Dalton Anderson

It would be easy to list Dalton’s qualities as a student and a traveler. They are numerous and, I am sure, well known on campus and to his friends and family. But Dalton deserves more than that.

Dalton didn’t impact Immersion India with his participation in discussions or his preparedness – those were and are expected of him. Dalton put his mark on the trip with gestures. In a land of head-bobs and namastes, Dalton signaled himself to the world.

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Of all his gestures, the most practical was a gift Dalton gave to Suman.

It comes as no surprise that Dalton makes a lot of his own gear (he’s even talking about learning how to weld metal so he can build himself a boat). The belt he wore throughout the trip was my favorite of the things he had crafted for our adventure – not only fashionably manly but also easily converted in to safety ropes in the event of a “situation” in the field.

Dalton wore his belt when he hiked with Suman to the summer fields and when he scrambled along the river doing water quality tests. It was with him when he learned how to cook dahl and make roti, when he rafted down the Ganges and almost every time that he and Suman talked.

At the end of the trip – when we were all trying to figure out how to thank Suman for his part in everything – Dalton was ready. He gave Suman his belt. It was a cross-cultural gesture of kindness and understanding. It was one outdoorsman, trained in the ways of boy scouts and online tutorials, giving part of his kit to another outdoorsman. Suman wears the belt everyday.

The grandest, most intimate gesture of all was Dalton’s blog post, which he called a plea. We had randomly assigned days for each student to be LOD and Dalton’s day was one of the last. With only a 48 hours left on the subcontinent, Mr. Cola, Mr. Alter, Maura and I were searching for ways to tie everything together. We wanted to summarize the trip and find a way to connect the diversity of things we had experienced. Dalton’s plea was our answer.

It wasn’t just that Dalton “got it.” Each participant, in their own way, understood the importance of what we had seen and many of the implications. What made Dalton’s gesture so important was specifically that it was one. It was intimate and real and required a great deal of bravery. He put his part of what we were each experiencing out there for the world to see and he begged us all to take a stand.

I hope that Dalton never loses his self-confidence and his genuine nature. He isn’t exactly like many of the rest of the kids – he likes his music with a little more yelling, cares a little more about his awesome hair and generally does things his own way. I hope that Immersion India made Dalton realize that this simple fact is a strength. As he navigates the social and academic river of high school, I hope he realizes.

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We were purposeful when we put the itinerary for Immersion India together. We wanted students to experience things that made them think and to bring a watershed – the holiest watershed on earth – to life. Our effort ran the serious risk of being too derivative, flirting with the all-too-easy pitfall of simply pushing “adult” agendas and views instead of providing the opportunity for students to develop their own. Even when we finalized the program, I wasn’t sure how organic the experience would be.

Dalton made it clear. We all heard his plea, together, and many of us cried.

Bryce Norvell

“A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It’s jolted by every pebble on the road.” – Henry Ward Beecher

Humor, or a sense of it, is a rare quality. It is also a universal tool.

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Of all the students on Immersion India, Bryce was perhaps the most consistent. His energy was stable. He was almost always cracking a joke.

Sometimes, I think, his peers found Bryce frustrating or annoying because their experience was more variable. When conditions or experiences made them feel uncomfortable or out of place, Bryce could be overheard telling a joke about Albert Einstein and Mr. Bean on a plane… It wasn’t that Bryce was disengaged –he was one of the most proactive participants. He was just dependably himself.

The ways in which Bryce was changed by India, or at least impacted by the experience, occurred down deep. They came out when Bryce wanted them to – through blog posts or comments during discussion sessions. He was able to process them without disrupting his personality. It’s rare for a sophomore in high school to be so sure of himself.

Bryce’s “breakout moment” came during the long drive from Rishikesh to Corbett National Park. This was the worst day of travel on the trip.

It started with a line from Terminator in a forced deep voice directed at Turner or Dalton. And then it spread like wildfire. A few of the older kids, Scott and Simon, caught wind of Bryce’s words. Soon the entire group, Suman and Dayaram included, were rolling in laughter. Bryce’s time in the spotlight lasted for a long time. He covered a range of people and performed on cue.

The impersonations weren’t very good. I think that was part of the humor, but the reason doesn’t matter. The important part was that people got it and in that moment Bryce was accepted and understood.

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Bryce is a unique young man, and not at all because his body is allergic to his own hair. He is unique because he is comfortable being different. Bryce is smart and deep but he doesn’t let that encroach on his silliness. He doesn’t let that change the fact that he wants to be a TV personality who specializes in rare reptiles.

