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!
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Final Preparations

Note: I wrote this in the Munich airport yesterday but couldn’t upload it until now because of spotty WiFi. I have now landed safely in Mumbai and I’m currently settling into my room at MUWCI. I am very jet-lagged but otherwise doing great.

I definitely had a “no turning back now” moment when my flight took off from Toronto yesterday evening. It’s really happening. These past couple days have been quite a whirlwind of activity and different emotions, but here I am, alone in the Munich airport, waiting for my connecting flight to Mumbai leaving in just a couple of hours.

I got back from helping lead a 10-day wilderness canoe trip in northern Algonquin park just 3 days ago, and it was such a perfect end to my summer working at camp. Canoe tripping is what I grew up doing and it’s where I feel the most free and connected with nature, so it seemed really fitting to finish off my time in Canada with my longest and most challenging canoe trip I’ve ever done! As we watched the sun rise on the last morning of the trip, it really dawned on me that within the span of about 3 days, I would go from the familiar wilderness of Algonquin Park all the way to the huge, daunting, unfamiliar city that is Mumbai. After getting back from trip, I got to spend one (very spirited) last day at camp with all my wonderful camp friends and left for home after a teary and emotional candle-lighting goodbye ceremony on the beach less than 24 hours before my flight. My heart felt so full of love with all the warm-fuzzies my camp friends wrote me and the heartfelt goodbyes they said to me. It was really tough to leave camp after such a phenomenal summer. I caught up with my family that night, I did laundry, started doing my packing, slept a little bit, packed the next morning and finished a whole half hour before we left for Toronto! Yes, I packed at the very last minute but it all worked out. Visited my grandma for lunch in Toronto, then continued on to the airport where my close friends Faith and Grace joined me to say their goodbyes. They even brought me a vegan cupcake and fairy lights to hang up in my room in India! Before passing through security, I had to say my final goodbyes to Faith, Grace and my parents, and then I passed beyond a wall and they were out of sight and it was just me, my carry-on luggage, and a big adventure ahead of me. There were definitely some moments in line for security and boarding my plane when I felt pretty lonely and a bit scared, but once the plane took off, I felt a lot better, and I feel pretty ok right now.

I think that up till now, I was only thinking about what had to happen before leaving and I never tried to imagine what would happen or how I would feel once I had left home. Now, I can finally start getting my head around the fact that I’m about to fly to the second-biggest city in the world and that I’m gonna be living in India for the next 2 years and that soon I’m gonna meet my classmates who come from literally every single corner of the planet. People have told me that “India is not for the faint of heart” and there were a few minutes on the plane when I felt really alone and unsure of myself, but then I remembered that I’m not faint of heart at all and that if I portage a canoe and a pack at the same time for 2 km over rough terrain, dive into the mud for fun, and live in the wilderness for 10 days, I’m not faint of heart at all and I can handle this.

I hear an announcement that my flight to Mumbai is boarding soon, so I better be on my way… INDIA HERE I COME!!!!!

2 weeks to go…

T-shirts… check. Rainjacket… check. Mini bottles of maple syrup… got it. Pictures of my friends to put up in my dorm… check. Here I am, sitting on my bedroom floor, with piles of clothes and shoes laid out on my bed and my empty backpack waiting expectantly beside me. In two weeks from right now, I’ll be sitting on an airplane alone, on my way to Mumbai Airport, in a country I have never been to. It’s a wild feeling. Has it hit me yet? I’ve mentally prepared myself for the departure and the goodbyes, but haven’t given much thought as to what will happen after I get on the plane and the adventure actually begins. It’s not that I have avoided thinking about it, but I haven’t felt the need to because I feel very calm, prepared and under control about the situation and I’m not anxious about anything. This is great, because I don’t want to create too many expectations in my mind of what it’s gonna be like or start worrying about unimportant things. I’d rather just come with an open mind and and let myself be surprised, because in reality, how can one properly prepare themselves for this kind of experience? You can’t, and that’s the fun part about it!

It feels almost nostalgic to be at home right now. I’m living and working at Camp Kawartha this summer (which is my favourite place ever and I’ve been having a fabulous summer), so I haven’t been home much at all. I mentally said goodbye to my life at home at the end of the school year when I moved into camp, so I feel oddly out of place here, even though I live here. Where is home, anyways? Peterborough is where I have my roots set, my family is here, it’s this community that raised me and it’s where I have become the person I am. It’s my home. But I’ve been living at camp for the past 5 weeks, and I feel so settled in there. My camp friends are like family. I LOVE camp. It’s home. But in a couple weeks, MUWCI will become my home for the next 2 years, and when I come home-home, it’ll be visiting home. It’s surreal to be sitting on my floor, suspended between so many vastly different worlds that are all home in some way to me.

Tomorrow morning, I’m headed back to camp, ready to make the most of my last 2 weeks. I am really excited to be spending my last weeks in Canada doing what I love most: on a 10-day canoe trip in Algonquin park. It’ll be my longest canoe trip so far, and my first time on trip as a counsellor, so I can’t wait to push myself to my limit, soak up the Canadian wilderness into my blood, and have a blast. What better place to live life in the moment. Next Thursday, I’ll get back from the trip, Friday night I’ll come home, and Saturday evening I fly out. We’ve really made it here. Just around the corner from the biggest adventure of my life so far. An adventure that was just a far-fetched, unrealistic dream earlier this year. A dream that came true. A dream that is about to become my life. Gotta take a few deep breaths… here we go. Two more weeks!

