Indore Community Service- An experience of a lifetime by Cyrus Johnson (YES abroad 2016-17)

IMG-20170104-WA0016Indore was a phenomenal experience. While there, the YES team and I were involved in building classrooms for a government school outside of the city. For me, the most impactful moments of the trips were when we were given a break from the work and got to interact with the students at the school. The kids were unbelievably welcoming to us and so much fun to spend time with.Despite some language barriers we could easily make friends with the kids. I was so happy to be able to play games with the little kids and I really enjoyed learning cultural customs from them. We played many games together, including kabbadi. While playing these games we were also given a chance to improve our language skills. In one week I had learned more Hindi there than I had for the past month in Delhi, because I simply had to employ more of my Hindi speaking skills. In addition to the good friends we all made at the school, the work was very rewarding. Being able to help the students we had come to know felt like we were actually making a difference in the world. Beyond that, the cultural activities we got to be involved in were also a lot of fun. Outside of the work we got to visit an orphanage, dance together, see ‘Dangal’, do karaoke and many other fun activities. In short the experience I had in Indore was the perfect blend of hard work and fun activities.

An Eye-Opening Experience- BUBW Conference by Margi Shah, Hosted in USA

Hello! Namaskar! Salaam Wa ailekum! Hai! Pryvit! Guten Morgan!

            The place, where the war ends and peace begins is called BUBW Conference. My journey to BUBW Conference started on February 1,2017 with the hope of finding new me, the global citizen.

             Attending the conference, sharing the room with people from other countries, exchanging thoughts with people from 10 different countries, going to three different religious places on the same day and interacting with the representative of each religion, learning to appreciate different religious perspectives and beliefs, understanding the conflict going on between different countries with the global perspective and sharing the feeling of being a children of the same mother earth was an eye opening experience. Now I can’t even imagine my life without BUBW.

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           The thing I learned in this conference can be best quoted in the  words of John Hume, the Co-recipient of 1988 Nobel Peace prize winner, “Difference is the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. Therein lies the most fundamental principle for peace: respect for diversity.” There are 195 countries in this world. Each has their own culture, way of doing things,way of living, thinking, expressing themselves, etc. These differences don’t make one country better or worse than other. It just makes them different. Unique.

           Apart from learning the lessons of life, we were also given the chance to visit the Disney world. Few of our sessions were conducted in Disney world but most of the time we were allowed to explore ourselves. This world famous- Disney world (heaven on the earth) itself tells you the story behind its unbelievable success – “Perfection” and as Mohammed Bashar Arafat( the organizer of BUBW Conference) says, “Perfection is a key to success.” Everything was so perfectly executed, so well displayed and so beautifully narrated by its surroundings and props, such that I felt as if I were in a magical place. It was just incredible !

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        I came to the conference without nothing except the will to learn something new. But when I left the conference, I had an International perspective, I became a global citizen in real sense, I had friends from 10 different countries and gaps between different religions were truly bridged in my mind and soul.Before attending the conference, according to me, this world was a complex mess. But now, this world is a puzzle for me. It is difficult to solve but it is not impossible and I the youth, the future of this world will surely solve this puzzle.

         I would now like to conclude by saying, the conference is over ‘only’ in Orlando, but its mission of better understanding for better world has just began. Can’t wait for BUBW in India.

            “East or West, BUBW is the best.”

Tales from Europe by Riya Dhandhukiya, Hosted in France

Tradional Saree to represent India

We had our very first AFS weekend and we were ask to take sweet of our respective countries. So I made popular Indian sweet gulab jamuns. Everyone liked it very much. I also wore saree to represent India. They all were very impressed by my attire.

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My studies are going good and my professors are happy with me. I am progressing very well in language. My parents, friends, relatives all are very happy.

I also went to trip to Italy and Geneva. My family is really supportive and I really enjoy being with them. I am having an absolutely great time here. 

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“The Italian Experience” by Zalak Kapadia, Gujrat, Hosted in Italy

FB_IMG_1485712736017I spent almost six months in Italy and everything is going fantastic. Every minute of my life is a new experience, a different experience. Sometimes I feel I’m not in a foreign country, it is an unfamiliar familiar feeling and it feels great! It’s the most precious year of my entire life especially because I am spending it with the most beautiful souls. The journey of learning a new language as well as culture, cooking etc and most importantly visiting the places that we heard about in school or read in books has gone exceptionally well. 

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I don’t know how to explain my relation with my host family. It is almost like I’m far from my country but not from my friends or family. Earlier, I felt we all are different people with different minds, that we are not able to understand each other. But I am glad to say that I was deeply wrong. In all actuality, we are the same, we laugh together & cry together; we live together & move together. As we say in AFS “Nothing is good or bad, it is just different.” I’m very glad to have felt these differences. And every “unexpected things come to me in expected way,” I have no other way to express my feelings… 

 

A hearty welcome back to the States! by Jeet Dave, Anand, Gujarat, hosted in USA

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I am writing this to share my feelings about how happy I am to be with my host family again in United States and this time not just for a year but for 5 years because I am back in United States to attend my college.

