Meet the Whole World

by Nikita Taniparti, India

Globe-trotting is always fun and exotic. Cool blue waters on a deserted Mediterranean Island, enticingly lush forests in the Amazon, challenging yet rewarding hikes up the world’s tallest peaks in the Himalayas, or spying on Saharan elephants on a safari. Some will proclaim the eternal “travel bug” of having to go and see new sights or taste new flavors. The Eiffel Tower by moonlight, a casual stroll down the streets of Brazil, or a lively tea ceremony in Japan – sign me up! On those days you’re bored with your average lunch fare, all you can think of is Ethiopian lentils, Indian chai, or Italian Gelato. I’m as much of a foodie as the next person. But what about something else, something obvious but not much pondered over?

You know what really gets me about traveling? The people. The world begins and ends with us. Without us, there would be no us. Moving past this escalating existential trend, what I mean to say is that you can travel to unknown and striking moments just with an interaction with another person. Interning with the Fulbright Program in Washington DC has opened my eyes to the plethora of international-oriented ideas you can have right where you are. Scholars come here from everywhere, we send grantees to ever corner of every country, and all our conversations in the office involve at least two or more continents and/or languages. I grew up all over and visited the world. I’ve seen people I admire, respect, envy, and avoid – but they’re all people who make this world what it is. You never have something to lose by interacting with someone, but you always stand something to gain. So, why not? Everyone has a story (just like you), and everyone’s story has a life of its own. Someone once famously (and wisely) said, “Our lives are storybooks that we write for ourselves; wonderfully illustrated by the people we meet”. Isn’t it though? What would your life be if not for the people who have been in it? We are people, and we thrive on our lives revolving around each other.

Why am I writing about this? Because I think that we are sometimes so caught up in continuing our own story, in trying to outdo our own imagination in the revels of what might be most fabulous, that we forget that there are people all around us – just like ourselves – who have a story. People who have gone through something, anything, that has changed them and made them who they are. So go out and explore, adventure with the countless souls you encounter each day, and remember that sometimes you can travel far by not traveling at all. I’ve met people who have told me their life stories, and I’ve met people who have honked at me as I run off the street and out of their way; they’ve all inspired me to reflect on my own life in many ways – on life in general. I find it incredible that the world over, people are from so many different places, so many backgrounds, so many circumstances; but somehow, we find each other and we find out that we have something in common. We can relate to someone, we can identify with an idea (from across the world or from right next door), we can seize the moment of connection. That moment is what I crave, more than drinking piña coladas in the Caribbean, more than skiing down peaks in New Zealand, maybe even more than a hot-air balloon ride over the Pyramids. Wherever you are, wherever you go, take a moment to look around…at the people.


So, what's your story?

So, what’s your story?


Wait, where am I from again?

Nikita Taniparti, Junior, India

Talk about extreme culture shocks. This semester spent abroad in Athens has been a whirlwind. The past four months have been filled with all things Greek – from the endless fried eggplant and baklava to the countless stray animals that loyally follow every passer-by, from the perfect Mediterranean weather to the “conversations” between people that really sound like heated arguments, and from the afternoon siestas to the very handsome young policemen – this place never gets old.

As an international student already at Notre Dame, I had come to identify as an Indian studying abroad in America. My identity as a student prevailed as I adjusted to the various cultural isms encompassing life in the United States. The American classroom was new and the professor-student relationship was a new dynamic that I had certainly come to respect and enjoy. An expert in the greeting “Hi, how are you?” – with no expectation of the truth – integrated me into the mainstream social courtesies. Fireworks on July 4th on the beach and singing Christmas carols galore – the day after a huge Thanksgiving meal – were something I enthusiastically looked forward to.  While still relating very much with Indian festivals, spicy food, Bollywood dancing and native languages, two years instilled in me an interesting blend of both American and Indian personalities. Every morning I donned traditional hand-made jewelry and clothes from India while I applied copious amounts of very American lotion and lip balm to keep my skin from dying every time winter comes around in South Bend.

Try putting that into context of studying abroad yet again in Europe. Now I am that “Indian girl who studies in America, but who lives in Greece”. In a class titled Immigration and Nationalism we are dealing with notions of what it means to be a citizen of a certain country, what it means to cross borders and establish new standards of identity. How does one assimilate or integrate within other cultures? And do do all these definitions of nationality and ethnic identity come to express one’s sense of belonging? Heavy concepts that we are still not sure we can decisively agree upon.

