‘No Place Was More Special Than Jamia’: My Experiences As An American Exchange Student

You go somewhere special, and you come back something else. Everybody wants to ask you how everything was and what you’ve gained. But I cannot place it in words, and I do not know if I even want to at times. I want to keep those memories, feelings, and tastes all to myself; it’s as if it’s another separate world that only I can tap into. So, I usually say the simple things when people ask, “it was fun”, “food was nice”, “made some friends” but rarely do I touch upon how I truly feel.

But I somehow feel comfortable talking here. Maybe it is because somebody personally asked me to write. Maybe it is because that somebody is an Indian and not an American. Or maybe it is because it is 4 am, and my honesty usually comes when I am tired and can write with less of a barrier.

But anyhow, I found something in India. It revealed itself through moments such as trying real Kashmiri Rogan Josh for the first time, being excited over seeing cows on the road or travelling to beautiful areas such as Kerala and Dharamshala. These moments were special not only because of their inherent value but also because they all happened in a place where my perception was different.

And nowhere to me was more special than Jamia Millia Islamia, specifically the Mass Communication Research Center. I was able to take two amazing classes on the ‘Pleasures of Bollywood’ and ‘Interdisciplinary Methods’ from Dr Geeta Patel, a professor who changed the way I think and approach topics. It was probably the first time in my college life where I actually enjoyed reading the texts and working on assignments because the classes had a nuanced approach to learning that drew me in.

Additionally, the people I studied with were nothing short of amazing. These were some of the most talented media students in India. I saw a passion for art in all of these individuals. And to me, their artistic spirit did not stem from ego nor pride, but instead it was mostly from love for creating their craft. I remember watching the final film festival that these students had their films featured in, and I saw the depth and seriousness they took to both the technical and theoretical elements of the film.

I’m not entirely sure how I impacted them, but seeing these individuals pursue their craft put a fire in me to pursue the things I love irrespective of societal pressures, money, and other difficulties. But most importantly, all the humanity and friendships the Jamia students shared with me is something that I will always hold onto. I saw something special with these individuals in addition to so many others in India and every individual bond I made truly made me that much happier. Even now, my mind sometimes goes back and decides to play out the conversations, interactions, and food I experienced with everybody in India; I miss it all.

I could go on and on about India, but I believe there’s something more to it all. It seemed that India existed outside the boundaries of my life. It’s as if time froze and my pressures melted away as I realised that I had nothing to lose and only significance to gain. Somehow, here was a place where I could unconditionally feel brightness. Ultimately, what I found in India was purity. India reminds me of the part of myself that is unaltered, authentic, but also naive at times. Naive because my love for India makes me at times forget the many problems in this country.

Over a billion people call this country home, and most of them experience this place like home with all the happy, sad, devastating, and euphoric aspects that life brings with it. But in my short five-month stay, I was not able to experience all these emotions. The positivity far outweighed any negativity and my memories of it thus remain as solely a pure one.

But there is nothing wrong with a little purity even if it is merely a perception. Sometimes, we just want to find something to attach ourselves to unconditionally. Many of us have been so battered in life that we yearn to cling onto something that makes us remember that there is another side to all this. I am one of those people still yearning. Perhaps that is why I have been wanting to keep my India experience for myself and not allow others to somehow ‘impurify’ it.

I intend to return to India someday. But the next time I want it to be different. I want to experience strong moments of sadness in India. I want to fight for something there. I want to experience a lot more and add to all the positive memories because I want to deepen my love for India. Perhaps I will find those things or perhaps I won’t, but I at least want to try.

India will always mean something to me, but that does not mean that my relationship with it has to be static. But for now, I will continue to reminiscence the purity that I found in India because it is what I need right now.

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