“ Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”
A year ago from today, I was introduced to the Fulbright, a scholarship that not only altered the course of my life but jolted my very core into wakefulness as if I were dormant all this while.
I am an English Literature major. The idea of putative ownership of languages, particularly European, has always disquieted me. In the course of my education, I had been questioned numerous times about my choice of studying the language of the ‘colonizers’. I strongly believe that it is the need of the hour to make the national borders porous so that languages and cultures can invade new spaces. What drew me to Foreign Language Teaching Assistantship, beside the obvious reason of fostering cultural diversity, was the opportunity to instill the idea in American students that Hindi-Urdu is as much theirs as English is mine even though they are both culturally connotative.
THE AMERICAN CLASSROOM NORMS
In Delhi, where I come from, there is hierarchy in classrooms. The teacher is the boss the students look up to. More often than not, this hierarchy is so intense that the students do all in their power to gratify the ‘boss’ in order to climb up the score ladder. Teaching in an American classroom was the biggest gap that I encountered and happily bridged. A typical American classroom is a discursive dwelling where students challenge everything one asserts. The concept of lecturing is a thing of the past and has been replaced by dialogue.
During my training at University of Oregon, I picked up the ‘American nod’ and soon found myself motivating students through such gestures. However, the freedom exercised in classrooms is not always favorable. I was often distracted by the sounds of munching of chips and sipping of coffees. Since Americans are highly sensitive to discouragement, I had to constantly weigh my words while communicating to the student that he/she needs to work harder.
In a nutshell, Fulbright gave me the best of both worlds. Having inculcated the tools from both the teaching methodologies and shunning away the norms that are gnawing the education system in both the countries, I stand taller as an instructor today.
THE SOCIAL NORMS
Never before had I encountered the practice of smiling at random people and enquiring about their well-being. The systematic queues before boarding a bus, the doors held open for the next person to enter, no honking, exercising compassion as if it were a collective norm, the tipping system were all daily conducts that initially got me by surprise but soon enough, I inculcated them for good. I often remonstrated against the American metric system in jest—“Why can’t they follow the measurements and date writing like the rest of the world?” My American friends guffawed and the Internationals sympathized flippantly.
I come from a circular culture that practices humility when one talks about oneself. America being a linear one practices straightforwardness. People talk of their achievements uninhibitedly (The Americans say ‘If you don’t toot your own horn, who will?’) On the first week in the U.S, when my colleague offered a ride back home as my house was on her way, I denied the first time in modesty, expecting her to insist or ask a second time. To my surprise, I took a train despite leaving the office at the same time as her. That was my first well-learnt lesson on linear communication among the many that followed.
THE FULBRIGHT FAMILY
The experiences recounted would be tasteless if I were to skip The Fulbright Family that awaits with open arms as soon as one lands in the U.S. Accomplished scholars from over 160 countries build a home together, cementing bonds by finding commonalities in differences for at the heart of it all, we stand to be humans before ambassadors of our respective countries. We contribute in shrinking the world and making it a better place every step of the way. A sense of reassurance envelops me knowing that I have well wishers scattered all over the globe — France, Israel, Spain, Korea, Taiwan and myriad of other countries! An Argentinean FLTA, elucidating how histories must be buried and a new start made, said to me, “I’ll miss our European friends the most. The ones who conquered our lands once but today they conquered our hearts.” These words edged in my mind as soon as they were spoken.
Arpita Sahai is a Fulbright scholar at Boston University who pursued B.A.(Hons.), M.A and M.Phil in English Literature, bagging the “Academic Achievers Award” for her outstanding performance. As a translator, she is passionate about pushing regional texts across borders and making them accessible to the English speaking reader. Fulbright FLTA was an offshoot of her passion. Arpita wishes to acknowledge the encouragement of Dr. Meenakshi Pawha in her path.
This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.