“There are no foreign lands; it is only the traveler who is foreign”. Indeed, most often people tend to think in terms of how every place they visit is different from “home”. They compare the way people dress (all Greek women only own four-inch stilettoes), what people eat (two words: olives and wine), how they communicate with each other (still attempting to catch on to the sing-song rhythm of modern Greek) and what the place looks like (crystal clear blue waters that entice you to immerse yourself in them all day long). All these things are certainly different the world over, but only in relation to each other. As I have come to settle in and become part of the Greek way of life, all these things have become seemingly obvious. Of course life should come to a standstill every day from 2pm till 5pm to eat and take a nap, clearly you haven’t had enough to drink if you can still coherently ask the waiter for the check, and obviously the cars don’t stop at traffic lights and you just make a run for it whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Yes, it is always disconcerting to be the newcomer in any place. You are both wearily and amusedly observed as you face the new culture head-on by the locals. Then one day you realize that you have stopped comparing things in your new surrounding to the things back home: suddenly it dawns on you that home is wherever you are now. Home is where the heart is. And if that doesn’t work, just do what I did last week – take a trip to Italy and Turkey. Then, in the blink of an eye, if it wasn’t already, Athens and Greece became my home and “where I was from”. It was tons of fun responding to people who inquired about our background with “well, I’m Indian, but I go to school in America. Oh, but now I live in Greece, and I’m just here visiting [insert city of choice: Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Istanbul].”

As I wrap up my semester here, it is an intriguing feeling. While I am ecstatic to return to the Fighting Irish and show my solidarity as we battle it out for the National Championship, I also long to go back to India and see family and friends and be spoiled silly. It goes without saying that I will miss Athens, I will miss Greece, and I will miss the love that I have come to cultivate for this wonderful new home. From here on out, “Greek-ness” is yet another identity that I will be able to…identify with. Where next I wonder? I will try my best not to compare everything with the ways things are in Athens, but chances are it will happen anyway. Time to test whether “reverse culture shock” really exists.

Snapshot of my life at the moment:

"The Island of Andros"


Hyderabad to South Bend

By: Nikitha Taniparti, India.

All the way from Hyderabad to South Bend. So many things to say, yet where to start? I think it started when I was at the US consulate in India at the interview required to get my visa. The interviewer reads, “Ms.Nikitha so-and-so….going to…the University of…NOTRE DAME?!” He stands up and exclaims, “I went to USC!” and I timidly respond, “That’s nice?” What was I supposed to say? Right there – I had absolutely no idea what coming to Notre Dame entailed. From my oblivious bliss of our (actually quite good) football team to my ignorance of what my first winter would feel like, almost every day is still somewhat of a culture shock to me. I am an undergraduate freshman, and, although people are quick to assume I’m just another ‘American Indian’, I really do struggle with being so far away from home for such a long time (five more months till summer break!).

Loyal to the ‘Notre Dame introduction’; you greet people with what your name is, where you’re from, what dorm you’re in, and, if you’re lucky, what major you intend to pursue. Right at the second question, people double back and ask me, “Wait, so you’re really from India? The country? But you’re English is so good, you don’t seem that different! Did you actually live there?” Again, I struggle with how to respond. Living so far away doesn’t mean you live on a different planet. It doesn’t mean you don’t speak English, the unofficial global language. It doesn’t mean we don’t wear jeans and shirts and jewelry just like everyone else. It’s hilarious, bemusing and disorienting all at the same time. I enjoy telling people about the unique qualities of India like the amazing food and tastes, the beautiful clothes, the funny English accents and the fact that there are over 1,000 languages; but I enjoy telling them even more about how I can go to a McDonalds, watch a movie premier that is released in India even before it is released here, listen to Lady Gaga and Eminem on my iPod, play laser tag at school and go to parties in clubs that look like they were transported from New York or Chicago. And the most wonderful part about all of this is: Most other international students can probably say the same. The world is certainly not homogenous, but at the same time, it’s not as segregated and different as people tend to assume initially.

So, while watching people eat corn dogs at South Dining Hall still makes me gawk at such a peculiar food creation and marvel at the culture difference, ‘knocking on wood’ with my (American) roommate to prevent possibly jinxing something gives me comfort that a superstitious  belief that is shared by two people from opposite sides of the world. I’ve realized we’re all different based on where we come from – just not as different as everyone thinks. I continue my mission to spread the word about our ‘different similarities’ and I’m thoroughly enjoying every minute of it.

Oh, and, by the way, Go Irish! Beat USC!