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LEAP: The Immersion Begins

U.S. Air Force Capt. Krystal Lowder, 33rd Fighter Wing Protocol chief of protocol, drinks tea with instructors and classmates from the Language Intensive Training Event Aug. 27, 2018, at New Delhi, India. Lowder was accepted into the Air Force's LEAP program. LEAP identifies and cultivates the existing foreign language skills of Airmen for the life of their career. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Krystal Lowder, 33rd Fighter Wing Protocol chief of protocol, drinks tea with instructors and classmates from the Language Intensive Training Event Aug. 27, 2018, at New Delhi, India. Lowder was accepted into the Air Force's LEAP program. LEAP identifies and cultivates the existing foreign language skills of Airmen for the life of their career. (Courtesy photo)

NEW DELHI --

After 20 plus hours of flight time, I finally made it to New Delhi on 12 Aug! Lugging my oversized bags behind me, I wandered out to the arrivals area to find my ride. I waited for what felt like hours (but really only 30 mins) until I encountered my first real-life language test: calling the Hindi speaking driver on the phone to see if he could find me at the airport. As I waited for his arrival, I took some time to take in my first few moments back in India and it hit me- I’m on my own, across the world in the Southeast Asian subcontinent, looking at the moon while my family is back in America taking in the sun. I let it sink in that this month was going to be quite different than anything I’ve ever experienced in my life and I hoped I was prepared for this journey.

Telugu is the official language of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana states of India. Some of the challenges I’ve encountered thus far is learning in a predominantly Hindi speaking region where Telugu isn’t spoken at all. As a result, I’ve decided to learn Hindi along with Telugu so I can mingle with the locals and experience the culture of Delhi. Hindi and Telugu fall into two completely different language families and are written in their own script. Hindi is an Indo-European language written in Devanagari script and Telugu is a south-central Dravidian language which is written in a type of Brahmi script.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been learning how to read and write Telugu through daily lessons with a language scholar from Delhi University. My instructor has condensed a year-long course into a 28-day curriculum which means we spend 4-5 hours a day (including some weekends) to get through the material. Although the work can be exhausting, I’m finding out so much about the beauty of this language and I’m in awe of how Telugu became the language it is today. The etymology of Telugu can be a mystery, but it’s certain that Sanskrit, Arabic, and Persian have highly influenced how the language is spoken today. The combination of those influences distinguishes Telugu as the “Italian of the East” because of its’ poetic and romantic sweetness when spoken.

As I’ve been reading in Telugu script, I’ve found some fascinating things about culture and language. Language is a vessel for us to express our identities - the words we learn and the experiences we associate with those words are meaningful memories that create who we are today. That goes for English, Hindi, Spanish, Telugu and any other language that is spoken on this incredible earth we call home. For example, the word “hello” in English is loosely associated with the Hindi word “Namaste” and the Telugu word “Namaskaram”. “Hello” can be this awkward, distant word we use in English to be polite with someone, we can use it to greet someone on the phone or we can use it when we meet an acquaintance. I’d argue that we can’t accurately translate “Namaste” or “Namaskaram” to “Hello” because “Namaste” and “Namaskaram” literally mean “I bow to you,” and can sometimes be loosely translated to, “the light in me honors the light in you”. When utilizing “Namaste” or “Namaskaram” as a greeting, you are choosing to see and accept a person for who they are in front of you in that very moment. When I say “see,” I don’t mean it in a superficial way where your eyes take on visual stimuli and you build this algorithm in your brain to process what information you’ve encountered in your computer-like brain. To “see” means to understand, to accept, to yearn, to and to be eager to know someone’s soul. These unique differences in language are small glimpses into culture, traditions and the complex societal structure that exist in the world around us.

I have so much more I’d like to share, but I’ll save that for the next post. For now I’ll leave you with this - when we get run down by the daily grind of work, family and responsibilities, do we take the time to actually “see” the people around us? The amount of poverty and heartbreak I’ve seen in my first two weeks here is far greater than anything I’ve seen back home. These people, regardless of caste, social status, gender, physical or mental condition deserve a “Namaste,” and they deserve to be seen. When we take that moment to see someone’s soul for what it is, it can change the course of their story. Kindness is a pretty cool thing to live by - I highly recommend it!