This past March, I found myself back on campus after studying abroad, completely lost within myself. I would attend classes occasionally, and see my friends from time to time, but nothing felt finite. On top of this, I was racing time to find an internship for a career path that I was half-hearted about before summer arrived.
One day I skipped my Java class, and instead used that time to eat an Eggo waffle and call my grandma. It was 9 pm in India and we spent around two hours talking about how it’s been so long since I visited and how things have changed so much in Chennai, where my family is from, since I last visited in 2017. We talked about how I wanted to pursue teaching and my grandma happily encouraged me to, as she once dreamt about teaching at a public school in India.
After that phone call, I realized that I was not in young adult purgatory where I was forced into a state of unbearable uncertainty, like I thought. The conversation with my grandma opened my eyes to how lucky I am to have a blank slate in front of me. She may not have the ability to travel the world anymore and pick up a new career, but those journeys were just starting for me. So that night, I talked to my mom and bought tickets to visit my grandma over our upcoming winter break.
I was so excited to see Chennai through a new, more dynamic lens in comparison to my fifteen-year-old self. I understand my family differently and I understand my grandma in a more complex manner. My visit is an opportunity for the both of us to get to know each other and heal previous differences.
I know my trip to see my family in India won’t be entirely smooth sailing. While I can break through language and cultural barriers, the generational differences that separate my family and I have always kept us at arm’s length. Certain topics considered faux pas to discuss casually in America are thought to be free range with many families in India. Like a fresh carcass in the middle of the desert, I can anticipate my family will rip me apart with each inquiry about my relationship status, pointed comments about the way I look and cutting comparisons between other girls my age. However, due to the generational hierarchy that ultimately sets precedent in many families, my aversion to what is said is chalked up to my own sensitivity. So how do I navigate the prying eyes of my family in a way that conveys respect but also upholds my own boundaries?
The biggest rule of thumb I have found to be effective with families that refuse to respect your privacy is the golden rule itself: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Toxicity is like a vacuum; if you get too close, you’ll be sucked in. Sometimes the main source of entertainment becomes gossiping about others. Sit around breakfast, and gossip. Gather for tea time, and gossip. Waiting for an auto, and gossip. I’ve seen this pattern become habitual, with family members numb to the kind of hurt gossiping can cause. While it may cast me out as someone too high on their horse, a principle I will carry with me throughout this trip is to disengage from the conversation if it reverts to this type of toxicity, especially at the expense of another person. If I want my privacy to be respected by my family, I should also respect the privacy of others and their boundaries.
Hopefully, this simple change will help me keep a clear mind during my time in India. The purpose of my trip is to connect with my grandma, but also to achieve clarity about my “blank slate”. What do I want my future to look like, who do I want in it and what can I do to make this “blank slate” come alive with color? I have decided that by physically being in a different place and surrounding myself with new people, the emotional rut I have been stuck in will break loose and I can gain more insight into the direction of my life.