Madison admits she didn't expect to be travel to India, but now that she is there she is embracing the experience, learning more than she ever expected and making plenty of friends along the way.
Madison Knox is halfway around the world and having a great adventure. The 17-year-old Ashland High School student is spending her school year in Coimbatore, India, through the Ashland Rotary exchange program. She is also sharing her experiences on her blog, maddyinindia.blogspot.com.
Via e-mail, Madison shared her experiences with the Daily Tidings.
DT: Tell us about your school in India.
MK: I go to a school called Vidhya Niketan Matriculation Higher Secondary School. It's basically a high school, but there are classes down to sixth standard that are on the same campus. Here, the grade level is called standard. I'm in an 11th standard officially, but I take math and history with ninth standard, and then yoga and art with different aged students. At home, I would be a junior at Ashland High School.
DT: What are your favorite subjects in school?
MK: My favorite subject usually has nothing to do with the subject, but more to do with the teacher. I enjoy school in general. My favorite classes are always those that challenge me and that have teachers whom inspire me. If I had to choose one class from last year at Ashland and label it as my "favorite" it would be Spanish with Dana Rensi because I've always enjoyed language and learning about other cultures.
DT: Talk about the Rotary exchange program.
MK: I had wanted to get involved with Rotary for several years before I ever applied. I have always had a curiosity about other countries, and when I started learning Spanish in middle school I absolutely loved it. I have always known that I want to travel throughout my lifetime, and then Rotary came along and it was the perfect thing for what I had been dreaming about. Before I applied and during the process, my heart was focused fully on going to a Spanish-speaking country, Spain in particular, but that's not how Rotary works. You don't get to choose your country. When I opened the envelope with the sheet of paper inside where my country's name was written, after almost a year of application process and saw the word "India," I'll honestly say that I was upset. But after being here almost three months now, I realize what a fantastic experience it is. India is a culture that is so drastically different, and at times it can be very overwhelming and confusing, but I am so thankful that I get to have this experience in reality, and not just read about things such as the arranged marriages in books. Things that seemed so foreign to me before are now part of what I see and hear every day. It's such an eye-opening experience and I am thankful that I've had the chance to visit such an ancient and preserved culture and learn and change from it, before I venture further into the Western world in the future.
DT: Tell us about your life in India.
MK: My life in India is different. There's no better word to explain it. I wake up every morning at 6:40 a.m. on school days, pull the dark green dress that is my daily uniform over the green plaid button-up shirt, drink tea and have a small bowl of cornflakes, brush my teeth, put sunscreen on, and then at 7:15 a.m. head out of the apartments where I'm living to catch a van to school with three other girls. School here is so different. For one, we have an assembly every morning where we all stand in lines by our class and there is a prayer, daily news and announcements. Also, each student is required to take physics, chemistry and biology or computer science, depending on what track they're on, all at the same time. We also don't change classrooms. The teachers come to us for a 40-minute period of solid textbook learning. After school, I spend time at the apartment, usually on the computer or at the gym or pool. Since there is so much pressure to do well in school here, no students will ever hang out after school hours. Most kids will go to "tutions," which are special classes outside of school. Lots of students do these tutions twice a day and go to school in between, so school is the only social time. On the weekends I'm usually home; if not I'm at school on Saturday and my host family will go out on Sundays because it's my host father's day off. When we go out, it's usually to somewhere around the city. I've been to several temples, and I also got to do a little traveling over my break from school at the end of September.
DT: What do you like to do in your free time?
MK: My favorite hobby I would have to say would be cooking/baking. I love making cookies. My favorite sport to play is basketball and that is also my favorite sport to watch. I also play the piano. I used to take lessons, but since high school sports I've had to stop and just keep it up on my own. I really love music, both listening and being able to play.
DT: Talk about something you have done that makes you proud.
MK: I am proud of myself for being able to do this Rotary exchange. Before I left, all of it seemed so great and like it would just be a totally awesome year, when the reality of being on exchange is that it is extremely hard. Not only are you dealing with intense homesickness, but you are also coping with a new culture, getting used to a new family that you've never met before, and you're full-time on the job. I'm an ambassador for my country and everything I do is judged and watched. I have to set myself out for the world to see how great Americans are.
DT: Talk about something that is challenging for you.
MK: The hardest part for me about being on exchange has been missing my family. Before leaving, I knew that at some point I would be homesick, but I never could have possibly known how much. Basically, the biggest lesson that I've learned while I've been here is how important family is, and being around the Indian culture where all of the families are so close enforces that lesson. The hardest part for me has not been homesickness for the town or my house, but instead just the physical presence of the people I love.