It’s been almost one week since I arrived at MUWCI and so much has happened that I don’t even know where to start! It feels like I’ve been here for a long time but it also still feels very unfamiliar. There are so many people around me and I’m making lots of new friends, but I still feel alone sometimes. This week has been full of ups and downs and craziness as I’m learning how to cope in a completely new environment.
The trip to get here was exhausting, lonely and long – it took 36 hours total between my house in Peterborough to MUWCI. That includes two 8-hour flights, a 5-hour wait in the Mumbai airport and a 6-hour bus ride from Mumbai to here. My very first glimpse of India was of a massive slum in the middle of the night. My heart was pounding so fast as I got off the plane, went through customs, collected my luggage and went outside. At first I couldn’t find the person holding up the little UWC sign and I got a little nervous, but eventually I found him and joined my co-year from Greece who had already flown in. We then waited another 5 hours for about 15 more MUWCI students to arrive before loading everything onto the roofs of a bus and a few jeeps at 5 AM, climbing inside, and driving through the monsoon to MUWCI. Most of us had missed a lot of sleep through all the travelling (I missed two full nights), so we spent most of the drive in silence, looking out the window at the world which is about to become our home for the next 2 years.
Overwhelming would be how I would describe the first few days. 240 new faces and names to remember. Trying to learn where things are on campus. Adjusting to hearing new accents and languages. Adjusting to the food and the schedule. Filling out forms. Getting to know my roommates. Trying to do all this when you haven’t slept in 2 days straight. However, I felt really welcomed when I got to my room, because all the Canadian 2nd years had left me nice notes and candy, and my roommates were all super warm and kind. I live with Kaviya from Chennai, Vishilaakshi from Delhi, Sana from Iran, and Umaymah from Bangladesh.
Orientation week is completely organized by the 2nd year students and included a lot of group conversations about how to live responsibly within this kind of community, what values we want to uphold, taking language and math placement tests, some fun social bonding activities, introductions to Indian culture and languages, group artistic activities to get us thinking about privilege and power, some course selection, a lip sync battle and much more! We have been extremely busy, but I think that that’s kind of a theme for everyone here.
So far, my favourite activity I’ve done has been ultimate frisbee. It’s super popular here and there’s something so special to be able to play this sport, barefoot, completely covered in mud and laugh about it with people who come from all over the world. I’m really looking forward to more ultimate, because I’ve heard the team goes to tournaments in Pune and Mumbai, and that they even did a project week last year where they went to a slum in Chennai to teach kids how to play ultimate. I think that is wayyy too cool.
On Wednesday, we went off-campus for the first time and into Paud, the nearby village. I LOVED it. Each group was given an envelope with a certain amount of rupees and we had to feed everyone with the money we had. My group had 70 rupees ($1.30 CAD) for 7 people, so we were able to afford a little street food snack each. Some groups had to share a few bananas. Other groups got 3 course meals and still had money left over, so bought a bunch of snacks to bring back to college with them. The next day, the 2nd years ran a follow-up activity that showed the extent of inequality in India and all of the factors that come into play, like religion, caste, sexuality and wealth.
Yesterday, we all went into Pune, which is the closest city (2 hours away). Pune has 4 million inhabitants, so it’s the same size as Toronto, but it’s the 9th biggest city in India. My group spent the morning exploring the old part of the city, and I felt completely exhilarated the whole time. It’s so so loud because cars are constantly honking. Every time I crossed the street I felt like I was going to die because there are no traffic rules so you just have to run across and hope for the best. I tried some street food which was AMAZING, took a rickshaw, go caught by the police for having too many people in the rickshaw, and tried to communicate with people in Marathi and Hindi. Pune was everything I had imagined an Indian city would be like. WOW what a day!
I’m adjusting pretty well to life on campus. It is always foggy and rainy here, it’s muddy everywhere, the food is way too yummy, people are really friendly and I get the feeling that I’m gonna like it here. It definitely doesn’t feel like home yet, but it will in time. I’ve spent many evenings in friends’ rooms talking about what life is like in their parts of the world and conversations are just so interesting that I usually don’t get to bed until 1 AM!
Today, is Sunday which is the “chill day”, so I had some free time which is soooo nice. I slept until 10, went to the workout room for the first time with my roommate Kaviya, and it felt really good to get some exercise for the first time in a while. Then we have mud games, dinner, then I’m having a pancake party with the other Canadians here after dinner. Tomorrow, we start our classes. It might feel like a bit of a shock to start school when all my friends back home are still on break, but I’m looking forward to a lot of the classes I chose, like theatre, global politics, and Spanish!
I am in such a beautiful place right now. Rural India is such a special place. I live at the top of a hill, and from my room I have a view of a gorgeous valley and the hills on the other side. I am really hyped for when the monsoons calm down and they let us go hiking on the hills beside us! I think I am gonna want to hike very day!!
Until next time, lots of love from a very monsoon-drenched Kaia 🙂