Monday, June 8, 2009

Time keeps on spinning, spinning...

Traveling isn't the same as it was in college. Studying abroad was the ultimate deal- a complete, balanced package of "exotic culture and adventure." Everything was planned in advance by the trip leader. Myself and the other students were relieved of the tedious formalities, such as paying visit to the immigration office and securing reliable transport. In hindsight, I realize how much I took for granted such luxuries. Suppose the expense of those study abroad programs alleviated "third-world burden" and enhanced Western convenience...
During my semesters abroad, I saw the best of the best. Hand-picked from a culturally diverse platter of sights and sounds. Historical sights one day, art museums the next. Free time was spent figuring out whether to visit the Great Wall or a local music performance. Indeed, as with most middle-upper class liberal arts programs, the choices were plenty.
It's been over a year now since I graduated and I'm finding myself in a much different state. My perspectives constantly changing- morphing into ideas that reflect my current context. I've been abroad since graduating, beginning in China, revisiting Indonesia and for the past five months, living in India. I find that people are often willing to give me feedback about where they think I'm at in my life. Everyone seems to have an opinion one way or another, and without hesitation, will offer advice as though they're doing me a service. Unsolicited, complimentary fortune-telling. Some say they're envious, others think I'm crazy.
I can't say my own opinions reflect any of those comments in their entirety, although I do feel that such external feedback challenges me to re-identify my purpose abroad.
Why live outside of one's home country?
Is my work benefiting the communities I come into contact with?
Are the relationships I form with people in such short periods of time meant to last?
These are some of the questions I'm asking myself now, as I have less than two weeks remaining in India.Having initially planned on returning in April, I've found myself clutching tight to my love affair with India. 5 1/2 months later, the countdown towards illegality has approached. My visa expires June 21st- just this afternoon, I booked a flight to Bangkok, Thailand for that very day.
I will get more into the details for my purpose in Thailand (I'll be working..), but I feel compelled to say this year hasn't been without its challenges. In college, I felt as though my freedom was infinite. The sights abroad were meant to be explored, photographed, and abandoned. I returned home after being abroad- adorned in ethnic jewelry, I shared awesome stories with fellow "enlightened" friends and made jokes about bizarre cultural traditions.
However, I no longer feel like I have a right to any of these things. I now feel like I'm playing the role of a guest, curious to learn more from her mysterious (if at times, inhospitable) host, but hesitant to overstay her welcome. I've realized that by living abroad, especially in a country like India, I'm forced to take the good with the bad. It's taught me more responsibility, in that I no longer have a teacher or parent to deal with humiliating bureaucracy and excessive paperwork.
At times, it's difficult for me to reconcile the two worlds. The picture perfect moments of cows moving alongside the cars on the contrast with a reality that just means you'll likely be late to work due to slow traffic.
These paradoxes are what drive me absolutely mad...but they're also what keep me coming back from more.

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