here. Simple things like acquiring textbooks and school supplies, or figuring out my course schedule happen in a totally different manner in India.

Take textbooks for instance. In the U.S. students are given a list of books which the university bookstore generally has in stock. The student takes the list, pays an exhorbitant amount of money for these books (hey, I didn't say our system was without flaws!) and has everything they need for their classes for the semester. This is most definitely not the case in India. Instead, the professor tells the students on the first day of class what the required reading will be for the next few classes. The students then go to the school's library and check out one of the few copies of the text and either read the section immediately or else copy the pages for later. As you might imagine, this can be quite stressful near the end of the term when all of the students in a class are fighting to get some alone time with the materials. Also, these books are generally not textbooks that one could purchase if she wanted to, so the library really is the only option. And, professors reserve the right to add texts to the required list later in the semester if he or she chooses! While I recognize that this certainly cuts down on expenditures for students, part of me wishes I could just hand over my usual $400 in the school bookstore and keep my peace of mind!

Adding to this confusion is the structure of the semester. I wish I could list my daily schedule for you by saying that every Wednesday I have this class, every Thursday, this one, but that just is not possible. The problem is that, true to Indian fashion, my class schedule is a confusing web of various courses that meet at irradic times, yet still somehow synchronize to produce a harmonious blend of everything required for the semester. Let me give you an example: Today, Friday, I met with my Social Work Practice Perspectives course for 4 hours. The next time this course meets is next Saturday morning, but only for 2 hours. After that, we will not meet again until sometime in late November to early December! Looking on the bright side though, it looks like I will have plenty of time to complete my readings for that class!

Beyond school, I am also in the middle of moving into my apartment. Next week I will begin living in a small place about 15 minutes walk from campus. In total, there will be 5 or 6 of us sharing the apartment: 3 girls from Nepal, and 1 from Bangladesh. I am really excited about my new roommates. They are really sweet girls, and all speak Hindi very well, so I know that will really help me to learn the language here. However, as I am sure you can imagine, moving in India is not simple at all, so I am a little overwhelmed for the time being. I will try to write again soon, and will do my best to have pictures to go along with my musings. Until then, have a great day!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Let the Learning Begin!

It has been 5 days since I arrived in my new, South-Asian home. Classes for me start on Monday, but my education definitely began from the moment I stepped off of the plane and into Mumbai's crowded streets.

Things in India are very different from anything I am accustomed to. Having visited the African countries of Madagascar and Mauritius Island, I had some idea of the potential for cultural shock upon my arrival. Amazingly, a lot of my assumptions about what it would be like in India have been correct so far. But that does not make their reality any less shocking!

The traffic is an unreal free-for-all, with horns constantly blaring, motorcyclists cramming their way into tiny pockets of space between cars, and pedestrians tempting fate at every corner by stepping out in front of buses and leisurely walking across the street. The scenes on Mumbai roads are so intense, so overwhelming that I could not possibly begin to explain everything that is simultaneously contributing to this seemingly chaotic, yet somehow organized dance between the city's inhabitants. This is definitely something I will have to get used to!

Another thing that I came prepared for, but did not fully appreciate until I experienced it is that everything in India takes time. An example of this is that the second day I was here, the staff from the school's international student office took another student and me to the Mumbai Police Station to register as foreign nationals. The office is in south Mumbai, so this took quite a while. In addition to taking a rickshaw to the train station, the four of us had to jump on a moving train and push our way onto the crowded car, only to stand smashed between other passengers for nearly an hour. After that, we took a taxi to the station and walked up to the Foreign Registration Office. After standing in line for a few minutes, I presented my documents to the woman at the counter, and was promptly informed that my paperwork was incomplete! It seems they had recently changed the requirements for foreign registration..... So, after two hours of traveling, we had nothing to show for our efforts! Admittedly, I was a little frustrated at this. But the journey did give me a chance to see South Mumbai, which is the more "touristy" section of the city, so that was nice. At any rate, yesterday, we made the long and arduous journey back to the station. I had stayed with some friends in North Mumbai the night before, so I left for the South at around 7:30am to arrive at the Station around 10:00am. The others in my group were supposed to meet me there, but were running "a little late" and didn't come until around 11:30. From there we went through the registration process, and arrived back at school by 2:30 in the afternoon. Needless to say, I was more than ready for a nap that afternoon! At least I am finally registered, and won't have to deal with any of that again....until next year....

I want to apologize for my lack of pictures in this post. I realized a few days ago, that despite my incredibly meticulous planning and list-making, I neglected to pack my USB cord for my camera. I should be able to get a replacement fairly soon, but until I do, you are forced to suffer through a few pictureless posts. I'll make up for it later, though. I promise!

I also promise that my future posts won't be as long and detailed. So much is happening here that it is difficult to pare my stories down to a few sentences. Suffice it to say that I am sure I will never run out of things to tell you all, so you can be sure to expect plenty of frequent updates on my part!