I honestly have no idea how to write this. Everyone wants to know how I feel about finally coming home. I usually talk about the cliché happy-sad conundrum, but honestly I am astonished at how little emotional response I have right now. It feels surreal. What it boils down to is that I really cannot grasp the fact that I won’t be in this country for much longer. Here I am, less than 24 hours from takeoff, and it still hasn’t hit me. It’s the little things that remind me: charging my American phone because I’m leaving my Indian one here; seeing my closet empty and my suitcases full; my outfit picked out, folded and ready along with my blazer, waiting for the morning. My year is over. My exchange, my time here, finished. The way exchange works is that you get excited about the program and jump right in, thinking about the year that faces you. This year, though, is a strange, arbitrary time frame in which your life changes, your morals are questioned, and your views on everything are turned upside down. Looking ahead, ‘a year’ seems like such a short time to accomplish so much, yet such a long time to be away from everything familiar. Heading into the program, ‘the end’ seems like a far-off imaginary time that you will never reach. For better or for worse (believe me, there are times of both), you are stuck on a treadmill of time and seem to make no dent in the year while you hit benchmark after cultural benchmark, and understand more and more of the people and place that surround you. Then just when you start to think this year will stretch on forever, you fall off the treadmill and start running full speed toward the door. It comes much faster than expected and soon you have made it to the door, facing the finality of your worldly, life-changing experience. ‘The end’ sounds so grand, so important – I couldn’t help but picture it as a bigger ordeal. However, my end seems like a whisper next to the roaring year I have had. I convinced myself that this moment would have some profound significance for me but in reality it was the rest of my year that holds meaning; leaving is simply the definitive end. Despite my cacophony of emotions here I am, one foot out the door.
This is the blog post I have mulled over for an entire year, wondering what I could possibly say to satisfactorily sum up a year of experiences and learning. As far as my expectations for this year, I have fallen short on some while taking on many other challenges I could not have imagined. I think this is part of the program. If I did everything according to what I planned, what kind of cultural exchange would it be? In the end, my year was turning strangers from across the globe into some of my closest friends and together learning to thrive in one of the most different cultures in the world. I’ve conquered chili peppers, Indian roads, and eating with my hands, and there’s not a challenge facing me that shakes the confidence I have developed this year. I have met a greater variety of people and broadened my mind more than I could ever have guessed. This year made me appreciate alternative ways of living in addition to a more profound awareness of my life in the United States.
As I leave here, I am extremely excited to return home to see my family and friends again, and experience all the things I have missed this year. However, a piece of me fears that I have exaggerated how great home is. Are Minnesotans as friendly as I make them out to be? Are the streets as clean and the roads as organized? Can a steak burrito from Chipotle possibly live up to the ridiculous standard to which my mind holds it? I am not sure how accurate my image of home is, and I am almost positive it will feel strange after a year of adjusting to this lifestyle. That just means that I have done something right this year. Leaving behind all that I have built in India is by far the saddest part of this moment. I am not simply leaving a city, I am leaving a home, a family, a life, and I will miss all of it more than I could ever have anticipated coming into this year. Finding differences and similarities across the globe has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and I am certainly not going to end here. Like many of my fellow exchange students, this year has developed in me a strong desire to explore the vast variety of the world and an eagerness to understand other cultures. This will last me the rest of my life, and I hope it takes me to many unique and unexpected places.
As the monsoon rains begin to fall in Pune and I complete a full cycle of seasons, I look forward to making the most of summer in Minnesota. I have purposefully packed my schedule for the next three months, and cannot wait to get to work crossing things off, hanging out with my brothers and friends, and playing an obscene amount of ultimate frisbee. I will be happily too busy to write again, and this seems like the natural end to my blog. It has been a great tool for me to process my thoughts, and I hope it has served to spread a little cultural understanding as well. Thank you to Rotary for creating this opportunity for so many people around the globe. India will forever be my home and I will always appreciate this amazing adventure.