It’s Ok Not to Speak

Angel Bryant - India


September 25, 2019

Before I get a kindly-worded letter
from in-country staff or Falik herself, hear me out.

Also, boy do I have a lot of words
to say. 1908 to be exact.

PROTIP FOR FUTURE FELLOWS #1: Bring a laptop, even if it gets hot
when you open notepad. Your capability of doing blogs and college applications
(if you wish) will drastically increase. Especially you hipster types—a
thousand pens and a bullet journal won’t fare during the fast paced Global and
Country Launch.

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NOT SPEAKING?

Before going to Global Launch in California, I did not know
what to expect. I truly did not know whether or not I was going until the very
last moment, so I didn’t spend senior year and the summer trying to glean any
little information I could about it online. One thing I did expect, though, was
crumbling under the weight of 150+ pairs of eyes. Standing in a crowd trying to
have a good time is not my idea of a good time. I even heard a girl once say
she would rather give a presentation to a crowd because it made her feel better
or something, I can’t remember details because I couldn’t relate.

I was one of, if not the, first person to gather their
things and head to the dorms on the first bus. I picked my bed, put my two bags
(one being a drawstring) for the WHOLE PROGRAM down, took my hmm-looking
headshot, got lunch (funny story that one), and… sat. I started to get the
feeling I was supposed to be doing something, that being alone is wrong. I
should be MeEtInG tHe OtHeR fElLowS and TaLkInG like a normal person. I took a
nap instead.

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We were supposed to be doing something later that day, so I snapped out of my
nap and stumbled outside to where everyone else was. There was this group of
fellows talking on a bench, and, in typical non-confrontational fashion, sat on
the empty bench in front of them to pay attention with my eyes closed until we
were told where the event was. The group immediately fell silent. Did… a
fellow… sit… alone?! And… pass… a group of people… and not… SPEAK? I was
approached by a fellow who, despite self-proclaiming themselves as an introvert,
became one of the most well-known and loudest voices out of the global cohort, and
they went through the typical small talk until I mentioned I was tired and
wanted to be alone for a hot second. I could feel the group’s stares on my back
as they continued their conversation.

PROTIP #2: Pack light. Holy, this is the most important tip.
Budget to buy (esp. clothes) in country because your wardrobe will probably
change according to your destination’s culture. Okay, maybe I’m only speaking
for India here. But still, pack light!

Andtherestoftheweekkindofwentlikethis. The number one
complaint from fellows was probably the fact there was barely any free time and
it was always GO, GO, GO! across
Stanford’s campus (admittedly, a short portion of it). The other smaller,
lesser known complaint was probably that of icebreakers. Okay, just me again.
But making me stand up and say a RanDom fact about me and forcibly interact
with my neighbor is not my idea of a good time. It’s shallow and devoid of any
real connection. But I guess that was the point. Global Launch had this aura of
cheap interaction, just filling the void with nameless and faceless bodies so
you don’t feel alone. I felt as if I was in a money-grabbing machine, but instead of money, you had to catch as many fellows as you could. Everyone cliqued very quickly based on some past
similarity (country, school, etc) despite diversity being hammered into us
anyway. Not to say I didn’t make any friends or real connections, but out of
150, only two that I connected with at Global Launch decided to contact me
outside of it.

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BUT THAT’S OK.

So, how was the ninth longest flight in the world on the
world’s best airline? I found out rather quickly that I actually fare quite
well on airplanes, as long as I have my travel pillow from Amazon (PROTIP
#2.5). After eating two hard Biscoff’s and paying to breathe on American
Airlines for 9 hours, I felt pampered. I slept and ate and watched (FREE!)
movies for so long it didn’t even feel like 15 hours (plus four more). Other
fellows might have a different story.

After Global Launch, we had its prettier twin—Country
Launch. Everyone was excited to finally get their feet on the dirt of their new
country. Coming from the smallest cohort, the aura of “having to know everyone” from Global Launch didn’t follow. We had
no choice. In fact, our cohort got smaller transitioning between the two weeks
due to visa issues. I could no longer hide behind 149 other people or have at
least 120 of them not know I exist. But a bigger, badder change was about to
hit us after being pampered for a week at Stanford on free laundry detergent,
washer-and-dryers and all you can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner plus rolling
out of a nice airport into a sweet, air-conditioned bus.

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PROTIP #3: Bug spray? I dig that. Odomos? I marry that.

I didn’t notice it after being on the move for over 24
hours, but after waking up with a sore shoulder I knew. We weren’t in a hotel like some of the other cohorts. In
fact, we were in a very rural, very bug-friendly, very no data connection
school. We essentially spent a week at a hippy rehab retreat that frowns upon
technology as the destroyer of face-to-face social interaction. Not to say our
country staff weren’t at The Green Bench™ trying to contact home too, but
looking back, I think the point of us going to school was to see a very
different India before settling in the city.

