नमस्ते Newberg Friends!
To quote from one of the many exchange student guides I’ve read these past few months, “Communication changes have completely changed the experience of going abroad.” I arrived in India only about a week ago, but even putting physical distance aside, Newberg feels very far from where I am. I don’t know yet what it will be like to have only airmail to keep in touch while away, but truth be told it’s quite strange knowing that what I’m writing will be in your inboxes on July 18. During my last few weeks in Newberg I found myself answering almost every question I received about India with some variation of, “Yes! I’m excited!” Now I’m glad to have the chance to elaborate.
The first time I traveled overseas was to India with a group from Newberg Friends. In many ways, that’s why I’m here now. I went into that trip with innumerable fears, and to this day I haven’t a clue how 10-year-old Hayley (who was scared of airplanes, crowds, elevators, and heights) managed to say yes when her dad asked if she would like to go to India. Maybe I was blissfully ignorant. Maybe it was God. Putting my reluctance toward hyper spiritualization aside, I like to bank on the latter.
Like many youth growing up in the church, I went on several missions-type trips in the following years. Some of them were in country, some of them were out of country, and each one was positive and shaping. I came to appreciate that the focus was laid on building honest relationships, trusting that everything (especially evangelism) would come from the Spirit working on its own in the relationship. The thing is, relationships take time. Five days in San Luis, seven days in inner-city Portland, and twenty days in Uganda taught me a lot, but I couldn’t build the kind of friendships I knew would be the most meaningful.
That’s where high school exchanges came into play. I knew if I wanted to get to know another culture and, more important, the people of another culture, I would have to go abroad for a longer period of time. As expected, the idea of leaving home for a year didn’t fly with my parents. (But hey, if anyone ever needs articles, books, websites, or powerpoints on why they should be allowed to study abroad, I’m your go-to person.) Their exasperated and mostly sarcastic suggestion that I find a free program led me to the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y). I’m fascinated by language, and the goal of the year-long NSLI-Y exchange is language acquisition. In my doubts about whether I would be allowed to apply, much less be accepted to the program, I never imagined that I would be sitting on my Indian host family’s couch, wearing a t-shirt with the NSLI-Y logo.
Yet here I am, and tomorrow marks the end of my first week in Indore. I already have many stories from my short time here so far (including Hindi karaoke). I’m excited to keep getting to know the people I’ve met here and becoming part of day-to-day Indian life.