02. “Lessons explode across the landscape”

By Wynne, Cornell Student.

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Sinan, Wynne, & Asja take in the glorious view of Bhavanisagar Reservoir.

While enjoying the last months at home, I was often surrounded by friends and family curious about my trip to India. Their inquiries tended to include a variation of “aren’t you excited/scared/nervous?” Such reactions seemed appropriate, but none of the familiar emotions managed to capture what I was feeling.

Weeks later, a few thousand miles away, and a few thousand meters higher, a simple summation or understanding of my feelings regarding this experience seems even more illusive. I have been captivated, intimidated, curious, anxious and tired. Still I can’t help but notice that these words unsuccessfully represent much of anything. Waking up in these fog-wrapped mountains doesn’t lend itself to much else but the current moment. The most accurate description I feel I can give is that everything is different.

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Morning breaks over the fog-wrapped hills.

Every day the Nilgiris unfolds another piece of itself and adventures I could never predict.

This place is unlike anything else because it allows you to really be here. Not unlike most nights at Cornell I go to bed exhausted, but it is no longer from a workload that rarely gives you the satisfaction of completion. Instead, it comes from the fullness of a day that captures you wholly.

What quickly distinguished itself about the NFLC was the seamless connection between the classroom and the surroundings. In the morning we may discuss human wild-life conflict, the tea industry, or the changing natural landscape, while on an afternoon walk we see these lessons explode across the landscape: invasives tangle themselves in thick patches, wild gaur stand in our path and tea plantations flow across the hills, a rolling wave of green.

Such experiences point to the true character of studying at Keystone. These connections are no accident; behind every class is an expert on the subject laying out for you their intimate knowledge ad experiences with the Nilgiris. Our engagement with the material beyond the lecture and discussion is not by chance but the motivation and goal of the program.

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Another change that cannot go without noting is the transformation that occurs at the hours of 11 AM and 4 PM daily. No longer do they stand as simple markers in time, but instead they are moments of congregation for Keystone. My ears perk up as the canteen bell rings and around campus all activities pause as we join for teatime. More than the sweet taste of milky chai or the biscuits that melt on your tongue after a seconds dip in the steaming cup, teatime exposes the entire Keystone community, a group that extends far beyond those I encounter in the classroom.

IMG_5670In addition to every individual moment, I appreciate the differences themselves. With each encounter, I am encouraged to slow down and question not only how others interact but how I do as well.

In class, around campus, or out in town I simultaneously gain a deeper understanding of this new culture and my own. Walking to the market, I realize how grocery stores have falsely provided me with the belief that all things are always available; here, you get what fruit is in season; right now guava and pomegranate fill the roadside stands (though I eagerly await the mango and grapefruit).

The possibilities that exist every morning when you wake up fill you with a curious energy.  I find myself wondering what trees will be in bloom, if the leopard was spotted last night, or what stories I may hear.