 

World Environment Day

It’s World Environment Day today. I would say happy world environment day, but I don’t think it’s fitting to call this a “happy” day just yet. I think it’s more of a day to call everyone to action, bring awareness to the urgency of the issues, and create a bold and meaningful plan to move forward. Because let’s face it – environmental issues like climate change, deforestation and plastics are some of the most concerning and urgent issues of our time.

I feel like this World Environment Day has come at a very interesting time for me personally, with regards to what has been on my mind for the last few weeks. I’ve cared deeply about the environment for as long as I can remember, I’m well connected with the local environmentalist community, I ride my bike everywhere, I don’t eat meat, I boycott Tim Horton’s and refuse plastic bottles. Sustainability has always been one of my core values. But the past few weeks have been different. More urgent. It feels like somehow, the only thing I am able to think about right now is climate change, and how major decisions being made right now will affect my future on this planet. And I have to say that that kind of anxiety is a lot more distressing than anxiety about upcoming exams and whatnot. This feels real and stressful and scary.

A lot is happening at the same time. First of all, the federal government just allowed the Trans Mountain Pipeline to be built with taxpayer money – and this will not only lead to oil spills in my birth province of BC, but also expand the tar sands and lead to more fossil fuels burning. Exactly the opposite of what the world needs right now. We need to stop burning fossil fuels, and divest out of them. I skipped my English class yesterday to protest against this whole thing. School is pretty intense 2 weeks before exams, but climate change is bigger than any exam will ever be. This decision our Prime Minister made both perplexes me and angers me… can you really put a pricetag on the future of the next generation?

And that was the 2nd protest I went to in the span of one week. The week before, I snuck into the provincial conservative party rally and got up in front of hundreds of people with a sign to challenge their party’s lack of plan to climate change. This party will likely be elected as the government in two days, so how, in 2018, can one think that 6 cents per litre of gas is a price to high to reduce carbon emissions and make this planet safer for me and my generation? That’s essentially what my sign said that got be kicked out of the rally by security. Worth it and invigorating in a way to do something bold like that. I feel like such a badass. But I feel so discouraged that there are still leaders out there who don’t think climate change is a worthwhile issue to combat.

To top this all off, I happen to be reading a dystopian novel in my English class that takes place after climate change’s worst effects have set in, and the world is a chaotic mess of storms, flooding, drought, disease, and extinction. It’s called “A Friend of the Earth” written by T. C. Boyle, and it’s the most interesting thing I’ve read all through high school, because it echoes so many of my current thoughts. Of course, it’s fiction, but its a direct warning to our society. This future climate is not pretty. This book represents a future that reminds me why I do the work I do today.

Geez, that was heavy. As it should be, because there is nothing light about the current situation. But there is still hope, and that’s what we need to remember on this World Environment Day. India has just vowed to ban all single-use plastics by 2022, a very ambitious and commendable goal. I hope to help them achieve this goal in my time there, because that’s a movement I would feel so proud to be a part of. It’s initiatives like this one that need to guide the rest of the world!

So I’m not going to tell you to have a “happy” World Environment day, cause frankly that’s a lot to ask. But I will wish you an inspiring, action-filled, hopeful, reflective and strong day. Because not only are we allowed to feel hopeful, we need that hope to energize us into action.

Let’s get it for mother nature, my friends.

Extra Spicy News!

India! It feels exciting, spicy, rolling off my tongue. I’m going to live India! It’s so fun to say, because it’s not something I ever thought I would say at the age of 17. In a few months, I’ll be saying goodbye to my very familiar hometown of Peterborough, Ontario, and heading across the globe to Mahindra College near Pune, India to study and live there for 2 years.

Mahindra College is part of the United World Colleges (UWC), a group of 17 schools around the world committed to making education “a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future.” That’s fancy talk for “LITERALLY THE COOLEST THING EVER.” I’ll be living and learning with idealistic, enthusiastic young people from all around the world at a school that’s all about community service, environmental sustainability, intercultural collaboration and leadership. It’s basically everything I stand for and love, in a school. And I’m actually going to be a part of it.

The dream of attending a UWC started over a year ago, and it was a long process to get accepted. In grade 10, I was not really loving high school and I was looking for alternative options. My mom had applied to UWC when she was 16, so she told me I should look into it. When I applied, it was a longshot – I knew it was super competitive – my mom did not receive an interview when she applied, and I did not expect to either. I actually got the interview, did the interview in Toronto (which was so much fun), and slowly the dream of attending a UWC started to become more and more realistic. I started allowing myself to get my hopes up.

A few weeks later, while on a bus ride to a ski race in Northern Ontario, I opened my email and learned that I had been recommended from the provincial committee to the national committee for consideration, and got to send in my top 3 choices for which UWC I wanted to attend! I hadn’t really considered Mahindra in India up until then, but after doing some research into it, it hit me that this was the school for me. There’s a program that uses outdoor education and adventure to empower local young underprivileged women and strengthen their confidence. A month-long theatre festival full of student-directed shows. Indian food is my favourite food in the world, so that basically sealed the deal for me to put Mahindra as my #1 choice.

At the top of a ski hill during a very foggy day in March Break, my mom skied off the chairlift and told me I was offered a spot at Mahindra! Shock. Happy tears in the ski goggles. After sorting out the financial part of it (most UWC students go on a partial or full scholarship, based on need), I was able to accept my offer! My family celebrated by eating at our local Indian restaurant, and oh my goodness, egg curry and naan bread taste even better when you’ve just received life-changing news that your dream has come true 🙂

Things are looking up. Adventures ahead. Life is great. I heard that Southern Indian food is hot and spicy, but I’m already on FIRE with excitement!

Peace out!

-Kaia the Faia