Alice is from Milwaukee, WI and participated in the Hindi Academic Year 2017-2018 program.
On the occasion of International Education Week, I reflected on a question recently posed by the NSLI-Y Alumni page: “What have you learned about the world from language study?”
“How can it be?” Mishra Sir asked, holding up the international section of the newspaper. He began to read aloud about the proposed border wall between my home country and its southern neighbor. Mishra Sir, with his bright sense of curiosity, often asked this question about more benign matters: Double Stuff Oreos or funny faces we made through the classroom window. But this morning, as he asked it again, there were tears magnified by his thick glasses. He explained, “There are no borders, and certainly no walls. We are all migratory birds.”
Mishra Sir taught the last hour of the daily Hindi class for us–five American students studying in India on the NSLI-Y academic year program. At 84-years-old, he was unlike any teacher I had ever had. Mishra Sir was not always interested in Hindi vocabulary or the Devanagari alphabet. Instead, he shared stories and wisdom that demonstrated his deep commitment to equality and caring for humankind.
I sat in class that day thinking about intercultural migrations. Many migrations are not by choice. For me, it was a privilege to study abroad. And I reminded myself of that privilege when I battled homesickness, or stomach viruses, or the isolation that can accompany adjusting to an unfamiliar family. I pushed myself to engage with my fellow humans. I developed a close bond with my host sister rooted in the sharing of a ice cream cone that made us both vomit, and fought through difficult Hindi-pronunciation to conduct a two-hour long interview with a Buddhist monk.
Mishra Sir acknowledged the challenges of change, too. At any mention of his beloved students returning to their native country, he became wistful. His kind smile returned as he reminded us (and himself) once again that since we are all migratory birds, it is only natural for us to return from our wintering grounds.Most birds do not migrate on their own. Mishra Sir taught me to learn and grow without restraint, to fly. I fall into V-formation behind Mishra Sir’s insistent passion, hope, and unconditional love for each member of his cherished humanity. He once spent an entire class period on only three words: ekta, shaanti, shma [unity, peace, forgiveness]. His lesson focused on how to embody these words rather than how to use them in a sentence. Ekta is a concept I will take with me no matter where I perch. And I hope Mishra Sir knows that he has a permanent home in my heart.