This is the New Normal!?

Friday night, as I hung out with some friends in a courtyard just like an average Friday night, I realized that my idea of normal has changed drastically. I was with friends from New Zealand, the US, Costa Rica, India and Portugal, and we were playing bananagrams until late into the night while eating “hide & seeks”, which are my favourite Indian cookies. If you don’t know what bananagrams is, it’s sort of like scrabble where you have to make a crossword using letter tiles as fast as you can and it gets very competitive and intense. But to make it fair, we played in our native languages – Jenna, Talia and I in English, Sebas in Spanish, Pipa in Portuguese, Ishaana and Shalabha in Hindi!

Then, Jenna played a song from the musical Hamilton, and 4 of us broke out in song and rapped through most of the first act, all from memory. This made me feel so close to home, cause that’s exactly how I spent most of my lunch hours with my friends throughout grade 11. Singing showtunes and making references to broadway musicals on the auditorium stage in the dark. The world is a small place.

Finally, Ishaana asked me to play the uke for them, so I taught them “Down by the bay”, which is a camp classic that I’ve been singing around campfires my whole life. It was such a wholesome night that made me feel so at home with the people here at muwci, even though we come from opposite sides of the world and have different languages and cultures. Without thinking about it, it seemed like a very normal, wholesome, fun Friday night. But that was way cooler than normal. I’m so amazed that that has become the new normal. Life is pretty cool here. It moves at a quick pace with schoolwork and activities and responsibilities and socializing, but it’s moments like these that remind why I came here in the first place.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone back home! Rest assured that I am busy, happy and very thankful over here on the hill in rural Maharashtra!

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UWC Applications for Canadian Students are Open

ATTENTION CHANGE-MAKING GRADE 10 & 11 CANADIAN STUDENTS!!

If you think you might like finishing high school among a bunch of friends from around the world at one of 17 super cool UWC campuses, then it’s time to do what I did one year ago and apply to UWC! Applications are open to grade 11 and 10 students who will be 16 years old by Sept 1st, 2019. Although it may seem super competitive to get in, don’t be discouraged from applying! When I applied, I thought it was a total long shot, but it paid off! You never know what can happen!

The UWC (United World Colleges) movement offers a completely unique and incredible opportunity: study the International Baccalaureate program in a small-community setting made up of people from every corner of the world who share a desire to promote peace and a sustainable future. There are a lot of scholarships available to successful applicants to ensure that the most deserving students get to go, regardless of economic background.

The Canadian National Committee is accepting applications until November 15th. Click here to apply!

Please share this information widely with anyone you think may be interested! Get in touch with me if you have any questions! Happy applying!!

 

PS – Jake, this is directed at YOUUUU 🙂

 

Tikona Magic

I spent a night last weekend at the top of a mountain in a 700-year-old stone fort called Tikona. It was built bit-by-bit by multiple dynasties, and used to supervise all the comings and goings of armies through these valleys over the centuries. Eating dinner in a cave in the fort with people from around the world singing songs together… one of the highlights of MUWCI so far.

Ultimate Weekend in Pune

You can probably imagine that I was pretty excited when I found out that there’s an ultimate frisbee team at MUWCI. I played ultimate all through high school and I love it, so I was pretty thrilled when my second year Jess told me that she coordinates the team here. The first practice was held literally hours after I arrived here last month in the pouring rain and mud! Some other people have played before back home but many had never heard of the sport until they got here.

The team is called the “MK Highlanders” – meaning the Mulshi-Kolvan Highlanders. The team is not only made up of MUWCI students (we live on a hill, hence Highlanders), but also local teenagers who live in the 2 valleys on either side of us, the Mulshi and Kolvan.

This past weekend, we, the MK Highlanders, brought 2 teams to an Ultimate tournament in Pune. Saturday morning, we left MUWCI at 4:30AM on a bus, drove around the valleys to pick up all the valley players in their villages, then made our way to Pune through the sunrise. We played on some fields at an engineering college that seemed to be on the outskirts of the city. there were 9 teams total – coming from Pune, Mumbai and even as far as Goa (they flew in for the weekend)!

It was SO FUN! We got crushed in every game but everyone was super spirited and positive and we had a great time together. It was really nice to get to know the players from the valleys because sometimes at MUWCI it’s easy to get comfortable in our little bubble and not get to know people from outside. Even though there was a language barrier and it was difficult to communicate, I really felt like we were able to bond, and I’m excited to see them at practice this afternoon!

Those of you who play ultimate know that the “spirit of the game” is a crucial aspect of it, and the Indian ultimate community is all about the spirit. At the end of each game, we did a “spirit circle” where we all sat in a circle with the other team, talked about the game and gave each other feedback, awarded Most Valuable Player and Most Spirited Player awards, and played games.

