Haley Elizabeth Delvecchio HOUSEMAN is a 19 years old student from Beverly, Massachusetts, USA. She is staying in India since July, 2009 under Rotary Organization’s Youth Exchange Program. She is to stay for total of 11 months duration. During her exchange program she has stayed with four host families in Rajkot, Gujarat. She has been to different places of India. Here in India, she learns Indian culture and Art.
In this exclusive interview, she talks about her experiences of India, people, culture and traffic!
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Excerpt of Interview
Q.: Tell us something about your backhome, where you come from?
Backhome in states, I live in a small city having population around 40,000 people. It’s right on the ocean. It’s half hour north of my state capital Boston. I live there with my parents and my brother. The neighbourhood there is pretty similar to one here in Rajkot.
Q.: You have been here in India for last eight months. Tell us about how was the procedure of Youth Exchange Program for you? Was India in your top list of countries to be visited?
No, India wasn’t in my top list at all. The way the program works is they send you a list, and then you pick five countries and mention it in order of preference and then try their best to accommodate you as per your list, but there is no promise. They do send us where they can possibly send us.
I wanted to go to Europe. But I had trouble getting the VISA. So they gave me an option saying that I can either go to Asia or South America. So I chose Asia and my first choice in Asia was India.
Q.: Tell us how was your first impression about Rajkot when you first landed here?
My first impression was of the traffic. Traffic was madness. There was every sort of vehicle on the road, people driving the car without seat belts and doesn’t appear to be any sort of traffic laws! I was traveling for 24 hours and I was very tired. The first thing I saw after landing was mid-day traffic in Rajkot. That was very scary!
Q.: Now after eight months of stay, how does it feel?
Now, it looks so normal, like I can cross the streets, no problem. So I walk very frequently and don’t seem to be a problem. When first time I talked with my family on phone they asked me about the background noise! I said them that this is what traffic is like here!
Q.: Have you learned Gujarati language?
‘Thoda Thoda (speaks in Gujarati)’ ‘Gujarati bolu chhu thoda thoda (Speaks in Gujarati)’. Rather, I can understand Gujarati a little more than speaking it. My host family here speaks a bit in Gujarati with me often to give me its experience. Presently, I am learning to read and write Gujarati language. It’s very difficult but I will try my best. It’s fun to go for the process of suddenly understanding the new things. Actually, when I go watch Hindi films, I can follow it and know what’s going on.
Q.: What’s your take on Hindi films which are full of emotions, drama and songs?
I love them, I do. I started watching Hindi films when I found out that I’m coming to India. I got my hands on a few Hindi films back in states such as ‘Hum Tum’, ‘Salam Namaste’ and films like that. I watched them over and over trying to get hold of something. And now that I have come here in India, I go to watch them in Cinemas which doesn’t have subtitles so it’s very difficult to understand the language, but I really do enjoy watching them.
Q.: Here, you are staying with Gujarati families. How about Gujarati food?
First time I have eaten with my hands so that was a new experience. It’s been great, I love Gujarati food. I have eaten pretty much every kind of Indian food. I like Pau Bhaji, Chat, Dosas and things like that. Now looking at the Indian menu I can decide which dish I like and which I don’t. And everyday I eat Gujarati food at my host family so I like Roti and Sabji.
Q.: Have you ever tried your hands on making them?
I made Roti once. It was a very awful finish of it. It was bad. My host father had to eat it! Strange shape!
Q.: In the span of your eight months’ stay here, with how many families you have stayed?
I have stayed with four families. The first family’s name is Vibhakar. They had a son who was just going to states then. My first couple of weeks were to help him get ready for states. He was going in area very close to mine. So I had to get him ready for pack winter clothes etc. That was really fun. I was just settling in then. I didn’t understand Gujarati language. They were really sweet and patient. They only taught me how eat with my hands.
Second family I stayed with was Sanghani family. My host father was the Rotary district Chairman for my Youth Exchange Program. So I was already familiar with him. My best friend here Stine from Germany was staying with this family. So that was really fun.
Then I stayed with the third family of Gangdev for couple of weeks. My host brother was one of my best friends. That was fun.
Then I switched here with Thakkar family. This is where I have done the most of my Gujarati learning. I had my most freedom here like I can walk around. It feels very normal here.
Q.: How have been your experiences with the local people? Including boys!
I will start with people in general (laughs..) They have been very nice. Very curious too like ‘where I am from’, ‘why I am here‘ etc. And it’s like I have answered these questions over and over. I can now understand people speaking in Gujarati with me asking these questions because I have heard them so many times. People have been very nice in teaching me Gujarati language and understanding me. School where I have enrolled, teachers and students have been fabulous in welcoming me.
And about boys, they are very much shy than the boys in US. Initially boys in the school were shy to come and talk to me. Gradually, they came out of initial shyness and became friendly. But usually, we have to careful to be friends with boys, and that’s pretty common everywhere in the world.
Q.: Which activities have you been doing here?
I will go for University for Fine Arts along with International Affairs after Youth Exchange Program. So I have been taking art lessons here in this neighbourhood. I have also studied here classical Indian vocals. I sing Bandish at Rotary District comforts. Apart from that I spend time with my friends here. We go to cinema and CCD. I spend most of my time with host family and school.
Q.: What are your future plans as a career?
As I said, I am going to study Fine Arts and International Affairs in New York. After that I am hoping to use my International Affairs major, do something like diplomacy or work with an NGO, something of that sort which includes international affairs and travel.
Q.: Which are the places you have traveled in India?
I have covered fare amount of North India. Rotary organized a trip for us. I have been to Agra, Delhi, Jaipur, Udaipur and Dharamshala. We went to Taj Mahal and other forts and visited such historical places. I have also been to Kerala, Tamilnadu in South India. Also spent some time in Goa which was beautiful, absolutely beautiful. Then I have also traveled around Gujarat.
I have been to Mumbai twice. Once for my school trip and once with my second host family. I love the city.
Q.: To many places among you mentioned, you would have traveled through train. Tell us about your Indian train experiences.
The first experience was in a general compartment at 6 pm during the rush hour. I was with two Indian girls, Stine and a boy. Because we had a boy with us, we couldn’t get into a ladies compartment. As it was rush hour, it was highly crowded. Because I was the shortest of five of us, I was made to stand in between them, mostly like being covered!
But then, we have been easily able to get on and off the train. During our trip to South India, we had to continuously spend 30 hours in the train. It was 13 of us total students who were staying in different cities of Gujarat under the Youth Exchange Program of Rotary. So people in the train were curious like who are these 13 foreign teenagers. So we made friends, we helped some family’s babies etc. It was very different from train experiences that we have back in states. But this was nice.
It was quite an experience of traveling in trains in India.
Q.: Lastly I would like to ask you that, you have been here India through Rotary organization. Any words about it?
Yes, obviously I would like to thank Rotary district 3060 for hosting us. It has been a fabulous time. They have been wonderful to us. I would like to thank my host families. Our Club Rajkot Midtown has been fabulous for us and we appreciate that.
I am hoping to come back India anyway. It feels like now India is my second home.