Ahead of me, my best friend shuffled along her Bed Bath & Beyond shopping cart, piling it high with all of the notebooks and plush rugs and closet organizers necessary for her college move-in day. And sure enough, whenever I stole a glance around, similar carts containing similar products could be found in every aisle, as frantic parents and their college-bound children scurried about to pick up last minute supplies.
Amidst this crowd of back-to-school shoppers, I admittedly felt slightly out of place. I saw no need in the mini fridge or the television or the stackable crates that appeared to be the popular must-haves, and I was almost certain that I would not be finding the DEET or anti-malaria medication or mosquito net that in my case were so vital.
Surely enough, as I stood staring at an aisle of binders in all colors and sizes, the acknowledgement of my decision to take a bridge year, to put myself in a situation far different from those around me, slowly began to sink in. Surrounded by packing lists that I was currently unable to relate to, this notion of ‘India’, of gaining a new family thousands of miles away from the place I call home, of temporarily foregoing my position as ‘student’ for that of ‘teacher’ – all of a sudden became very real. For the first time, this upcoming journey to a country I’ve only ever dreamed of visiting no longer seemed so distant and intangible.
With this, the significance of such a journey further came into focus. It entailed that I was deviating from the norm that had thus far dictated the course of my life, that I was recognizing a side of myself that had for so long been silenced by academic expectations, one that craved opportunities for learning beyond the four walls of a classroom. It entailed that I was, in some way or another, stepping into foreign territory before even stepping foot on Indian soil.
I subsequently found myself, while in the middle of a Bed Bath & Beyond, envisioning the aromas of spices and the abundance of colors and the chaos of traffic that would all soon overwhelm my senses. I visualized the women in sarees and the dust in the air and the festive flower garlands and the barking of stray dogs. I imagined the obstacles and the beauty and the learning and the growth that would come hand in hand with my cultural immersion.
No doubt, this was all quite a lot to take in while roaming the aisles of a department store, certainly more than I had bargained for. And yet, I left with a sense of excitement and hopefulness for what lay ahead, one that no carpet or binder or mini-fridge could have ever given me.