We were all expectig it to be pouring rain and cold because it has been monsoon for the past month, but apparently monsoons decided to end last weekend because it was SUPER sunny and blazing hot the entire weekend! We all brought rain jackets and extra socks and clothes, but none of us brought sunscreen cause it had been raining for one month straight and we kind of forgot that the sun existed. Well, we aren’t making that mistake again! The burn lines, blisters, and peeling foreheads are quite a sight!

Similarities to Ultimate tournaments back home:

  • some teams have really funky team jerseys
  • it’s all about the spirit games
  • All of the strategy and game plays are identical to the ones I know from home
  • embarrassing tan lines in general

Differences:

  • About half of the players wear cleats, and half play barefoot
  • there were no bathrooms so we had to pee in the bushes
  • the food we bought in the cafeteria at the college we played at was SPICYYYYY – I think I sweat more eating my lunch than I did playing in the hot sun!

Looking forward to the next 2 years of playing with the MK Highlanders and playing ultimate in this area!

Hospitable Hadashi Homestay

MUWCI is in rural Maharashtra, but in my opinion, we aren’t really in rural Maharashtra when we’re on the hill – we’re in a MUWCI bubble. We have WiFi, drinkable running water, electricity almost all the time, people cook delicious food for us, we each have our own bed and desk, and facilities like common rooms, ping-pong, foosball, a swimming pool, and a workout room. We have educational facilities like science labs and a library. On campus, girls are given just as many opportunities as everyone else, we have access to a high quality of education and we have a wide variety of extracurricular opportunities to enrich our learning. These may not seem like a big deal coming from a privileged background in Canada, but in the Mulshi and Kolvan valleys surrounding us, people do not have anything close to these kinds of amenities and opportunities. Life in rural Maharashtra, for the most part, is not cushy.

So, as you can imagine, getting out of the MUWCI bubble and experiencing what life is really like in the surrounding communities is crucial for a lot of reasons. Firstly, it makes us realize how lucky we really are on campus. Secondly, it gives us more context of where we are and how we fit into this story. And finally, it forces us out of our comfort zone, which is what UWC is all about.

Last weekend, all 119 first year students spent 24 hours in a village and stayed with a family. We each went in groups of 2 to a home, and basically we were told to put aside any stereotypes we had of rural India, and build our own story of this place and these people’s lives by living and trying to communicate with them. My partner was my friend Reva from Delhi, and we were sent to stay with a woman named Kalabai Sathe in Hadashi village, which is a 30 minute drive away in the Kolvan valley.

Kalabai is an older woman who lives with her husband in a tiny remote village. She has kids, but they are all grown up and have moved to Pune to find work. Her house had 4 rooms – a front room with a TV, a small bed and 2 couch/chairs, another room with not a lot in it, a kitchen with A TON of metal plates, cups, pans, etc, and a little bathroom (she also had a bathroom in the cow shed which she wanted us to use more). I think she was the only person in the village with a TV (it was extremely blurry) so lots of kids would come conglomerate in her home to watch it. Her floors were very shiny and nice.

Reva my partner speaks Hindi, but communication was not that simple. The older generation in the village (Kalabai and her friends) spoke very little Hindi (the local language here is Marathi), but the kids speak it cause they learn Hindi in schools. So Reva could communicate with the young people we met. For me and Kalabai to communicate verbally, she would speak in Marathi to the kids, who would translate it into Hindi for Reva, who would translate it into English for me. Kalabai spoke a tiny bit of Hindi, so she understood when I said “dhanyavad” and “acha”! Mostly, I just communicated through smiling, the “ok” hand gesture, and nodding my head from side to side. It worked out just fine!

The camp counsellor in me was so happy to find lots of kids in the village that I could play games with, and I was really glad I brought my frisbee with me cause we had so much fun together! We threw around my frisbee on Kalabai’s front porch as it poured rain around us, and I got the kids too teach me how to count to 10 in Hindi. Ek, do, teen, chaar, paanch, che, saat, aath, no, das! They taught me how to swing a cricket bat and were amazed that we don’t play cricket in Canada and that we don’t even show professional cricket on TV! I also couldn’t help myself from teaching them camp games like “stella ella ola” and “pass the weasel” and changing some lyrics into Hindi with Reva’s help.

Another highlight for me was cooking with Kalabai on Sunday morning. In this part of the world, it’s chapati, bhaji, rice, dal and sometimes curd for every meal, 2 meals a day. The first chapati I made was not round enough so she made me restart, but then I made a really good one that was up to her standards, and Reva said she called me “smart” in her very limited Hindi. I felt so accomplished in that moment! Her little approving smile and sideways head nod gave me so much pride. The food tasted so incredible – much better than the food they make on campus! We ate on the floor and used the chapati to pick up the bhaji and dal rice. I wasn’t very good at this at first, and Kalabai and Reva both watched me struggle and thought that was pretty funny.

We asked if we could help in their farms, but they said tat there isn’t any work that has to be done in the fields right now. But they still took us on a walk to see the river and some rice paddies and I felt so happy walking barefoot in the rain along the muddy little paths. The foggy, green mountains make me feel like I’m in a cloud forest. It’s kind of surreal.