The outside was extremely green. In the distance, you could
see the twinkle of city buildings, but felt far away enough that you could
close your eyes and pretend you went camping with your family. Thankfully, we
had western-style toilets, but toilet paper disappeared like nobody’s business
(or somebody’s business). We had
running water, but if you wanted hot water for a shower, the locals had to get
hot water from a heater and you had to take a bucket bath. We were stuffed with
food breakfast-chai break-lunch-chai break-dinner, and we sometimes couldn’t
move from all the added extra weight. The food was delicious, though.
Mosquitoes loved the fresh blood and would tear you up any chance they got,
mosquito net or not. One night, one got in my net and had me for breakfast-chai
break-lunch-chai break-dinner. We also saw many undiscovered bugs deserving of
Animal Planet.

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Not to say I wasn’t warming up to the place. We arrived during
the Ganpati Festival, a largely Maharashtrian celebrated festival for the Hindu
god Ganesh. Local kids still went to school, and we would sometimes see them
walk to class. One day, they did a procession for the festival and we got to
watch. A very nice woman from Mexico who stayed at the school for a while
showed me and a group of fellows around. However, during both I couldn’t shake something
said at Global Launch after we did our inequality tour in San Francisco—we were
essentially taking a tour of people, nodding at their plight, saying, “oh
that’s sad” and doing nothing for them while returning to our relative comfort.

Being cooped up in a shared room with 14 (minus the boys) other people,
something was bound to happen. Despite Squidward being my default, most of my
cohort might consider me the class clown. Cohort clown. With less people to
make cringey small talk with, I connected easier with others and quickly
realized the difference between introversion and asocial behavior. I don’t
consider myself asocial (or, as some people incorrectly put it, antisocial).
Rather, I find constant social interaction to be draining. It’s more than not
talking, it’s more than shyness and anxiety (which I don’t have), it’s a deeper
temperament that can be traced back to my actions as a baby.

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SILENCE HAS POWER.

PROTIP #4: Yes, the food is good.

Coming from a society that highly values extraversion and go-getting,
the switch to the quiet, peaceful and slower-paced rural area was a smooth
transition for me. Our country staff made sure to set-aside me-time to think,
and besides the required activities, we weren’t expected to “show our
leadership traits” by being loud, adding as many contacts as you could, and
making small-talk. Our first trip to the city shook up that observation. India
is known for it’s confusing traffic, many people, and noise. It’s true.
However, despite having some of the biggest cities in the world, about 70% of
Indians live in rural areas.

After stupidly waiting to cross the street and nearly
getting run over by a two-wheeler and rickshaw, I was ready to head back to the
school and read the books given to us by our country staff, nap, and get
stuffed with food. But, two days later, we were dropped off at our host
families in the city and left there.

The first day and night is always awkward. Some fellows
found themselves already thrown into events and activities, but I spent most of
my time in my Harry Potter cupboard connected to the back balcony waiting on my
Hogwarts letter. While reports from other fellows poured in, I couldn’t help
but compare it and our first trip to the city to the culture back home. India
has a high context culture, meaning communication is implicit, people are more
collectivist, and form more connected relationships. In India, excessive smiling
and “how are you’s” to strangers are not common and can be interpreted as
something else. Driving is not straight-forward, and you have to use contextual
beeps from other drivers to figure out what to do on the road. The famous “Indian
head nod” could mean anything in relation to the context of the conversation.

In contrast, the U.S. is very boisterous, especially in the
South. You’re expected to acknowledge strangers on the street and show minimum
interest in how their day went so you can rest assured you’re being a
productive member of society. The loudest among us are seen as very charismatic
and treated as if they know what they are talking about. Having a “healthy”
social life, or a long list of shallow contacts, is an indicator of who is
going to go far in life. Being quiet is wrong, it needs to be fixed, and quiet
people are seen as mysterious, hiding something, and not good partners in
general. We also have only yes and no for head nods.

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Other fellows were finding it difficult to connect to
reserved families and transition into a high context culture. I welcomed the
change, although my family is extremely non-traditional and finds my silence
off-putting, among other things. However, if I decide to open a book and spend
some time alone, I’m not immediately approached by people who think I’m bored,
lonely and need someone to fill the void of silence. 

PROTIP #5: You will have a lot of free time. Still beats me
what you’re supposed to do with it, other than blogs and GCY stuff, but don’t
feel compelled to run outside and pretend like you’re having fun.

Alright time to go to bed this blog is long enough–

 

Angel Bryant