Hello India!!!

Hello India!!!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

“What’s in India for you?”

Before coming to India I told my mom:
Kia: Mom, kuv yuav mus teb chaws India tau lub 12 hlis naws. (Mom I’m going to India in December.)
Mom: Koj pua need nyias? Yog koj mus 2 week xwb cev koj siv koj li nyias xwb mas, puas tau?
(Do you need any money? If you’re only for 2 weeks then can you just use your own money?)
Kia: No tsis yog os Mom. Kuv yuav mus teb chaws India 5 hlis hos, tau lub 12 hlis ntuj rau lub 5 hlis ntuj. Tabsis koj tsis need muaj nyias rau kuv. Kuv mas li siv kuv li nyias xwb.
(No mom. I’m going to India for 5 months, from December to May. But you don’t have to give me any money. I can use my own money.)
Mom: Dab tsi? 5 hlis? Ua cas koj ho yuav mus teb chaws India 5 hlis nas?
(Whaaat? 5 months? Why are you going to India for 5 months?)
Kia: Mus kawn ntawn tos. (To study there.)
Mom: Es koj tsis mus kawn ntawn tos St. Ben’s lawn los? Koj yuav mus teb chaws India es tsis mus college? (Aren’t you studying at St. Ben’s? Are you going to drop out of college for India?)
Kia: Tsis yog na, Mom. Kuv yuav study abroad. (No mom. It’s called “Study Abroad”.)
Hmong parents do not understand the concept of studying abroad. It’s a foreign form of education to uneducated Hmong elders. How in the world was I going to make my uneducated Hmong mother understand what study abroad is? Better yet, how can I convince her why I want to study in a different country? Then I compared it to Thailand, something she would understand even without any prior education, and since it was familiar to her.  
Kia: It’s like this mom: say I want to go to Thailand to study the history of Hmong people in Thailand. My college would take me to Thailand to do research and find out more information about the Hmong people there. It’s like that, except I’m going to India to study.
Mom: Why don’t you go to Thailand instead of India then? There are no Hmong people in India.
Kia: I know mom. My college does not have a Thailand Study Abroad Program, though I wish they did. They have an India program, which is why I am going there. I will be studying about Indian history and society.
Mom: But America has such great colleges. In fact America has the most prestigious education system in the world. Why did you choose to go to India to study? What’s there to study besides the fact that you will be more aware of how privileged you are in America?
I didn’t think much about this question/response. I simply shrugged it off my shoulders and replied to her:
Kia: Mom, there’s a lot to learn about India that we don’t know about.

2 months into India: I went to sleepover at my friend’s house on night and her Bengali father asked me the same question my Hmong mother asked me. This time I gave it a second look. How can this man ask the same exact question my mom asked me back in the states? It made me thought about the question again – this time at a deeper level.

Bengali father: America has such great colleges. In fact America has the most prestigious education system in the world. Why did you choose to come to India to study? What’s in India for you?
Kia: That’s a very valid and legitimate question, sir. My mother asked me the same thing, also. I guess to me education is not just about going to classes and taking notes. Education is not about reading books, memorizing time tables, understanding history and all of that. True education is when you get to live what you’ve learned through the textbooks you’ve read; when you get to breathe the same air authors, poets and directors do; when you get to experience everything first hand. And coming to India has given me all sorts of knowledge that I never knew existed. There’s a lot about India that I didn’t know until I got here. In fact, there’s a lot about India that cannot be captured in books and movies; you must live it to know it. That’s why I choose to study in India.

But a bigger epiphany occurred later on that night. Geez, Mothers seem to always know all the answers in this world. My mom was right (again): Studying in India has made me aware of how privileged I am to be educated in the United States. Not privileged in the sense that I am smarter, sharper or more intelligent than the Indian students here, but in the sense that I am so so so fortunate to call THIS EXPERIENCE my college education.

I never occurred to me how privileged I am to be educated in the U.S. And I’m not just talking about the privilege of having a huge campus full of facilities such as the gym to work out in, the dancer studio with large mirrors and stereo players, big football fields, nice comfy chairs to sit in, LCD projectors in every single classroom, etc. PRIVILEGE in the sense that I get to travel the world while I study – I get hands on experience – I learn how this world operates before going out in the world alone – I get to explore my options before making a final decision – and more. I look around here and see students of my age (19-20ish year old). Just the thought of how privileged I am to be at this age and already have traveled half way across this world. Many of the students here have not even been outside of West Bengal. That in itself says a lot about the education systems between India and the US. So when people here ask me what’s the difference between the education in India and in the United States I think to myself: “The difference is about a million miles.”

So what’s in India for me? Not Aamir Khan, Not Gandhi, Not Bollywood movies – I’ve gained a better understanding of where I stand on planet earth.

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