My name is Sarah Bird. I'm 16
years old, currently a junior at
Ridgeview High School, and I will be spending my senior year in India! I
feel so lucky to have this chance to travel overseas and completely immerse
myself in such and interesting and diverse culture for a whole year.
am a vegetarian, and have been for almost three years now. I love animals,
especially dogs. In my spare time I like to swim at the beach, go sailing in
the river, walk my dogs, and do community service with my clubs at school.
live with my mom, step-dad, sister, two step-brothers, and two dogs in
Orange Park. Over the summer and on breaks from school, my sister and I go
to my dadís house in Salisbury, North Carolina, where he lives with his wife
and her three kids - my step-mom, step-sister, and two step-brothers. I am
the oldest of all seven kids in my mixed up family. I have lived in Orange
Park since I was 7 years old; before that, I lived in Bangkok, Thailand for
a year. That was the only time I have ever traveled out of the US, besides
one day I spent in Mexico a couple years ago. I donít get a chance to travel
much besides from here to North Carolina, so I know the next year will be
unlike anything I have ever experienced.
After I come back from my exchange, I plan to get my high school diploma,
then go to college and major in teaching English as a second language, which
I hope to pursue as a career.
Thank you Rotary for choosing me for this extraordinary opportunity, I am so
grateful for all youíve done. Because of you, I know that the next year will
be the best of my life!
I wanted to go on exchange to India because it was different from the
United States, and I got what I wanted Ė itís completely different.
I left for India on Sunday, July 31st, and I was lucky enough to get to
travel with another girl from my district, and we spent about 36 hours
in transit Ė starting from the Jacksonville airport, then a two hour
flight to Newark, where we has a 7 hour layover and met another RYE
student who was on his way to Sweden. We also met a Rotex who was from
India and had gone on exchange to Germany a couple of years ago. He was
really nice and gave us a bunch of tips and advice about living in and
adjusting to India. The flight to India was about 15 hours, where I had
the best airplane food I have ever had in my entire life, and we got to
Mumbai on Monday night. In Mumbai, they just waved us through customs, I
guess because two teenage American girls donít look like much of a
threat to national security. After that we had to split up and go to
different sections of the airport, so we said goodbye on the shuttle and
then were alone in the Mumbai airport, which sounds a lot more exciting
than it actually was. It was the middle of the night and the airport was
mostly empty. I had an eight hour layover there, and I finally got to
the local airport on Tuesday morning, local time, which would have been
Monday night in America.
The first thing I saw in India, and the thing that continues to surprise
and amaze me was the roads. On the road you pass cars, trucks,
motorcycles, scooters, bicycles, three-wheeled rickshaws, cows (so many
cows), buffalo, donkeys, camels, goats, dogs, and people walking, all
together on one street. People honk constantly; lanes are simply
guidelines, as are speed limits and pretty much any other traffic rule.
Roundabouts are used instead of traffic signals, and since itís rainy
season there are so many potholes itís almost impossible to not hit your
head on the roof of the car as you bounce down the road. Plus in India
they drive on the opposite side of the road (usually) and sit on the
opposite side of the car. I donít think traffic rules are ever actually
enforced, at least in this city. Usually to get places itís easiest to
take a rickshaw, because they can weave through traffic and potholes
like you wouldnít believe, and itís usually only about 50 cents.
There are three exchange students living in my city;
me, a boy from Chicago and a girl from Brazil. Weíre all in the same
class at school, which is an eleventh grade class because even though
weíve all already completed eleventh grade, twelfth grade is spent
intensely studying for the board exams that determine your entire
future, which we thankfully donít have to take.
The first time I went to my school, a crowd of at least 50 kids
surrounded me and started shaking my hand and asking me my name and
where I was from Ė more and more kept coming, and I kind of felt like a
movie star being attacked by a swarm of mini paparazzi. Eventually
someone had to grab my hand and pull me out of the crowd, and a couple
of nuns had to come and keep the kids from following us out. The next
time I went to the school was for a dance performance, where a group of
kids from each age group went on stage and performed some kind of dance,
from Bollywood to traditional Indian dance, that they were doing for
ďsister appreciation day.Ē After all the dances were done, a bunch of
the elementary kids came up to me and asked for my autograph, if they
could take my picture. Apparently there hasnít been an exchange student
at my school in a long time, and the other two that are here now arenít
blonde but they still both get a lot of attention too.
School goes six days a week, Monday through Saturday from 7 am until
10:30 am for the older kids, because they spend the afternoons going to
extra classes for further studies. There are two options for classes
here, everyone chooses to take either science or commerce, and the two
other exchange students and I are all taking the science track. We have
an English class, a math class, a chemistry class, and a physics class.
Classes are only 45 minutes, and then thereís 30 minutes of recess at
the end of the morning when everyone comes out and plays basketball or
eats a snack and talks to their friends. All the kids at school are so
friendly, and it helps that they all speak English fluently, because
itís very easy to talk to them and make friends, but we still need to
learn Hindi because thatís what they use for normal conversations.
We have a Hindi class that we (exchange students) go to in the evening,
after school I go to a Hindi crafts class where Iím learning things like
glass painting, embroidery, and henna, which is pretty interesting, and
afternoons are usually free to do whatever we need/ want to until Hindi
class, and then after we go to a dance class where weíve been learning
everything from Classical Indian to Bollywood dance. Thereís actually a
dancing festival coming up at the end of September called Navratri,
where people do a dance called Garba all night for 9 days; weíre
learning that dance too, itís a lot of fun.
What elseÖ? I love Indian food, itís so easy to be a vegetarian here
because everyone else is too, and itís actually not that spicy usually.
Indian clothes are very unique and traditional, (although nowadays
teenagers usually dress similar to American teenagers) the women wear
saris and kurtas Ė a sari is a type of dress, and a kurta is a type of
long shirt worn with long leggings. Everyone has at least one maid, my
family has a servant who lives with us who can do just about anything I
think, from cooking and ironing to getting something incredibly heavy
down from an impossible high place, and we also have a maid who comes in
the daytime that cleans and does the laundry and dishes . Itís rainy
season so itís not actually that hot usually, the sun has only come out
3 or 4 times since I got here, which is nice because you always have to
wear jeans or capris, no shorts, so when it stops raining it is very
hot. Also wild peacocks are really common here, and when it rains, they
dance. Itís the coolest thing.(:
Thereís so much more to India than that, there are slums and mansions,
beggars and billionaires, people that speak only Gujarati, or only
Hindi, and people that speak English as well. Thereís dirt and trash
and pollution everywhere, but after a while you stop noticing it so
much. Religion is a big part of life, the majority of people here are
Hindu, even at my school, which is technically a Christian school,
almost all of the students and a lot of the teachers are Hindu.
I love this country, I wouldnít want to live anywhere else. Weíre going
to start traveling in November; Iím so excited to see what else is there
in this amazing place. Everything Iíve seen so far has been so
surprising, I donít even know what to expect anymore. Thank you so much
Rotary and everyone who gave me the opportunity to spend a year
hereÖitís crazy to think that this is still only the beginning!