I don’t think Bryce came to India because he thought it would help him get in to college or because it would get him out of classes for a week. I think he came because he thought it would be interesting and possibly funny, because maybe he would find a crazy mutant grasshopper that burrows in the hot sand on the banks of the Ganges.

There’s little reason to worry about Bryce. He will go far in life. I just hope that people take the time, on a long drive or when watching his pilot for the next big reptile show, to appreciate Bryce for Bryce. I know that I did and that at least for an hour or so his peers did too.

The trip was better for the time we gave, for the performances Bryce shared with us. Imagine when the spotlight stays on a little longer.

Questions turning through my mind…

By Dalton Anderson

Questions turning through my mind
A place so far away and long ago
Or perhaps, not

The collision of lives
Thousands or even the few
Creating stories forever held
In the hearts of those who choose

A beginning, so true
Friendships so dear
Searching deeper into those
Who I then called home

But the atrocity of time
Though hidden away
Continued to rue the day
Destroying the home

Those once held close
Drift on their own
No homes created
Still I remain, melancholy

Though the social aspect
Is affected by time
Deeper meanings
Still reside.

No closet, no corner
Not even the depths
Of this collision
Could erase what was learned.

Life persists
Aiding time
But I refuse
I hold tighter

The few on the many
The many on the few
Decisions with reactions
Reactions from decisions

A lesson learned
Never forgotten
How my life
Is that of my neighbor

It’s visible
Not only in the distance
But also
Resides around me

Every resonance
Grows weaker
But the illusion
Deepens

The depths rise
The shallows evade
Weakness becomes strength
And the moral is regained

Questions flowing
Their answers hidden
A poem, abstract
Outlines a story

The future is inevitable.
Fighting time’s decay
The morals reside
Pervading the rising darkness

It threatens
And demands
Engulfing
Consuming

But I, the future
Reside within the morals
Accompanied by those
Who left the home

Questions turning through my mind
A place so far away and long ago
Or maybe not

India Revisited

By Bryce Norvell

I still find myself saying “one time in India,” and I know most of the others still are as well.  By now I thought I would have told all of my stories, and conveyed all of the details; now I realize that there is a near infinite amount of lessons I learned, stories I was told and helped create, and other parts of life that I experienced in India.  Before going to India, and even while there, I was sure I would have one favorite event or moment – a true highlight of the trip – and that would result in a certain story I would tell more than any other.  However I soon realized that this was most certainly not the case.

When Mr. Cola asked me what I thought my favorite part of the “India trip” was during River Immersion (a co-curricular at Christchurch that allows students to learn and experience new things about the outdoors) I realized that I could not even hope to pin-point one exact moment of the trip that I thought of as my favorite.  This is because throughout every part of the trip I experienced something new that left me awestruck.  I realized that essentially I had no exact favorite part; it was more as if my favorite part was the entirety of the trip.

I decided to narrow the trip down to my top three favorite moments – this was no small task.  I racked my brain for every interesting and “awesome” moment I had experienced on the trip.  I eventually came up with searching for tigers in Corbett National Park, white-water rafting on the Ganges to get to Rishikesh, and searching for giant “sand-hoppers” in Silver Sands.

The tiger safari in Corbett National Park consisted of riding jeeps into the park in search of tigers.  The park was clean and the air felt great – there was even a good smell in the air that I had never experienced before.  The jeep ride through the park was quiet and peaceful.  We saw many animals, including rhesus macaques (primates), gray langurs (primates), an owl, white-spotted deer, sambar (a giant deer) and a golden eagle.  Although we did not spot a tiger I enjoyed the tranquility of the park and observing the other animals.

Silver Sands is a white-water rafting camp near Rishkesh, a very well known religious Indian city.  The rapids on the Ganges were named by Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mt. Everest.  Rafting down these rapids was extremely fun and afterwards we were able to explore Rishikesh.  The day before we went rafting, we arrived at Silver Sands and set up camp.  I was tent-mates with Turner Thompson, which was good because we had been roommates before and he is a very good friend of mine.

That night, Turner came erupting into the tent exclaiming that he had seen a cricket the size of his foot – naturally, I thought he was exaggerating.  Nonetheless, I went outside with him in search of the giant crickets.  Within 10 minutes I spotted a creature that made me jump a foot into the air!  Turner was right.  I watched the massive 6-inch alien-like insect crawl into a hole in the sand.  We searched for more of them for another 15 minutes and whenever something other than sand touched my foot I jumped like it was my job!

