By Overseas Educators Bria and Peter
As the two of us sit on the airport-express metro train headed back into the heart of Delhi, having just said farewell to all ten students outside the airport, we are filled with an overwhelming sensation of gratitude. The list of things we are grateful for is longer than an Indian train, but here’s a few: we are grateful for all of the teachers who taught us wide-ranging lessons while in India, grateful for all of the host families we stayed with in Rajasthan, grateful for our families and loved ones back home for supporting us to take three months to be in India, grateful for all of the cooks who prepared our food and made our lassies this semester (especially at Raj, Aum, Snow Lion, and Buddha Momo), grateful for all of the doctors and nurses and pharmacists who helped to heal our various ailments, grateful for the tuk-tuk, taxi, and bus drivers who helped us maneuver the hectic Indian streets, grateful for all of the dogs, monkeys, and cows we saw on the hectic streets for reminding us that if we don’t pay attention to our surroundings we could get our food licked at any moment, and we are especially grateful that all 12 of us uniquely wonderful human beings who met in the San Francisco airport in September experienced these past three months together, growing, learning, laughing, and gaining life lessons both from India and from each other.
Admittedly, it started off a bit awkward: all of us together for the first time, strangers breaking the ice yet knowing we will soon know each other so well. As the leaders, our first impression of the group in the San Francisco airport went like this: we walk up a few minutes casually at our meeting time. There are three Carpe Diem groups all side by side. We guess which one is Shanti and walk up to confidently introduce ourselves. First impressions are key. We guess the wrong group. They point over to the real Shanti squad, sitting silently and gender segregated. Alec and May both have on awesome hats. The whole scene kind of brought back memories of a middle school dance.
We get to Hong Kong and it’s as hot and humid as a sweat lodge. When we get dim sum for lunch, the waitresses keep bringing out more and more slimy foods that we never actually ordered, until we finally reach a treaty with them and they stop. We could have stacked all of the food baskets to the ceiling. But during that meal, the ice started to melt and friendships started to form. And from then on, the group only became increasingly cohesive, inclusive, and kind to one another to the point where we often marveled at each group member’s kindness and maturity behind their backs.
We moved around a lot. In each place (from Delhi to Jaipur to Jhadol to Agra to Varanasi to Bodhgaya to Calcutta to Delhi to Dharamshala to McLeod Ganj to Bir to Amritsar to Delhi to Jim Corbett to Rishikesh to Delhi), we quickly fell in love with the local foods, people, animals, and culture. We always wished we had one or two more days in each location, but that now serves as motivation to return someday. We hope each of you do indeed return to India, or at least to someplace in the world that is chaotic and brilliantly vibrant and sometimes uncomfortable. We hope you’ll find yourselves again in a faraway place, fighting monkeys for the right to keep your baguette, or just giving in to that highly persistent street cow, offering it the last of your ice cream while a middle-aged woman aggressively insists on a selfie with you and a hoard of schoolgirls laughs at your ice cream-thieving cow friend.
We discussed philosophy a lot. Our discussions on religion, meditation, free will, and consciousness occasionally left us with heads spinning as we considered new ideas and perspectives, and left us feeling profoundly enriched. How often in life do you find yourselves with the opportunity to debate philosophy with the same people for three months straight, all the while incorporating new ideas drawn from the rich and ancient traditions of India’s many religions? We hope each of you will continue to ask the Big Questions about Life, always maintaining a deep curiosity and compassion for people of all faiths and backgrounds.
We talked about poop a lot. We had secret hand signals (“poop hands”) to check in with each other on the solidity and regularity of our bowel movements, and each week a different group member served as the ayervedic healer. We hope each of you will continue to practice this level of care and concern for your friends back home.
As we all return to our lives back home, let’s remember the realizations we came to during our semester. Be passionate and courageous, but also flexible and humble.
As His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Remember this applies not only to others, but also to ourselves. Like a mala necklace has 108 beads, each a little different, so will each day of our lives be a little different. We hope the vast majority of those days will be filled with loving family and friends, warm showers, good pizza, passion, and purpose. But you’ll inevitably still have a day every now-or-then when a rat runs across the restaurant where you’ve just ordered food or you suddenly realize the tickets in your hand are for the wrong train (whoops!). Be especially kind to yourself on days like these. And reach out to each other for support. And us.
We are so grateful to each of you for taking the risk to embark on this cow-tastic adventure.
To all of your parents: you should be incredibly proud of your young adults. Their intelligence, flexibility, wisdom, and creativity as individuals and as a group blew us away on a daily basis.
Thanks Shanti! We miss you already.
Bria Light and Peter Benassi