One thing that surprised me was that all the young boys in the village had some basic English, but the girls had none. Reva and I chatted with a couple of girls around our age about this and they explained to us that the boys get sent to an English/Hindi school and are highly encouraged to study, while the girls are sent to an only-Hindi school and and are not encouraged to study past the 10th grade, because they get married off soon after that. One of these girls was named Nisha, and she’s a 20 year old college student and travels an hour every day to Paud to her college. She said that her father believes that girls should pursue their education, but not everyone has the same views as him. She said that she would love to become a dance teacher if she had that opportunity. Another girl we met, named Puja, walks an hour to her school everyday while the boys take a school bus to their English school. I really wished I could have communicated more effectively with these girls because I feel like they had so much to say but we had to translate everything through Reva, so it was not that easy. These conversations left me thinking for a very long time about how the opportunities I’ve had have allowed me to dream about the future, but there are so many women who have never allowed themselves to dream about a different future, because their culture already has expectations of them.

When the jeep came to pick us up at the end of the 24 hours, I could have stayed longer in Hadashi. It’s a small village with very few people and not a whole lot going on, but the people I met were incredibly generous and hospitable to me. Later this term, all of the host families will be invited up to the college for a thank you dinner, so I’m really hoping Kalabai comes back so that I can see her and thank her again. I hope I can return to Hadashi again sometime soon to see everyone. The homestay was my first of hopefully many meaningful interactions with the people in the communities around me, and I’m so excited about what the next 2 years will bring about.

Shukriya, Kalabai, for everything!

 

Finding my feet and feeling great!

I LOVE MUWCI SO MUCH! I’m finishing my 2nd week of classes and honestly I feel so happy and grateful all the time. My classes are really engaging and interesting, I know the routines here, I’m spending time with amazing people, I go hiking up a hill whenever I want to see the most beautiful view ever, I can run in the mornings and rinse off in a waterfall, we have a swimming pool,  I eat Indian food for every meal, sometimes I even see the sun (!), and I LIVE AT THE TOP OF A HILL IN RURAL INDIA! Honestly I have a “I’m so lucky and so grateful and I’m in the perfect place and I’m so happy” moment about 17 times a day. It’s just unreal. I cannot believe how beautiful my new home is.

I love how I’m genuinely passionate about almost all of my courses – Theatre, Global Politics, English Language & Literature, Environmental Systems & Societies, Spanish… I also take math which I am less passionate about, but oh well. Next week, we start our “Trivenis” which are what we call extracurriculars here. We had a couple triveni fairs this week to showcase to the first years what the options are, and OH MY GOODNESS. EVERYTHING I AM PASSIONATE ABOUT IS OFFERED AS A TRIVENI HERE. It is wild. There are 67 trivenis that will be happening, all coordinated by 2nd year students, and many of them go off-campus all the time to make connections with people in the local villages. There’s stuff like empowering young women through outdoor activities, outdoor guiding, ultimate frisbee, Hindi for beginners, sustainable cooking and farming, cricket, working with local developmentally-delayed adults, improving menstrual health in India, community theatre with local children, fire & rescue services, Arabic lessons, guitar, Kathak (traditional Indian) dance, campus responsible consumption team, LGBTQ+ space, Amnesty/global affairs, teaching computer literacy in the community, teaching English to the support staff in the evenings… and that’s just scratching the surface. How am I gonna choose only 6? That is a very good question!

My favourite place at MUWCI is a hill we can hike up called Internet hill. A 15-minute hike gets us to the top of a hill with a breathtaking 360 degree view of the Mulshi valley, the Kolvan valley, the hills around us, the surrounding villages and rivers, and we can even see all the way to Pune, which is a 2 hour drive away. The view is blindingly green, it almost looks photoshopped cause it’s just greener than anything I’ve ever seen before! It’s incredible and I feel so blessed to live here!

This weekend we are doing homestays in the local villages, next week we start trivenis, and next weekend I’m going to an ultimate frisbee tournament in Pune with a team called Mulshi-Kolvan Highlanders, which is made up of muwci students as well as people from the valleys on either side of our hill. I’m really looking forward to these opportunities to get out of the little MUWCI bubble and into the communities to connect with the people who live in this area. Life is really picking up the pace and becoming busier but I’m just so excited about everything! here are a few pictures of the view from Internet hill cause that’s the only thing I take pictures of!

Namaste 🙂20180829_160505

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Talia from Massachussetts and Iben from Norway loving the view
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Srujana and Parth from India and Talia from the States on our spontaneous bushwhacking adventure coming back from Internet hill
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waking up at 7 on a Saturday was worth it!

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1st week at MUWCI

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 🙂

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the bus ride here
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so green and foggy
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green green green everywhere!
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ultimate fun!!!
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me and Vishilaakshi after ultimate frisbee

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The kitchen went all out for Indian Independance day!
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The shape of India carved into a watermelon!
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street food in Pune! Soooo good!