I have been a student at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, for 768 days. I have been a creative writing student for 637 of those days. I’ve been a student and aspiring travel writer living in India for 36 days. Looking at those first two numbers makes me feel like I should be at least somewhat confident in what I’m doing. Thirty-six days in India have shown me otherwise though.
Since arriving in Bengaluru, India at the beginning of September, I have been confronted with multiple opportunities and topics for writing. Bengaluru is a city of over nine million people, religion, class, and caste run into each other at every over-crowded street corner. The traffic is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and stereotypes are both met and destroyed on a daily basis. But I can’t seem to write anything about any of it. Or at least I couldn’t.
I would sit at my desk and start essay after essay about the incredible poverty or the cows that cause traffic jams, but every time I tried to put those things into words it came out sounding cliché and forced. I couldn’t find the language to really show anyone who read my work what I was seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling. The sensory overload I was experiencing was something I didn’t know how to put down on paper, and eventually it just made me want to give up.
Then I met my seventh graders.
It took a group of twelve-year-olds to break through my writer’s block. Twelve-year-olds and the familiarity of what it is to be an awkward middle-schooler just trying to make it through a school day. The realization that I didn’t need to be looking for the exotic and different to be a travel writer was what helped me to start writing at a pace I haven’t seen since finals week when I had a forty-page manuscript due the next day. I have stopped trying to shock my readers with things they’ve never experienced, and I am instead focusing on taking an experience just about everyone can relate to and showing it in an entirely new light. We all know what it’s like to be a pre-pubescent middle-schooler. We don’t know what it’s like to also be a member of the untouchable caste. We’ve all heard horror stories about strict Catholic schools. In the U.S. students at those Catholic schools don’t have to ask for permission to enter a room, leave a room, stand up, answer a question (even after they’ve been called on), or to approach the blackboard. It’s the unordinary ordinary that I am looking for now, because it’s all I can digest at this point.
I know that eventually I will find a time and a place to write about the 1,500 year old temple I visited, and the priest there whose sister lives in LA and works for a marketing company. I will someday be able to write about the poverty and the pollution and everything else about India that is so hard for me to digest and understand. But that will take more time than I have so far committed to learning. It will take a lot more of confusion and writer’s block and drafts sent to professors back in the States. So for now, I can write about the things that I recognize, but that are also still completely foreign to me. Thirty-six days in India and the greatest lesson I’ve learned is to stop looking for the story that shows just how different India is from the United States and instead focus on how it’s similar, and how I can relate.
Editorial Assistant Lauren Wilson is a junior at Concordia College, double-majoring in English writing and global studies. After study abroad experiences to Scotland, England, and France, she’s pursuing her interests in travel writing. She’s spending her junior year abroad: Fall 2015 in India, Spring 2016 in Ireland, and Summer 2016 in Australia. She will be posting monthly about being a writer-in-progress abroad.