When Turner and I told our adventure to the rest of the group, they did not believe us.  Luckily, the night afterwards we gathered in a circle on the beach and directly in the middle there was one of the monstrous crickets.  Everyone in the group became interested in it, and Turner and I had found our proof.

Many people have told me that India was “the trip of a life-time” when I told them I traveled to India.  But they don’t have to tell me, I already know it was.  I will never forget the trip and I am extremely grateful to my mom, Mr. Alter, Mr. Cola, Maura and Aaron for planning the trip and making it the “greatest great journey” I have ever been on.  I now know that the insects Turner and I saw were Coachella Giant Sand Treader Crickets, but I will always refer to them as “Silver Sands sand-hoppers.”

Ben Roper

I believe that one morning in Agora after a rather emotional team meeting Mr. Alter compared Ben to a tree we all walked by as it stood rooted yet perched, seemingly precariously, on the side of the mountain. I wondered what made Mr. Alter think this sinewy evergreen in the Himalayas related to Ben—at this time I was still getting to know all the students—and I mentally filed the image in the back of my mind.

The tree metaphor is nothing new to most of us—who doesn’t immediately recall Shel Silverstein’s timeless classic The Giving Tree?—so it might seem easy to just say, “Yes, I see it, Mr. Alter. Good point,” and move on; it wasn’t, though. Having gone back to Agora multiple times since the Christchurch team left India, the image of Ben as the tree—or the tree as Ben—has sprung up time and time again. While I can’t claim to know what Mr. Alter meant that day, I now understand what his metaphor means to me.

The tree and Ben are both still growing. The tree and Ben are both by some people’s estimation high-risk, but the tree and Ben are both a lot deeper and more grounded than they appear at first glance. Despite the fact that this particular tree is jutting out of the side of a Himalayan cliff that risks a two thousand foot drop, this tree isn’t going anywhere. It has a will to hold on, a will to persevere.

Overall, it’s a pretty good tree.

Different Opportunities

By Matt Bowman

Thinking back, it’s hard to believe that I’ve been to India and back.  The trip seems so long ago.  It had a huge impact on my daily life today, even though I’ve gotten used to my old habits and routines.  India truly did change my life and open my eyes to the world and the opportunities that are in front of me.  I have contemplated what I can do in the future, after I have gotten a college education and some experience under my belt.  Leaving India was one of the difficult things I had to do – I know I didn’t really have a choice.  I loved India and it was a lovely experience for me to be a part of.  I was so lucky to have a chance to see a whole different, poverty-filled world.

India is completely different from the world I live in today, but it will always be part of my life.

Matthew Bowman

Maura, Suman and I have talked at length about each member of the Immersion India team.  We have remembered activities and relived emotions and breakthrough moments.  Whenever we talk about Matt Bowman, we remember his kindness.

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The trip asked students – required them, really – to speak up.  It questioned them on their thoughts during daily discussions and mandated vocal leadership through the structured Leader of the Day system.  For most of the students, this afforded the opportunity to shine, to perform on cue.

Unlike most of his peers, Matt was usually quiet.  He didn’t speak often or even when I thought he should or could.  Sometimes I thought Matt was disengaged or distracted, and sometimes he probably was.  But often, I think, Matt was doing it his way.

You see, I believe in Matt and believe that more often than not the Matt you don’t see or hear is the real Matt.  It was tempting to push him more, to ask again and again for this real Matt to please stand up.  But Matt starred when it was least expected, was best when he caught you off guard.

I’ll always remember the haiku Matt volunteered for submission to this blog –

The kids running free

Villagers hard at work

And the days repeat

I’ll always remember Matt inviting Mr. Cola and me to play Ping-Pong – the way he actively chose to engage us on his terms and on his time.  It surprised us (he beat us both) and it made both of us feel that inside Matt got it.  He was with us.

I could continue listing moments and bringing attention to what Matt did do, but I don’t think that’s what Matt would want.  I think Matt chose to speak up and engage with each of his teammates when he knew it mattered to them, when there wasn’t a formal cue.  There is kindness in that.

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In the end, I don’t know how Matt is perceived on campus or how he relates to his peers or his teachers when he’s at school.  I do know that when I first met him he seemed like a cool kid – the kind of teenager we all like to label and write off.  And maybe he is.  But sometimes, when it matters, the real Matt shines through.

I now know that Matt and believe in him.

Serena Zhang

When I met Serena I knew she and I would be friends.

It might appear strange for a twenty-eight year old to say that about a fifteen year old, but it’s the plain and simple truth. She and I are both theatre people and—as many of you might have noticed—theatre people stick together. Most artists like us are bonded by a particular desire to express, to insight laughter and, as Thoreau said, “to suck the marrow out of life.” These qualities are imbedded in Serena; she exuded them in India.

