Last August, I left Minneapolis and headed for India for an exchange year through the Rotary Club. I spent the last eight months living with host families in a city called Kota. Throughout the year, I had the opportunity to immerse in the culture and language of the community in which I lived. I engaged in family activities, participated in religious ceremonies, attended the neighborhood school and traveled with other exchange students to Northern and Southern India.
Unfortunately, amid the virus, I was forced to cut my travels short and returned in early April to the United States. But as I was on the journey home, I reflected on my year and was overcome with incredible gratitude for every moment I was able to spend abroad. This is the final reflection I wrote as I was on my way to the airport to fly out of India early last month.
I am in this land and it is in me. This is the land where my true self came into being. A land that challenged me and helped me to grow in unexplainable ways. On this land I was able to overcome fears and uproot insecurities that were woven into the fabric of my soul all my life. The people here helped me to see myself in new ways and form myself into the person I am today. I am staring at the land that is the reason for my existence as I am right now at this moment.
But as I rolled farther down the road and stared at all the trees lining the empty streets, I realized that a tree grows in two directions. The roots grow down, while the trunk and branches grow up. And although the tree and roots are two different parts, it is all the same tree. And even though one part of the tree grows below the ground and the other part above it, the whole tree is on planet earth.
I feel like I am that tree. I have the roots of my soul planted in the United States, while the branches of life have grown and flourished while I have been here in India. I am the same tree with two different homes.
But ... are the homes really different after all?
If we have learned anything from this virus that is the reason for my early departure, it is that it does not affect Americans or Indians. Not Europeans or South Americans. It affects everyone. Everyone here on earth. Therefore, I am a tree that belongs, not to the United States or India, but to EARTH.
Just because I may leave India’s borders later tonight, what I have learned here and who I have become … that has no borders. No boundaries. I need to bring these lessons everywhere I am on planet earth and apply them there. I need to know that my exchange year does not end when my plane takes off from the ground of New Delhi.
The land may change, but I am still on earth. I am home wherever I am. I boarded the plane later that evening and felt the wheels roll down the runway gaining speed until at last, our aircraft left the ground, breaking the last physical contact I had with the country I came to love so much. As we flew higher over the empty streets of New Delhi, I knew that I was not really leaving India because India was now inside of me in the form of all the lessons I had learned and the woman I had become. And I was still in India in the memories I made with the people here.
And I knew this was not the end of anything. My exchange does not end here. My learning does not stop. Now begins a new adventure of going home and living out all the lessons I had gained these last eight months.
And with one last look down onto the land of the capital city, I rested my head back on my chair and allowed myself to close my eyes and let go. I had everything I needed with me in my heart.