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An exchange in its true sense
Reuben Paul | Wednesday, 14 May 2014 AT 09:05 PM IST
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The Rotary Youth Exchange (RYE) programme was successfully conducted and organised by the Rotary Club of Pune 3131 by sending and receiving exchange students for the year 2013-2014. Three out of 17 ‘inbound’ exchange students — Gustav Sven Erik Gybäck from Sweden, Audrey Christine Lauer from United States of America and Paola Camila Cechinel Gellere from Brazil — have been staying in Pune for the last nine months. They gave us an insight into what they had expected and what they experienced, learnt and liked in India...

The far pavilions

The three exchange students expected India to be overcrowded, the food to be spicy and were told by friends that they would be stared at in India. With media giving a lot of negative news about the country, Audrey was warned by her friends and family not to go to India. “Being a blonde young girl from America, I was told that it’s going to be dangerous to come to India but I soon realised that there are two sides of a coin and I wasn’t intimidated to explore the country.”

“In Brazil, I heard about the violence (against women) in India and I was scared to venture in the city but when I reached here, I didn’t find any violence that I was expecting!” Interestingly both girls had a perception that they would be made to carry ‘water pots on their heads and that women in families wouldn’t have freedom to do what they want, but of course, they were proved wrong.

The life they lived

The students agreed that their exchange programme was a great learning experience. They got to know a great deal about different languages around the world and, different ways of living, learnt to be patient and to respect other people’s views. As for the host families that they stayed with, Gustav fondly talked about two families that hosted him and fed him good food. Audrey mentioned about three families that made her understand cultural differences in India. Paola too stayed with three families and mentioned how well she was treated. Despite being weak in English, she was well taken care of in each home. “I think in India if you are a guest, you are God,” Audrey concluded.

A Passage to India

Street vendors, rickshaws and colourful clothes — everything on Indian streets seems amazingly interesting as it is diverse, colourful and fascinating, said these students.

Gustav couldn’t stop admiring the variety of food he encountered. “In Sweden we eat meat and some more meat and a bit of potato, but here, I came across so many different vegetables that I’ve never seen before,” he said, to which Paola added, “Being a vegetarian, I found it hard in Brazil for we have meat for all meals but India was like heaven.”

She also exclaimed how tasty ‘shrikand’ was and how her host mother would prepare meals with lots of love. While appreciating Indian cuisine and ‘street chaat’, they also mentioned their disappointment over not being able to cook for their host families as the homes had no baking instruments.

East is East

Paola began to talk about her trip to Goa where she saw colourful lights in homes. “The buildings were so similar that I began to think I was back in Brazil,” she said.

Of course, there are stark differences between the two cultures too. “The food and the colourful clothes are completely different from where I’m from. I loved exploring,” Paola said. Audrey said, “Coming from Wisconsin, I found the religions in India very fascinating. I was apprehensive though to see so many people at the same time and often lost my sense of direction. I ended up relating only to cows that we have in plenty back home!”

What they are going to take back

When asked what they took back from India, Gustav said, “Amazingly I have found an ambition in life to help people in the future.” While Paola said, “I learnt to respect people, I observed how other kids paid respect to their parents, grand parents and teachers.”

And Audrey concluded, “I think I learnt a lot about myself throughout the exchange by observing people and listening to different views.”

The three of them unanimously agreed that they will never forget the noise and chaos they saw in India. In Audrey’s words, “India in a way is like a beautiful mess.”

On Pune

When talking about Pune, they said Pune is a beautiful and calm city. It may appear to be unplanned and is relatively slow but it is peaceful. They admitted that Pune would be their choice more than Mumbai or Delhi. Paola mentioned, “The people of Pune are very friendly and approachable”.

Both the girls agreed that Pune is very safe to walk out at night. Gustav added, “In Pune I needn’t think twice to go out for dinner.”

- Reuben Paul

Third Year, Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication UG


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