When Things Fall Apart

Authored by:
Shyamala G.

Shyamala G.

Alright, kids. Let's talk about adversity. Study abroad is great and presents many new challenges that I couldn't have been prepared for. Because frankly, at the end of the day, you can do all the research possible about a place, go through every word of the orientation and take diligent notes on the lectures your director gives, but it won't be enough. There's definitely an element of knowing that it's impossible to know everything about all of the situations you could be getting yourself into. Of course, your program will prepare you for worst case scenarios and how to remain physically safe at all times, but there are other issues and challenges that will arise as well. Part of me really just had to come to terms with the fact that I didn't know what was headed my way, and had to pack my bags and get on a plane and just dive right in.

Throughout my experience I have faced difficulties relating to adjustment and different forms of culture shock but the weird thing about culture shock is that there really isn't one set defintion. And I think the harsh truth of it is that it will look different to everyone. I didn't even feel as though I experienced culture shock head on until maybe a couple months into the program. But if I can be honest, things really got difficult within the last couple months of the program itself.

In October, we had passed the halfway point of the semester and I had settled into a nice routine of going to classes, hanging out with my host family and new friends, dealing with small adjustments here and there, and traveling whenever I got the opportunity to do so. My host family, my director, and some of my friends from the program all took a trip to Tirupati around mid-October and this was a trip I had been excited for since the beginning of the semester. However, right before the trip, things started to fall apart. First off, my phone stopped working. Which, if you've ever been abroad, you know is a pretty big deal. Because it's the only connection you have with any of your friends and family back home and sometimes your literal lifeline in case you find yourself in an area you're unfamiliar with. I didn't necessarily find myself anywhere particularly new, mostly because I had restricted myself from going anywhere but school after my phone stopped working because I didn't want to get lost. Then, my debit card got hacked. The worst part about this situation was that it didn't actually get stolen because I never let my card out of my sight, but the information on the card was stolen. But of course, my phone was broken so I couldn't call my bank and get the card cancelled so I had to settle for locking the account (which I found out later wasn't good enough for whatever reason and my card was used yet again by someone I didn't know). And finally, my computer stopped working. It had completely powered off and was refusing to accept my charger which (with my amazing computer science background) led me to think that it was a hardware issue. 

But to be honest, even though things were difficult, I kind of enjoyed my newfound freedom from my material possessions. I still went to Tirupati and to be honest, it was the best trip I had taken since being in India. I was high off of being in my mother's birth city and was having the best time with my host family and friends exploring the sights and breathing in the spirituality of the city and its scenery. Unfortunately, this high was short lived, because I soon found myself on the overnight train back to Hyderabad, scratching at my arms and noticing small bumps starting to appear all over my skin. I began to break out in hives all over my arms, back and chest and even a bit on my legs which is basically all over my entire body. So that's when I finally started to crack. I didn't mind the loss of material possessions because I knew they could be easily replaced but the second my health started to take a turn for the worst, I sank to really bad state mentally as well. 

So I did the only thing I could- I kept going. I went to the phone store and got a new SIM card. I asked one of my directors to help me find a place to get my laptop fixed (this dilemma turned into a whole thing of its own and took a month to actually get fixed). I took a day off classes to go to the doctor and sort out this weird rash that I had sprouted. And even then when I went to the hospital the doctor tried to diagnose me with scabies which is a huge deal but I was lucky enough to grow up with a mother who was a doctor and knew that sometimes doctors don't always diagnose correctly. The rash soon disappeared after a week or so. I guess there's really no point to this blog and I don't really have profound advice on how to deal with things when literally almost everything in your life busts open one day, but the truth is that you just have to take things in stride. Most of these issues weren't solved simply and even took a month to finally resolve, but time really does heal. And when things fall apart you have two options: keep going, or don't. And the latter really isn't an option so you just got to keep going. Don't be afraid to lean on people and ask for help or support. Call your mom and cry to her when you need it. Rant to your friends and be honest with professors if you can't meet a deadline. Just remember to be honest with yourself and take the time you need to heal and keep it pushing. That's all anyone can do, really.

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