Enduring a four-month posting in
Delhi can be an extreme challenge.
Overcoming it can change everything.
WHEN I MEET ROSELYNN VERWOORD IN THE COFFEE SHOP at the MacLaurin Building it’s almost lunch time and the tables are all taken. So we grab three stools by the window. Keeping one seat between us, we agree, is so Canadian. “Everybody,” she says, “needs their personal space here.”
It’s the kind of thing she’s been noticing since coming back from Delhi. In a metropolis of 15 million people, personal space is pretty much non-existent. The fourth-year student in the Faculty of Education found that out fast enough when she went to India on an internship funded by the Canadian International Development Agency. She was posted with the Society for Participatory Research in Asia but it was the day-to-day challenge of living in India last September that really had a deep, sometimes overwhelming, impact.
The energetic and driven 21-year-old—someone
who has “everything planned”—found
herself instead living from day-to-day, often
struggling to cope with the new culture and bouts
of homesickness. She stepped off the plane into
40-degree heat and air pollution that makes your
skin and throat burn. She was later hospitalized
with “Delhi Belly,” and if it wasn’t
for an invitation to go to a friend’s place,
she would have been at one of the city’s
popular public markets the day they were bombed
by terrorists in late October.
“She had to stand on her own,” says her mom, Joan Verwoord, BA ’79. “I was a little concerned but it was never on the table for her to return early. She’s a person of commitment and when she sets out to do something she does it, come hell or high water.”
Through e-mail and phone calls Joan watched her daughter go through the stages of culture shock—the urge to flee, the neutral feeling of just coping, and finally the acceptance and embrace of the new place. Knowing about those stages—passed along by Roselynn’s internship advisor—helped Joan understand what Roselynn was going through. It helped her deal with her own worry as a parent. Having come through it, she says her daughter, who had never been away from home, is now “more clear on her needs, pro-active and much more independent.”
How to make sense of her experience in India, to place it in the context of life back in Victoria—those are things that have been frustrating for the younger Verwoord. “It has been a slow process of redefining myself. When I first came back to Victoria, I felt frustrated at having to be back in class, and my daily life seemed so irrelevant compared to what I had experienced. I was frustrated by people worrying about their appearance and the newest and latest fashions rather than thinking about the world beyond the surface. I felt alienated.
“I hadn’t prepared myself to deal with any of the feelings that I was having. I also felt frustrated by people who would ask me questions like: How was your trip? What was the most important thing you learned? I’m not sure that I have those answers.”
If anything, an immersion in Indian culture and a chance to witness the country’s different education system (divided according to economic class) has deepened her social conscience.
“I have an even stronger and renewed sense of passion for working for equality,” says Verwoord. “I have learned to see things from another perspective, and to always question my own thoughts and ideas. My four months in India were life-changing.”
Tougher, more sophisticated, Verwoord is all set for a return trip. She’ll spend the summer in India on a teaching practicum and volunteering with ANK, an organization that offers education and health services in the slums of South Delhi.