The breadth of Serena’s expression amazes me—she’s both eloquent and succinct in not one, but two, languages. She has the words for everything: for every flower she found, for every animal she touched (despite our protests) and for every adjustment she made when first attending Christchurch she ably identified her feelings and thoughts in the moment, expressing them with confidence and strength that I certainly didn’t have at her age.

Her deftness with language contributes to her uncanny ability to make a crowd erupt in laughter. She was easily the most quoted person on the trip—from her perfectly timed “I hate hiking,” to her ubiquitous “WHAT?!” she was guaranteed to slay the rest of us. It was an unpredictably predictable joy to hear what she would say next.

Perhaps the thing I admire most about Serena is her seemingly innate desire to get the most from every moment, “to suck the marrow out of life.” She came to India without expectation or hesitation. She said this was because she didn’t want to be disappointed, but I like to think it’s because she didn’t want to miss a discovery because of a preconceived notion or prejudice. She wanted to do what all great actors do: live in the moment. This, as much as linguistic dexterity or a quick wit, will be a boon to Serena as she matures. She will take things as they come, problem solve, appreciate the small things as well as the large and keep her eyes open to the beauty in everything.

This is what I like in a friend.

Yoga Helps

By Serena Zhang

About a month and a half ago, I just finished the third performance of the drama production at school. It was about 10 o’clock at night, I was wearing about five pounds of makeup and completely exhausted. When I got back on dorm from the theatre, I realized… “Wait a minute, I need to be at the parking lot at 3 a.m. today to go to India.”

I had no idea that this trip was going to be so different; that it was going to be a big point of my life and it was going to be so important to me. I still remember the feeling of swimming in the Ganges River, jumping into the freezing spring, talking about things that we’ve learnt around the bonfire… The three weeks in India was amazing, it was an adventure. We built friendships; we changed our perspectives on many important things… To me, most importantly, I understood the simple joy – happiness can be built on such small things. Traveling is the best way to learn things, to learn things that I can’t even put in words but continue to affect me a lot in my daily life. Traveling allows you to see other sides of the world, to learn opinions from other people, to fulfill yourself and to think differently.

Now I’m at school, living my routine life and getting stressed from my academic work and my social life… I know, it was exactly what I was worried about when I was still in India. However, when I am stressed, I try to remember how I felt when I was on the trip. Not worrying about anything, observing everything around me and falling asleep in 2 minutes every single night… It helps sometimes; Indian music and yoga help a lot too.

By the way, I’ve been doing yoga everyday now since about 3 weeks ago. Not only because that yoga stretches me out and helps me to relax, but also because I don’t want to forget anything from the trip – I want to remember everything that I’ve learnt.  Yoga helps.

Turner Thompson

The subcontinent is a land of small people – the average Indian man stands just 5’5 and weighs 130lbs.

Turner Thompson is a large young man – at 6’3 and over 200lbs, his big frame and developing muscles stand out.

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The first few days of Immersion India were intense.  We drove through expansive slums, passed pungent black rivers and visited a true working-class neighborhood.  We learned about the informal economy and listened to the stories of those who struggle to get by.

Some students focused on the people of SEWA and were inspired by the organization’s story.  Others appreciated the beauty of life lived on the brink and marveled at the jewelry and clothing produced by individuals who live meal-to-meal.  Turner noticed the trash and the filth.

I think that was Turner’s experience – in addition to and sometimes despite the beauty, the meaning and the lessons, India is dirty.  Like a round peg trying to make sense of a square hole, all he seemed to notice were the differences.  The streets of Manteo, NC are not covered in trash, the streets of Delhi are.  The people of the Outer Banks don’t worry about where to find food, the people volunteering at SEWA sometimes do.

Turner’s was a real and honest reaction, which is what we wanted from students, but it wasn’t always easy to deal with. Trash, from my perspective, is trash – simple, smelly.  Repeating comments about it sometimes felt cheap and easy.

Over time I came to understand that it wasn’t so simple for Turner – he was processing and facing what he saw.  The experience was asking him to look at himself, I think.

It would have been easy to focus on the fish or the Himalayas.  It was harder to face the facts and honestly experience the subcontinent.

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Some of us live lives of comfort, where we are always the right shape and size for what we’re doing.  Turner will always be a big guy and sometimes he will find himself in places meant for small people.  But now I think he knows he’s a round peg.

In the end, I think that makes all the difference.