“A foreigner in my hometown”

September 30, 2008

By hammersmith


We tried calculating the mileage Shruti Bala (’07) has logged since May, but the mammoth task burned out our TI-92 Plus. (Maybe Danielle Bäck (’08) can score us a replacement?)

After Shruti finished the trip to Hungary and Romania with her Scholars class, she went to New York for an internship at the museum of the New York Historical Society. After that, Guatemala, where she brushed up on Spanish and volunteered at a school for disadvantaged boys. Now she’s in Vancouver, where she’s researching healthcare practices among the homeless population and studying at the University of British Columbia.

That should keep her occupied until December, but then, she says, it’s winter break in Bangalore, India, and the spring semester in Singapore on an exchange.

Will she recognize any of us by next May?

Below is a reflection from Shruti’s brief time back in Arizona, between Guatemala and Vancouver:

I am a foreigner in my hometown. With my luggage in hand, extremely exhausted after a summer filled with travels, I landed at Sky Harbor Airport, lost in time and place. How did I forget the scorching heat or the lack of pedestrians and sea of cars? I was heavily immersed in thought, compiling a mental list of things that had become the norm: crowded pedestrian streets, diverse communities, street vendors, and even something as simple as jay-walking. This was culture shock.

Opportunity is the word that describes this summer. I remember the excitement that first night in New York when I saw Jemalyn and Nadvia after one year. This summer has been full of stories: everything from getting lost on the subway that first day of work to frantically rearranging luggage at NewarkAirport to meet the 50-pound embargo. My internship at the New York Historical Society introduced me to the fields of marketing, communications, and research and enhanced my appreciation for cultural institutions.

After getting immersed into the speed and culture of New York City, Guatemala City was a 180-degree rotation. I recall that drive from the airport to Home Base, noticing influences of American lifestyle: the occasional fast-food chains and glances at gas prices. I realized that even though my surroundings had not changed, I was noticing more attributes about Guatemala City–everything from the political graffiti statements to the sidewalk stores. I grew to appreciate the slower, relaxed lifestyle, to take the time to reflect on the surroundings. This week was an introduction to the people and culture of Guatemala–there is still much to learn.

Don Bosco provides vocational training for about 80 boys between the ages of 14-22 in carpentry, welding, computers, metal work, etc. By the end of the week, the initial tensions and limited communication became memories of laughter and tears of joy. I will always remember those two and half hours I spent with Edwin Balan, when he handed me a tool and showed me how he makes his metal crosses. The next few days, he continued to show me his work–he helped me understand the meaning of patience and attention to detail. I remember the moment when he pointed to my name tag, pulled out his, and we both started laughing about the similarities in our last names. Or the time when it took me 15 minutes to understand a simple statement he said in Spanish. The one conclusion I can make is that there is a universal language: joy.

If there is anything I have learned it is that with traveling comes a responsibility to take action for what is witnessed. This week put into perspective what it means to give. I will never forget the boys at Don Bosco, the welcoming people of Guatemala and Cross Cultural Solutions, and my class of Hammie’s. And even though we may not see each other for the next year or two, the memories have bound us together. As for the summer which has concluded in a blink of an eye–I dream of never forgetting.

Photo by Flickr user Michael R. Swigart under a Creative Commons license