August 15th is India’s Independence Day. I was lucky enough to get the chance to spend it as one of my last days in India at school. No regular classes were scheduled, only a program and a DJ dance party afterwards. I stepped on the bus dressed in full Indian makeup, courtesy of my host mom, ready to take on my last day in my host city, Indore. As apart of our cultural learning in school, we prepared a dance to the Bollywood song, Nagada Sang Dhol, and two Hindi songs. We were the first to perform, and I was extremely nervous and shaky. The audience of the school’s 3,000+ students all cheered and yelled as we danced and sang, and all my initial fears disappeared. The rest of the program was filled with singing, awards, and a memento to us. Once the program ended, we headed outside for the dance party where the DJ played remixed English and Hindi songs. We danced like no one was watching and had an amazing time. For lunch, one of our heads of school took us to a promised fancy meal.
I got to spend the afternoon with my fellow NSLI-Y student/friend at her house with her host family. They were celebrating Raksha Bandhan, or Rakhi, early for her as she would miss the actual holiday. Rakhi is a holiday celebrating the relationship between sister and brother. The sister will tie a bracelet around the wrist of the brother for protection. Because I was at their house, I watched as my friend performed the tradition to her brother and three cousins. Her extremely generous family also let me tie the Rakhi around the two little cousins. Later that night, my family picked me up and my mom and I went out to buy biscuits and tea leaves to bring home. We packed my bag and I headed to bed.
Of all my forty-something days in Indore, I honestly think that this day was my favorite. The entire day allowed me to understand Indian culture, specifically celebration and community. I also experienced it in full immersion and allowed myself to say yes to everything and step out of my comfort zone to do things that I would not do in a million years in the U.S. (aka dance in front of 3,000+ people). I observed how important holidays and giving respect to them are. This day additionally let me become much closer with my fellow exchange students and my community. I interacted with students and teachers I had never even seen, but I shared an experience that I’ll never forget. This entire experience has changed me, but this is the one story I end up telling people over and over when someone back home asks me about my experience in India.
Mei was a participant in the 2016 NSLI-Y Hindi Summer Program.