I honestly had not allowed myself to think about the fact that I would be a couple continents away from my family until the day before I actually got on my first plane to London on the way to India. I think that, deep down inside myself, I didn’t think I would actually go through with the trip. This mindset was reinforced throughout the duration of my twelve hour flight, during which I consistently cursed myself and underwent the inner struggle of reiterating to that foolish, “wanna-be adventurer” part of myself that I had to have been insane to have even considered staying at a monastery in India for four months.
These horrid feelings of anger and desolation did not immediately evaporate when I finally reached my hotel, partially because I was so exhausted from crying and sleep deprivation, and partially from the fact that my taxi driver was driving on the wrong side of the road (not really—it’s just the opposite of what we Americans are used to), making it quite impossible to relax. I did manage to crash in my hotel room for a bit, and things did start to brighten up after fellow Vassar peer Ashley Powell entered the room; I was no longer totally alone on a foreign planet. However, even talking about my problems and homesickness with Ashley couldn’t keep the birds of loneliness away, and that night I had a bit of a heart attack/mental breakdown in which I laid across my teacher assistant’s bed, bawling my eyes out and trying desperately to refuse the bars of chocolate she offered to comfort me. I told her that I was considering purchasing a ticket to fly back home, that I didn’t think I could handle the challenges of distance and culture shock. So we went for a walk, and she talked me down and convinced me to stay at least until the end of orientation so that I could meet the other participants and get an actual overview of the program. I knew she was right—I needed to give this opportunity a fair chance to work, and so I tried.
And I am extremely glad that I did. It didn’t happen magically or immediately, but after the first three days of orientation, my flames of hope and inspiration had been reignited. Although they did not all display it, my fellow participants were also feeling the burn of homesickness, concern of health and mental safety, and the lack of availability of coffee. We didn’t exactly do ice breaker games, but anonymously determined our hopes and fears for the trip, and had the option to discuss them afterwards. It was this event that provided me with the clarity and mindset to realize what I was in fact doing here, and why I absolutely had to see my journey through. Everyone here shares a passion, not only about religion and Buddhism, but about life and the energy it takes to live to the fullest extent. Like me, these previous strangers desire to understand the subtleties and simplicities in life that make it worthwhile. We all have our own personal goals and journeys to take, but we have all talked about it, and realized that this is also an expedition in which we are going to grow together; indeed, we must do so in order to mentally make it through and progress in this program.
I now have thirteen brothers and sixteen sisters with whom I live, along with eight professors/faculty members, and several monks. Our brothers have already faithfully taken on the responsibility of their newly established sisters, ensuring that none of us ever have to be alone in public, because it is not appropriate for even the native females here to be by themselves. My sisters and I have shared small chores, food, some intricate secrets about our lives, and cried in each others arms. I know that I’m not alone here, and though I do miss my family back in the states, I now have to uphold my duties to the family I have here, so that I may help them as well as myself try to find peace and understanding on this adventure.