After going on an exchange to United States it became my goal to come back and do my college. I stayed in contact with my host family and ask them if they are okay with me staying with them through out my college and the reply was ‘You can stay as long as you can’. After few days I got a confirmation email from Northern Virginia Community College regarding my admission. I couldn’t believe that I made my way to come back in United States. My parents back home were full of tears of happiness and I could understand why. I told them that there’s no need to cry because I am only going to  another family.
All this was because of AFS and YES program. AFS is an embodiment of humanity. I heartily thank the whole team of AFS and Department of States for giving me such a great opportunity. Also, I want to thank to my family back home for the support and encouragement. Last but not the least thank you to my host family for being a part of my goal. ‘Thank you’ is actually just a small word in front of what these people have done for me.

Local Hosting Activity: Pune Chapter

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AFS Pune chapter planned a local hosting activity with host students on 12th of March at Sukh Agro farms in Kikvi.

We went to this farm in the morning as a group of 13 people. We all enjoyed the local food of village, the farm, swimming pool and music and dance. Host students really had a great fun there and they enjoyed the food and had a lot of fun with the villagers. They also celebrated Holi with the villagers in the evening.

On the way back home we stopped for dinner and had traditional food at a very famous restaurant in the suburbs of Pune. The Local Hosting Activity helped to increase the bond between the host students and volunteers. It also served as an encouragement to the new volunteers to continue their volunteering journey with AFS. Everyone along with host students enjoyed the dinner and we all came back to Pune with the memories to cherish forever.

 

Pune Chapter celebrates HOLI together!

Holi, Pune chapter

AFS Pune chapter planned a Holi celebration with host students on 13th of March at chapter president’s place.

The volunteers and host students gathered at the decided venue in the morning and started playing with colors. Host students found it very interesting and they enjoyed applying colors on others and they loved getting colored in different colors as well.

Overall, it was a wonderful and fun loving experience for host students and volunteers.

Holi celebration, Pune chapter

A Journey within: South India Trip Experience by Joseph Neil Gullo from USA, Hosted in Delhi (YES ABROAD Student)

 

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I had an incredible trip to Tamil Nadu from the 8th-16th of February, 2017. It was a remarkable trip highlighted by meeting some great people and experiencing a wonderful new culture. In this trip I traveled with some close friends of my host family and I would strongly recommend traveling with friends in addition to host families because you get an exposure of different cultures along with meeting new people, and experiencing a new family environment.

I reached Coimbatore on the morning of February 8th. In the evening, as we walked on the streets of  Coimbatore I was met with good old Indian humidity but with some beautiful landscape. It was interesting to be back in a rural environment on the outskirts of Coimbatore as I hadn’t really seen one since I left. Our stay in Coimbatore was short as we had to drive to the nearby village of Satyamangalam for a wedding reception. We got to the reception around 9:00 p.m. and I had my first Dosa and Idlis of the trip (but they defeinitely weren’t my last!). It felt great being at reception because I got to meet a lot of the family members and I got to see a few stages of a real South Indian Wedding.
The next morning was where the fun really began because at 8:30 that morning the marriage ceremonies really begun. Sadly I wasn’t able to get any good pictures but seeing things like the 9-yard Saree, and the garland exchange among other things was great. My favorite part of the marriage was when I sat down with 8 members of the Moorthy family and ate breakfast on the banana leaf. If we had more banana leafs in the US, I would never use a plate again. A lasting theme throughout my trip in South India which had just begun was that I was welcomed as just another member of the family and not like a foreigner. It was refreshing to feel like a dear person of the family attending a wedding instead of a foreigner witnessing the ceremonies. At about 11:00 we wrapped things up and began our 3.5 hour drive to Coonoor. 

When we reached Coonoor it was absolutely breathtaking. We stayed in a tea estate looking down to Coimbatore from quite high up, and we were surrounded by tea fields and wildlife. On the first day in Coonoor we went into the city to eat and then journeyed to the lambs rock to get an incredible view of the rolling hills and the city of coimbatore that is geographically located below. We also went to the city park and saw all kinds of flora and fauna native to the place. We even saw some pine trees which I never expected to find in India! That night we had a bonfire under the stars and I got to interact with the family a lot. I became much closer with Moorthy family over the course of this trip and the night in Coonoor was a big reason for that. The next morning we drove to the nearby city of Ooty to see the botanical gardens and go boating. In the botanical gardens we got to see more plants and lots of monkeys and turtles among other animals. Coonoor and Ooty were both absolutely beautiful hill stations and I would love to visit again.  

