For our first full day in India, we were introduced to the students who had come to belong in Visthar’s newest social program, the Visthar Community College. Our first task, in the spirit of Visthar’s mission for us of “Breaking boundaries, building communities,” was to actively and energetically engage with the members of the VCC. We were specifically charged to learn their names, as well as t0 begin our immersion in the language of Kannada, a widely used language in the region of Karnataka. We all were challenged to learn at least ten words and one sentence in the others’ language. Together, as students of different cultures, we ventured downtown into the city of Bangalore to explore the sights and the sounds and the history.
To make our task manageable, we all split into pairs. The community college members were made up of girls and boys only a few years younger than we were, and so one can imagine how amazingly strange it felt to hear myself called “Auntie” by a sixteen year old girl from Andra Pradesh. Sitting on the bus, trying to carry on conversation with each other (she had a fairly impressive command of English, and I knew not a lick of her native tongue), every time she began to be impatient with my slow tongue and untrained ear, she would interrupt, “No, auntie, see–” and correct me.
It took me a while to recognize, even after learning that ‘auntie’ and ‘uncle’ were very common Indian English-speak for a respectful ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir,’ that this would be the first of many experiences in learning a foreign language–it’s ups and downs and constant surprises. I don’t think I have ever had such a hands-on experience in communication before, but through this immersion experience with the VVC kids I learned to really appreciate what kind of cultural differences existed between us. Why on earth should I be called ‘ma’am’ by someone my own age?? Out of this first experience with the VCC, I believe all of us got an initial taste of cultural bewilderment. But through it I also believe all of the SJPD crew became more engrossed and curious about what other shocks and surprises India had in store for us. (It was a very tantalizing experience!)