Where is My Space?

I no longer feel the everyday high. Ups and downs are constant. One day I feel ecstatic being in the back of an auto-rickshaw, sticking my head out looking at the city traffic. The next day, I am frustrated with the constant noise and air pollution that I cannot seem to escape from. Although I am taking a Tamil language class, I still struggle to communicate with locals. Regardless of how many times I repeat my statement or question in Tamil, the locals do not understand my American accent. Everyday, auto-drivers charge me twice or triple the actual fare. I have been in India for a month and a half now but everyday I face a challenge.

 

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The view of the morning traffic from an auto rickshaw. There are no lanes or traffic laws that anyone abides by; therefore, traffic is very scary.

 

Here in India, nothing is within my control. I’m required to go to the SITA (South India Term Abroad) Center everyday for class. At the SITA Center, I’m always on. I’m constantly interacting with the other students, making lunch plans, or engaging in conversation with professors. As an introvert, this is the biggest challenge I face everyday. Sometimes I simply want to eat lunch alone or escape the “American bubble” that we seem to create wherever we go. When I return home after a long day at school, I still have to be on. In no way am I required or forced to interact with my host family, but I pressure myself to be engaged with my host mother and host grandparents. Although my homestay house is my designated space for the next semester, it’s not really my space. If it were my space I would walk around wearing shorts and a tank top, eat whenever and whatever I felt like eating, and probably shut all the doors and windows so that mosquitoes don’t get into the house. Instead, I always wear a long skirt or pants with a t-shirt that covers my butt. I always eat at 7:30 PM (which is considered an early time to eat dinner, by Indian standards) when my host family decides to eat dinner. And I always sit in the living room, armed with my mosquito bat, hesitant to close the front door and window because I know my host mother finds the outside air to be cooling. At the end of the day I look forward to the moment I go upstairs to my room and sprawl myself out on the floor, looking up at the ceiling with a burnt out brain.

 

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Locals casually burn trash wherever they can find space. I cannot walk past a pile of burning trash without covering my entire face with my handkerchief.

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That split second when you almost get hit by a bus. (Buses don’t stop for anyone. I learned it the hard way.)

 

My time in India has been an interesting one. I have been forced to step out of my comfort zone. Maybe I’ll never find my comfort zone in India. I have yet to find or create a space that is completely mine. I may not sound chipper in this blog post but I’ve learned a lot from my frustrating, stressful, uncontrollable experiences. I have a greater appreciation for personal space. I will never take for granted a routinely Bowdoin breakfast where I sit by myself, read the newspaper, and eat in peace. Here in Madurai, nothing is mine. My status of being a “study abroad student living in a foreign host country” automatically makes me an outsider. I’ve acknowledged that I will never be an insider in the country of India or even in the city of Madurai. I don’t look the part, I don’t speak the language. It is challenging to make a country and a city my home when I clearly do not fit in. Maybe this is the subtle purpose of study abroad: students need to experience being an outsider constantly in search for a place they can call their own.

1 Comment

Filed under Michelle in India, South & Central Asia

One response to “Where is My Space?

  1. Jordan in Scotland

    I am an introvert and I would not survive long in the circumstances you describe. The hard part of being a human in human society is learning how to assert your boundaries without alienating others. It’s a balancing act. Over time I’ve gone from giving everybody all of myself to the exclusion of my own needs, to preserving my own sanity more at the exception of everyone else. It’s tough. You don’t want to invite disapproval but you also are the only one who knows what you require for your own mental health and you really shouldn’t sacrifice it at the alter of society if you can help it.

    When I first arrived at my host city I was similarly overwhelmed. It’s actually a small Scottish town but an entire university population, and their parents besides, were crammed into it. All the vendors were on the street trying to solicit business, the school had all kinds of activities going on, the narrow sidewalks were poor insulation from the fast, noisy cars, and I had no privacy in the Halls either. I’ve learned what I can and can’t handle, though. I changed my housing situation and found a walking path that circumvented most of the traffic. I found a garden where I could get away from the crowds. I isolated myself in my room long enough to recenter.

    Your situation is different and sounds more challenging, given that you’re already invested. But I hope that you learn not to feel bad about setting boundaries for yourself when you can, and that you can find ways to do so while you are there before you completely implode. Introverts are more sensitive to stimulation. It’s not something other people can see or know.

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