Our night in Coimbatore was quite relaxing as we just ate dinner and rested at the hotel. But I did get to meet the 3-time winner of Mr. Tamil Nadu. At this stage of the trip, one of the uncle’s traveling with us had to leave us and go back to Delhi due to some work. The next afternoon we drove to the small village of Namakkal to visit the family’s great-aunt’s home. First, one of her children came and took us to two incredible mandirs. One was a Hanuman mandir which had that great statue and the other was a Narasimha mandir which I had never gotten to see up North. It was interesting to see the Gods in black marble instead of white as they usually are. When we got to the family home in Namakkal, for the first time on the trip, I was in a place where I had no way of verbally communicating except with the Moorthy’s of course. The family only spoke Tamil and Kannada. This was one of those cultural moments that you dream about as an exchange student. I got by with non verbal communication and the family was so sweet. They gave me clothes and brought me in. When I left, auntie hugged me and I was so thankful for the welcoming environment. With the world in its current state when so many people turn upon their fellow countrymen as well as any outsiders, meeting people like this gives me hope. We left Namakkal because we had to stay in Salem with aunties two brothers. Even in this home, I got the same great treatment and food. Here I was able to speak communicate verbally again. There was a boy in 9th class interested in foreign exchange. I gave him and his mother my YES Abroad pitch and gave them my email for the future. The next morning Moorthy Uncle had to come back to Delhi so it was just me and the three others for the rest of the trip. We spent the day in Salem with the family, and I played football and ran around with the children. That evening we had another round of goodbyes as we took the overnight train to Chennai.

The train was quaint but comfortable and I had no trouble falling asleep while traveling. I dozed off till we reached our destination. We drove straight to Madras to meet more of the family members and to drop off auntie for her to stay with her sister in- law. These people were just as welcoming as the rest have been and well, fed me a lot. They also gave me copies of the Mahabharata, Ramayana, and some beautiful pictures. The next two days in Chennai were kinda a blur. We visited different shops, hung out with family, and ate more Idlis and Dosas then I would like to remember. Some of the best parts were visiting the beaches and the very colorful Lakshmi mandir on the shore. On the 15th we started our journey to Mahabalipuram for the day and that was one another one of the highlights of the trip. We saw all the temples and the sea and I met another uncle who took us around ad had lived in the US for a few years. It was a great way to spend the last full day in the South. The next day was filled with goodbyes, talks and traveling. I had an amazing time but I was happy to be back with my host family.

Well, this concludes my story, and I am so thankful to the family for treating me really kindly and providing me with a wonderful time. Also, to anybody interested in traveling on exchange I would strongly recommend it because of what it can teach you culturally and because it’s important to explore your host country. Interacting with these people was the best possible way to spend my trip and it goes to show that the one thing we all share is our humanity. Even with language barriers or cultural differences compassion can always bridge those gaps. I think I will remember this trip and these people forever. 

“Festival of Colors, Festival of Love” by Tullio Benini from Italy, Hosted in Bhopal  

Tullio playing holi with Shagun- Bhopal

Holi celebration has been one of the best Indian festivals that I’ve experienced. Since I came to know that I had been selected for an annual program in India I dreamt about playing holi and finally I can say that I have. I have fallen in love with Holi, not only because of the colors, but more so because of the feeling of ‘brotherhood’ in the whole community. I first played with my family and friends, then I played with strangers, danced to the tunes of folk songs while eating traditional food like “Chaat papri, Dahi Bhalla, Mathi Aaloo Halwa” and in the late evening gorged on “Chicken and Roomali Roti.” All the while going crazy with gulal and pani.

I’m so glad to have undergone the experience of this particular event of the Indian culture. This colorful day will always be one of my best and hilarious memories of my Incredible India.

I’ve got two families… for real, for life by Lucia Cannas Agrawal

 

It was July 2008 when I met my Indian family. I didn’t know them, I didn’t know their culture, probably I didn’t even know myself. I was sixteen when I went to Mumbai for my exchange program. One year of my life which actually change my way of thinking. They welcomed me as their daughter since the very beginning. They became my dad, mom and sister.

In November 2016 I came back home for a internship. Although I could choose any other country, the desire to come back to my Indian family was stronger and more intense than any other feeling or wish.

I really became part of the family nine years ago. I had forgotten how your relationship got so far and how we met … it didn’t matter anymore. The exchange program had just been a channel to link our paths. Nowadays It seems that they know me since my birth and that I have spent my childhood with my sister, she knows me so well!!! We understand each other so deeply. This Christmas I have met my brother for the second time. He lives in USA with his lovely family. We never lived in the same house, but I could feel that we belong to the same Indian family. We know rules and thoughts which connect and put together Agrawal’s family members.

Italy and India are very different, Cagliari and Mumbai have only the sea in common, and even that has a different color. I am the same Italian girl. Of course, I have grown up both as an Indian and as an Italian. I have experienced what it means being 25 years old in Mumbai. Sometimes it feels like a second life, and I guess it is, not because I change, but the world around me does changes and so my habits.

My Indian dad came to Italy and met my Italian family, it was fantastic and it felt great to show him my hometown and tell everyone “he is my Indian dad”. When my Italian mom and my aunt came to India, it felt strange and amazing at the same time. I tried to be a cultural mediator both the times. I was happy, I can’t really explain how does it feel to say “dad, this is my dad” and “mom, this is my mom”. I have two names now: in Italy I am Lucia Cannas, in India everyone knows me as Lucy Agrawal.

I will always be thankful to my Italian family for letting me go so far away and I will always say that I have been blessed because I’ve got another family in the world which loves me as much as my biological family does. That’s what I feel every time I come back to my second hometown.