I catch myself saying it all the time and it’s starting to get annoying. Sometimes I say it when the professor is ten minutes late for class. Sometimes it’s when I’m eating something new for breakfast. Sometimes it’s when I’m asked to hitch hike on campus. And sometimes I just say it:
“at my old school…”
Yes, just like Phoebe from The Magic School Bus, I can’t help but compare every little detail of living in Hyderabad to living on Hope’s campus.
At first I was a little self-conscious about my new catchphrase. I always thought Phoebe’s character was annoying; we get it, no two schools are alike. It seems counter-intuitive to travel somewhere new just to talk about the way things are back home. But now I completely understand the need to constantly reference “normal”. Every time I compare here to home I feel like I have a sense of direction and that makes navigating this new culture so, so, so much easier.
Despite what you might think, Hyderabad and Holland are not completely opposite and discovering their similarities helps me understand Indian culture just as much as discovering their differences. For example, both Hope and UoH are dry campuses with fairly active student bodies that host a lot of events outside of the party scene. Some of my fellow international students are surprised by this, but for me it is just like home. In this aspect, the only real difference I’ve noticed is that Hyderabad has more off-campus opportunities than Holland, so people don’t always hold their activities on campus.
I need both bits of information—the similarities and the differences—to get a clear picture of the culture and how I can engage with it. How else would I learn about Indian culture? More importantly, how else could I break away from my All-American perspective? I decided to study abroad because I wanted to see how other people live and think. Without comparing and contrasting, I wouldn’t be able to do that. Maybe I constantly sound like a Magic School Bus rerun, but so what? I’m doing the exact thing I came here to do and I am loving it.